Travis Buck was demoted to AAA Columbus earlier this afternoon to make room for the return of Shelley Duncan. This move is most certainly being made to allow Carlos Santana to move back behind the plate and to keep Orlando Cabrera from having to play third. The only surprise here is that this didn't happen a few days ago when Matt LaPorta was sent to the disabled list with his injured "right lower leg." This will also add an extra pinch hitter since currently the Indians are only carrying three extra batters (Lou Marson, Adam Everett and Orlando Cabrera) and will be playing the next 10 games in National League parks. Shelley Duncan has been the Indians best pinch-hitter over the past two seasons and will most likely be used as the second option behind Travis Hafner during the road trip. The news is sad for Buck who recently broke an 0-23 spell with an RBI single and has played well in his last two games. So goes the life of a man with minor league options.
This year's utter dominance by the bullpen makes you think one thing. Where does this one rank against the best Indians relievers of all time? So far this year the "Bullpen Mafia" has an league leading ERA of 2.99, 8 points better than the second place Yankees. This is in spite of having multiple relievers with ERAs of over 5. Since all relief corps have these mop up pitchers and call ups, I will be only comparing the best of the best on each team, the closers and set up men, to find where the 2011 bullpen ranks among the best Indians pens ever.
There are a couple parameters I am using to see which pitchers are the best. First, I'm only comparing bullpens since 1943 as this is the first time the Indians used a relief pitcher as their top closer (Joe Heving). Before this time starting pitchers did the majority of the bullpen work with the rest of the bullpen being made of the 5th-8th best pitchers rather than highly talented specialized short inning pitchers. Also, I will not be using saves, which weren't really considered relevant until the late 1980's and holds, which weren't even recorded until the 1990's. Instead I will compare pitchers using rate stats, so I don't have to extrapolate what this years bullpen will do for the rest of the season. The main stats I'm using are ERA [(ER*9)/IP], WHIP [(BB+H)/IP], batting average against [H/(IP*3+H)] and strike outs per 9 innings [(K*9)/IP].
Pitchers have been split between closers and other relievers as the closer should be the best pitcher in the bullpen. For a frame of reference, the best relief ERA for a closer in a single season was Jose Mesa in 1995 with a 1.13. In that season he gave up 8 runs, which is the same amount that Chris Perez has given up in about half a season in 2011. The top batting average against for a reliever is held by Vinnie Pestano so far this season with a .138. The top relief WHIP is held by Rafael Betancourt with his .759 in 2007. This means that during the entire season of 2007, Betancourt allowed 3 base runners every 4 innings. The top K/9 relief pitcher was George Zuverink in 1951, when he struck out 40 in 25.1 innings for a K/9 of 14.3. To make things a little more simple, I've taken the top 6 bullpens by ranking all time in these stats and will compare them to find which is the best all time. These six are 1995, 2007, 2011, 1976, 2005 and 1954.
There is no surprise that the years that had the best bullpens were some of the greatest years in Indians history. Two of these six years (1954 and 1995) ended in World Series for the Tribe, while 2007 ended one game short of the World Series. The worst season listed was 1976 when the Indians went 81-78. Every other season saw the Indians win at least 93 games and includes the top two teams in terms of winning percentage in Indians history. This goes well to illustrate the importance of a good bullpen in the modern age of baseball.
Each bullpen seems to be based around one or two fantastic pitchers, with a few other above average pitchers filling out the rest. Every pitcher listed below has a WHIP of under 1.30, a batting average against below .240, an ERA below 2.81 with the exception of Joe Borowski, who was probably the worst pitcher on the 2007 team outside of Edward Mujica and Roberto Hernandez. Of these pitchers, there were two among the top ten all time in every rate stat measured. These two pitchers are Dave LaRoche in 1976 and Vinnie Pestano in 2011. Pestano is exceptionally impressive as he ranks 3rd in ERA (1.33), 1st in BAA (.138), and 2nd in WHIP (.852) and K/9 (12.3) of all Indians non closing relievers since 1943. His numbers are so outrageous that if he maintains this pace, he will have the greatest single season of any Indians relief pitcher ever. What is most interesting about the 2011 team, is that while most of the teams in Indians history had only 2 to 4 stand out pitchers, this bullpen has 5.
