Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is the Indians 2012 Bullpen On Shaky Ground?

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports wrote a piece about the 2012 Indians titled: Cleveland's fate lies with Sizemore's gimpy knees. Of course, every man is entitled to his own opinion, and although I don't share Brown's opinion of the Indians reliance on Sizemore it was something else that caught my attention in the article. Brown was detailing the Indians collapse and wrote:
Damaged by a pitching staff whose starting rotation’s ERA climbed by a half-run in the second half and whose bullpen’s rose by more than a run.
Since one of my slogans for the 2012 Indians is "Hit Their Way to the Bullpen" with the premise being to score more runs, get enough innings from the starter, and turn the game over to the bullpen to carry home the victories the increased ERA by the Indians bullpen in the 2nd half of the season would certainly give me some pause to that strategy. More importantly, examining the 2011 bullpen may give justification for the number of arms the Indians have signed to minor league contracts (Ray, Wheeler, Seddon, Accardo, and Tejada).

The 2011 bullpen was one area that Tribe fans could point to as a strong suit of the team and an area that the injury bug stayed away from. The Bullpen Mafia, as they were known, held a 27-21 record with a 3.71 ERA which ranked 5th in the AL and a FIP of 3.90 which ranked 6th.

The 2012 Bullpen Mafia will include Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp. At least one of the two non-performing members of the mafia have been snuffed out as Chad Durbin was not re-signed over the winter. Frank Herrmann has options and he may be on the shuttle between Columbus and Cleveland in 2012. All things considered the Indians bullpen certainly appears to be one of the clubs strengths of the club heading into 2012.

Below is the basic splits on how the bullpen performed the first and second half of 2011. They were 9% better than league average in OPS against in the first half and 12% worse in the second half, but my first thought after reading Browns comments was that he must not be factoring the performances of several relievers that ended up pitching for the Indians in the second half of the season.

I felt it was irresponsible as well as lazy for Mr. Brown to point to the Indians second half ERA as an indication of poor performance.  More than anything the numbers had to be watered down due to September callups and I planned on quickly demonstrating that the main components of the bullpen were just as strong the second half as they were the first half.

I thought this was going to be an easy task -- especially when I looked at the individual numbers compiled by  Josh Judy, Nick Hagadone, Zach Putnam, and Corey Kluber.  Overall the quartet went 2-1 with a 6.13 (25 earned runs in 36.2 innings pitched).

So, Mr. Brown, maybe a little more research on your part....oh wait...even AFTER scrubbing these 4 relievers from the record books results a team ERA in the 2nd half of 4.11, still 0.93 points higher than the first half.  My apologies to Mr. Brown! Now comes the task of looking at what happened to the bullpen in the second half of 2011?

Below are statistics for the top 7 relievers used by Manny Acta in 2011:

Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, and Tony Sipp all had an increase in ERA in the second half of the season. We have to keep in mind when looking at statistics for relievers, especially ERA, that the numbers can be skewed with one or two bad outings.  ERA isn't the best statistic to use for relief pitchers but for our purposes it is a good starting point to look at some other numbers to see if we can discern a reason for the spike. Also, the data presented does not include situational numbers for batter handedness something that may provide more value to a bullpen than the overall numbers may suggest.

Joe Smith's ERA increased 2.21 runs from 0.85 in the first half to 3.06 in the second half . His K% increased from 14.73% to 18.84% and his BB% dropped from 8.53% to 7.25%. He held the opposition to a 24 point decrease in OPS against from .559 to 525 which included a 21 point decrease in BABIP from .271 to .250.

Rafael Perez's ERA increased 2.71 runs from 1.71 in the first half to 4.62 in the second half. Unlike Joe Smith, Perez was unable to continue to strike hitters out as his K% dropped from 16.34% to 7.69% but he was able to decrease his BB% from 7.34% to 6.73%.  Despite a 10 point drop in BABIP from .289 to .279 hitters OPS against him increased 171 points from .581 to .752.

Tony Sipp's ERA increased 0.74 runs from 2.72 in the first half to 3.46 in the second half. He did see a slight drop in his K% from 24.11% to 20.91% but also a decrease in BB% from 9.93% to 9.09%. The most significant change in his numbers from the first half to the second half was his BABIP which increased 125 points from an extremely low .163 in the first half to .288 in the second half which may help explain some of the 88 point increase in OPS against from .626 to .714.

Frank Herrmann's ERA increased 2.59 runs from 3.90 in the first half to 6.49 in the second half. Additionally, his K% decreased from 17.56% to 9.02%, his BB% increased from 5.34% to 7.38%, his OPS against increased 101 points from .726 to .863 but his BABIP only increased 14 points from .323 to .337. It's safe to say that Frank Herrmann will have to win a job in Spring Training.

Chris Perez's ERA increased 2.01 runs from 2.42 in the first half to 4.44 in the second half. His K% dropped from 16.3% to 15.04% but his BB% dropped from 11.11% to 9.73%. His OPS against increased 138 points from .587 to .725 while his BABIP only increase 13 points from .234 to .247. The worry with Chris Perez isn't so much comparing his 2011 first half and second half  numbers its looking at his declining  numbers over the past 3 seasons that causes the greatest concern. Lewis Pollie of Wahoo's on First laid out some even more troubling data on Chris Perez in his article titled Indians Sign Chris Perez: Is New Deal an Overpay?

Beneath Perez’ 3.32 ERA and 36 saves in 2011 lay some extremely troubling trends in his statistics. Perez’ average fastball velocity dipped from 94.5 mph in 2010 to 93.3. Opposing hitters chased fewer of his offerings out of the zone (19 percent, down from 24 percent) and made contact more frequently when they swung (90 percent contact rate, up from 86 percent).

As a result, Perez’ strikeout rate plummeted from 8.7 K/9 to just 5.9. Meanwhile, his groundball rate fell to just 28 percent, the lowest of his career. If not for a HR/FB rate of just 6 percent—given his declining fastball velocity and strikeout rate, it’s fair to say that was largely luck—he might’ve lost his job as closer.

Should the Indians be concerned about their 2012 bullpen based on the performance of the core 5 relievers (C.Perez, R.Perez, J.Smith, T.Sipp, and V.Pestano)? The data below shows that the core five weren't as dominant as they were in the first half of the season but weren't horrible in the second half of the season. From looking at the data below the two most concerning players in the bullpen entering 2012 will be Rafael Perez and Chris Perez.

Maybe it should come as no surprise that the Indians will have many arms in camp competing for 2 spots in the bullpen.  

From the 40 man roster the Indians will have Frank Herrmann (RHP), Kelvin De La Cruz (LHP), and Nick Hagadone  (LHP).

Non-Roster invitees from the Indians minor league system will include Hector Ambriz (RHP), CC Lee (RHP), and Tyler Sturdevant (RHP).

Non-Roster invitees who have signed with the Indians this offseason include RHPs Jeremy Accardo, Chris Ray, Robinson Tejada, and Dan Wheeler along with LHP Chris Seddon.

Other minor league arms to keep an eye out for will be Rob Bryson, Bryan Price, and Bryce Stowell.

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