Monday, September 11, 2017

The matter of bullpen depth

The Cleveland Indians won their 18th in a row Sunday night. Only the 2002 Oakland Athletics have had a longer win streak in my lifetime, so this is pretty darn impressive.

The Indians now have the best record in the American League. And if anything, they've been unlucky this season; by the Pythagorean Theorum, they should have six more wins and six fewer losses.

One aspect that stood out to me as I watched them beat Baltimore Sunday night is their bullpen depth. Bullpen depth has been a chronic issue all season for the Twins; Paul Molitor seldom has more than three arms he trusts in key situations, and those identities have changed repeatedly.

Terry Francona has six relievers with at least 50 innings. The worst ERA of the group belongs to workhorse Bryan Shaw: 3.19. (This includes Andrew Miller, currently sidelined with a balky knee.)

The Twins have four relievers with at least 50 innings. The best of those ERAs is Taylor Rogers, and his 3.29 is worse than Shaw's.

On Saturday, Molitor tried to get through the eighth inning of a tied game without dipping into the Rogers-Trevor Hildenberger-Matt Belisle combo. Hildenberger and Belisle had pitched three straight days, and Rogers in two of the three. But Ryan Pressly, Buddy Boshers and Tyler Duffey didn't get any outs, and Rogers wound up making a brief appearance anyway -- and the Twins lost by three.

On Sunday, Francona protected a one-run lead in the late innings without using his three preferred setup men (Miller, Shaw and Dan Otero). The combo of Joe Smith, Tyler Olson and Nick Goody got five outs without allowing a baserunner.

Winning 18 in a row is never easy. But it's far more doable when the bullpen is stacked with guys who can get outs consistently than when half the pen is of mopup quality.

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