The 2007 team can be thrown out of the discussion for best bullpen ever, simply because of the inclusion of Joe Borowski. While Raffy left and Raffy right may have had the best season by 2 set up men ever, Borowski ruined their nights on more than one occasion, blowing 8 saves and taking 5 losses along with an ERA of over 5. The 1954 team can also be removed because they simply did not use their pitchers enough. The 1954 team had 77 complete games, making relief pitching almost unneccessary. Their relief pitchers that are listed pitched almost the same amount of games in an entire (be it short) season as the 2011 pitchers have in less than half a season.
Unquestionably, the best closer listed and in Indians history was Jose Mesa in 1995. While both Mesa and Eric Plunk have come under scrutiny for their downfalls in the playoffs, you can't deny their performances during the regular season in 1995. Two other stand out pitchers on these teams are Bob Howry, who set the Indians record for appearances in 2005 with 79 and Rafael Perez, who is one of only two pitchers to appear on two separate great bullpens. While his 2007 effort has already been removed from contention, his numbers in 2011 are even better to this point then they were in that year. Another impressive stat about the 2011 bullpen is they have the number 1, 2 and 3 relief pitchers all time in earned run average. On this stat alone, they could be considered the best ever, as long as they can maintain for the rest of the season.
In my opinion, the 1995 team had the best bullpen of those listed. They are the only team that had a closer who was by far the best pitcher in the pen and they still had plenty of strong pitchers to fill around him. Along with Julian Tavarez and Eric Plunk, the 1995 team also had Jim Poole and lefty specialist Paul Assemacher. The pen was so deep, that Assemacher was able to be used so rarely that he averaged only 2 outs per appearance over his career, the least amount of IP/G of all Indians pitchers ever. The only other true competitor for the title is the 2011 team, but since they have only played half a season, it is unfair to really compare ERA and WHIP type stats. If they can keep it up, and Chris Perez can get himself into a few more save opportunities, this may become known as the best back-end of a bullpen in Indians history.
(The results of this discussion can be found here.)
Site note: In an effort to reduce the amount of negativity produced by BurningRiverBaseball.com we will no longer be making any mention of Austin Kearns until he either gets his batting average above .250 or is removed from the roster. I believe we have said all there is to be said about this particular outfielder and will now await the Indians response to the situation.
Player of the Game
Travis Hafner won his second 'Player of the Game' in the last three games, this time with a 2 run home run. Pronk has been on base in each of his last 22 games played and has a hit in each game since coming off the DL. Tonight, 3 of the 4 Indians runs scored came with Hafner at the plate, the other run coming when starting pitcher Jason Hammel balked home Jack Hannahan. Hammel obviously balked out of pure fear of Hafner. His final 'POG' score for the game was 4.12 and he has now won 6 total in 2011.
Like any pitcher, Josh Tomlin has had his struggles this season, but he crammed them all into 4 consecutive starts. Tomlin started the season with 9 straight great games, then fell off for the next four. In the two games since then, Tomlin has regained his stride and has pitched well in his last two games. Yes, he does give up a lot of home runs, but that is only because he pitches to contact and lets his fielders do the work. Very rarely are there base runners on for those home runs and he has yet to allow a steal attempt this season. Overall, Tomlin, along with Justin Masterson, has been one of the Indians most consistently successful starters all year.
Vinnie Pestano has earned a hold in 4 of his last 5 appearances and did not give up a run in any of them. His 10 holds are second on the Indians to Tony Sipp (14) and tied for 10th in the American League. Tonight Pestano struck out 3 batters in one inning of work (spread across the 7th and 8th). Over his last 4 games he has struck out 8 batters in 4.2 innings.
There was no rain tonight so we didn't get to hear Matt Underwood, Rick Manning and Mike Hargrove do their weatherman routine.
Final Score: Cleveland Indians 4 - Colorado Rockies 3
Player of the Game
Asdrubal Cabrera continues to lead the Indians in every way possible and that includes 'Player of the Game' awards. Tonight he took home his 10th, three more than 2nd place Matt LaPorta. Asdrubal scored 2.74 by walking 3 times, scoring 2 runs, hitting a single and stealing a base. His last walk and steal came in the 9th inning with two outs, puting the Indians in a place where they could win the game with a single. Cord Phelps and Rafael each had notable games and tied with a score of 2.12. Phelps hit a single and a triple while Perez pitched an inning and two-thirds of shutout relief.
For anyone new to Burning River Baseball, here is an explanation of my 'Player of the Game' scoring system.
Shin-Soo Choo continues to increase his level of play and has now been on base in 7 straight games. Over that span of time he has increased his split stats from .231/.311/.340 to .244/.341/.353. He has also increased his production stats, scoring or knocking in a run in his last 4 games.
The Indians were able to knock Jhoulys Chacin out of the game in the 7th inning, even though he was pitching a 2 hitter, by being patient at the plate, working the count and taking a lot of walks. This drove his pitch count over 100, so that when he did give up his second hit, Rockies manager Jim Tracy felt he had to take him out of the game.
Cord Phelps provided some excitement again with a two out triple in the 9th inning down only one run, but the worst player on the Indians was unable to do anything about it as he struck out on a check swing to end the game.
Yesterday Carmona had trouble pitching with two outs, allowing 6 runs in the 5th after the first two batters were out with no one on, and tonight, Mitch Talbot also struggled with two outs and none on, giving up all 3 of his earned runs in that situation. Overall, Talbot was very mediocre as, while he only gave up 3 runs, he allowed 8 hits, three of them being extra base hits. He also walked 2 batters in 6.1 innings.
With the way Jason Giambi has been hitting this series, you would think he was back on steroids. He has destroyed Indians pitching more than any other Rockie so far. This is only the second time this season he has gotten more than one at bat in two consecutive games and he has delivered with a three run home run in game one and two doubles in game two.
Final Score: Cleveland Indians 3 - Colorado Rockies 4
Player of the Game
Travis Hafner takes home tonight's 'Player of the Game' on the strength of his first inning 3 run home run. Hafner also walked later in the game, but the bulk of his 5.40 'POG' score came from the home run. Carlos Santana came in a close second with a score of 5.06, but was denied yet again even though he played well. Santana has now had a score of 4.70 or higher in 3 of the last 4 games, but has not won a 'Player of the Game' since April. After another bad outing, Fausto Carmona's season 'POG' score is now -18.8. He is currently one of three Indians with negative scores along with Mitch Talbot (-1.4) and Chad Durbin (-1.4)
The Indians did a great job scoring repsonse runs tonight, plating 3 after the Rockies scored in the first and 2 more after the Rockies scored 6 in the 5th. These runs really kept the Indians in a game that could have become a blowout. They also scored one run in the 8th inning after the Rockies got an unearned run off of an errant throw by Lou Marson.
The Rockies are a really talented offensive team and the Indians are lucky that they only have to face them once every couple years and that this year the games are taking place in Cleveland instead of Colorado.
After Chad Durbin had two of his worst outings of the season in consecutive appearances (6/10 and 6/12), the Indians gave him a week off either out of fear of putting him in a game or to give him a chance to get himself back together. Whatever the reason, it apparently worked and Durbin has now made two successful outings in consecutive days. Tonight's appearance was especially strong as he went 2 innings, allowing only one hit, stranding a runner that Carmona left on and striking out 3.
Fausto Carmona dug his own grave tonight. After pitching 4.2 very good innings, Carmona walked two and gave up 5 hits, all with two outs and nobody on in the 5th. This was capped when Jason Giambi hit a giant 3 run home run. Carmona hasn't had a decent start in his last 5 games and hasn't had a really good start in his last 8. You have to wonder just how long the Indians will allow Fausto to keep pitching at this level.
Final Score: Cleveland Indians 7 - Colorado Rockies 8
The Rockies open a three-game series with the Tribe tonight here in Cleveland. They are 8-7 all-time against the Indians but 1-5 at Progressive Field. This will be the sixth year the clubs have played, the first since 2008. The teams last played in Cleveland in 2005. Thier record in the month of June is 10-7
(Sorry If you cannot pronounce the names of some of the Rockies starters.)
RHP Fausto Carmona (4-8, 5.79 ERA) vs. RHP Juan Nicasio (2-1, 3.38), Tonight at 7:05
RHP Mitch Talbot (2-4, 5.02) vs. RHP Jhoulys Chacin (8-4, 2.81), Tomorrow at 7:05 p.m.
RHP Josh Tomlin (8-4, 3.93) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (3-6, 3.65), Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.
The Rockies finished their longest homestand of the season with a 6-4 record against the Dodgers, Padres and Tigers. SS Troy Tulowitzki went 14-for-38 (.368) on the homestand with four doubles, two homers, 10 RBI and seven runs, raising his average 15 points to .276, the highest it has been since he was hitting .284 on May 3.
CF Carlos Gonzalez, although his season-long 11-game hitting streak ended, enjoyed a good homestand. He raised his average from .249 to .275 during the homestand by going 18-for-44 (.409) with five doubles, two homers, nine RBI and seven runs.
Rookie LHP Rex Brothers gave up three runs, two earned, in the seventh inning. Covering home on a passed ball by C Matt Pagnozzi, who made his Rockies debut, Brothers was spiked by Tigers RF Brennan Boesch and suffered a cut on his right (non-throwing) forearm that required four stitches to close. According to the Denver Post, manager Jim Tracy said Brothers would be available "in a day or so."
The Rockies had their second and third sellouts of the season Saturday and Sunday against the Tigers. They drew 48,555 on Saturday and 49,015 on Sunday. The latter attendance is the sixth highest in Coors Field history. The Rockies' other sellout this year was on Opening Day on April 1 when they drew 49,374.
The Rockies fell back to 35-36 with their loss Sunday to the Tigers. Beating Detroit in the first two games of the season to extend their winning streak to four games, the Rockies reached .500 (35-35) for the first time since they were 24-24 on May 25. In the interim, the Rockies fell four games below .500 five times.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez's two-run single in the second inning Saturday against the Tigers gave him his first career multi-RBI game and broke an 0-for-32 stretch since his last hit, Sept. 1 at San Francisco.
LHP Rex Brothers (cut on right forearm) left the June 19 game. He might be unavailable for a few days.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (right calf cramp) left his June 18 start. He doesn't expect to miss a start. He is not scheduled to pitch in this series.
C Jose Morales (fractured right thumb) went on the 60-day disabled list retroactive to June 16.
CF Dexter Fowler (left abdominal strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 5. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Colorado Springs on June 14.
RHP Matt Daley (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 1.
RHP Esmil Rogers (strained right lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 2. He made rehab starts for Class AAA Colorado Springs on June 9 and June 14, but then he was shut down until late June due to a strained left ribcage muscle.
LHP Jorge De La Rosa (torn ulnar collateral ligament in left elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list May 25. He had season-ending Tommy John surgery June 3.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
RHP Jason Hammel
RHP Juan Nicasio
RHP Aaron Cook
RHP Huston Street (closer)
RHP Rafael Betancourt
RHP Matt Belisle
RHP Matt Lindstrom
LHP Matt Reynolds
LHP Rex Brothers
RHP Clayton Mortensen
1B Todd Helton
2B Jonathan Herrera
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Ty Wigginton
INF Jason Giambi
INF Chris Nelson
Rockies set-up man Rafael Bentancourt.
He played a vital role in the Indians bullpen in their division run of 2007.
(Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.)
Player of the Game
Cord Phelps grabbed another group of firsts today with his first double, home run, run scored, walk off hit and 'Player of the Game'. Phelps ended the game with a three run homerun to right field in the 11th inning off Pirates pitcher Tim Wood. Although he did have an error, Cord went 2-5 during the game with 2 runs scored and 3 RBI. His final 'POG' score was 6.68.
Travis Hafner has avoided a post DL slump by getting on base in 4 of his first 8 at bats. Pronk is a huge part of the Indians offense, so it was pivotal that he be able to come in playing strong. By stepping into the clean-up spot in the lineup, he moves everyone else down one place, making them all slightly better hitters for their spot in the order.
The Indians have dominated in their first two series of Interleague play so far going 6 and 0 against the Reds and Pirates. They will look to continue this play against the Rockies at home in the next series.
Justin Masterson was unable to get a win, yet again, despite only giving up 2 runs. Masterson hasn't gotten a win since May, when he went 5-0 for the month, even though he only allowed more than 2 earned runs 3 times. The big problem is that the Tribe offense has only scored more than 2 runs in 3 of those starts.
The Indians were third in the league in offensive strikeouts going into the game and did nothing to change that today. Grady Sizemore struck out 4 times on his own and the team added 3 more. Manager Manny Acta stated before the game that one of the reasons Jon Nunnally was fired and Bruce Fields brought in was because the team strikes out too much.
Final Score: Cleveland Indians 5 - Pittsburgh Pirates 2
Today, according to the Tribe Insider on twitter, the Indians replaced hitting coach Jon Nunnally with Bruce Fields. Nunnally had been the Indians hitting coach since the beginning of the 2010 season and had been with the team since 2006. Before today, Fields was the minor league hitting coordinator for all levels. Since no official announcement has been made as of yet, it is only speculative why Nunnally was replaced. One possible reason is that the Indians hitters have struggled for the most part this season, with only three hitters batting over .250 right now. This move does not seem as impulsive as it could have been however, as it comes after the Indians have won 2 out of the last 3 games and did not occur over their long losing streak. The hitting coach is one of the hardest position to judge as batting struggles can base around so many different things. We just have to trust Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro know what they're doing and made the right move.
Player of the Game
Carlos Carrasco won his third game in a row and his third 'Player of the Game' in a row at the same time. Carrasco earned 6.00 'POG' points by pitching 6.1 innings, allowing only one run on 4 hits with 4 strikeouts. For the second game in a row, only one Indian had a negative score, this time it was Jack Hannahan who went 0-4. Other than him and Lou Marson, every Tribesman had a score of over 0.98.
Carlos Carrasco has now allowed only one earned run over his last 3 starts. After going 21+ shutout innings, Carrasco finally gave up a single run to the Pirates.
Because of that one run allowed, Carrasco needed more run support than he has gotten in his last two starts. Over those starts the Indians scored a total of 2 runs while winning both games. Tonight the Indians matched that total in the first 2 innings and went on to bring home 3 more before the game was over.
Shin-Soo Choo is again showing signs of breaking through his season long slump as he has walked 6 times in his last 4 games, including 2 tonight. Choo also added an opposite field single to bring home Asdrubal Cabrera in the 7th. It is almost always a positive sign when a good hitter in a slump stops trying to pull the ball and will go with what the pitcher gives him.
The offense played well tonight, even though Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta were both absent. Most notably the base running was much better than it has been recently with the Tribe getting 3 steals and 2 extra bases during the game. Grady Sizemore also had a great base running play when he made it to third on a ball that was almost a home run. Rather than going into a trot, he kept going full speed to third which allowed him to score on Michael Brantley's sacrifice fly.
The two relief pitchers used in tonight's game each have impressive streaks going. Tony Sipp has now went 7 straight games without allowing a run and Joe Smith has went 15. This just continues to prove the age old axiom that nobody scores against the Bullpen Mafia.
Travis Hafner got the day off, meaning he will now not start 10 of his first 15 games back, instead of the 9 he will be forced to miss anyway due to interleague play.
Final Score: The Indians guarantee themselves 1st place for one more day,
Cleveland Indians 5
Pittsburgh Pirates 1
Player of the Game
Josh Tomlin threw 6.2 innings, only allowing 6 hits and one run to win tonight's 'Player of the Game'. Tomlin is coming off 4 straight negative games, so it is great to see him getting back to where he was before that. Prior to those games, Tomlin had been positive every game of the season and won 4 'Player of the Game' awards. Carlos Santana put up a nice effort as well with a home run and two singles, knocking in 2, and his 'POG' score of 5.07 would have won in all but one of the last 8 games. Overall, every single Indian had a positive score except for Adam Everett, who was only in the game as an injury replacement. It is the first game in recent memory that only one player was negative.
The Indians had all 9 starting hitters in the lineup tonight for the first time since May 10th. Don't expect this to last long, however, since Matt LaPorta was injured during the game and will certainly be out tomorrow, probably going on the 15 day DL.
Travis Hafner played well in his first game back, which is not surprising since he has been taking batting practice all week and had multiple hits in both his minor league rehab starts. The best thing that could possibly happen for the Tribe's offense was the return of Travis Hafner. Pronk went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk and an RBI.
Matt LaPorta's injury shows the weakest part of the Indians depth chart. While the Indians are stacked in the minor leagues with second basemen, third basemen and outfielders, first basemen are in short supply. Right now the only real options are the return of Shelley Duncan, the resurrection of Nick Johnson or the major league debut of Jared Goedert or Chad Huffman. Every player has negatives, but there isn't much of a choice if LaPorta does go on the disabled list. Huffman and Goedert are young and first base is not their primary position, Johnson is a complete unknown offensively at this point in his career and Shelley Duncan plays defense like a tree.
On a side note, Jack Hannahan played very well at first in LaPorta's absence, bringing up the possibility of the Indians bringing up a third baseman rather than a first baseman. The 'Feathers Down' in this is that top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall recently went down with a concussion and is now on the disabled list himself.
Final Score: Cleveland Indians 5 - Pittsburgh Pirates 1