Bullpens are a scary business with a layer of unpredictability that often confounds front offices; unless of course one can spend and develop like the New York Yankees. The Indians have expended a prodigious amount assets on the bullpen in the past half-decade including top prospects Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Francisco Mejia; three of the organization’s best prospects of recent memory.
While Andrew Miller and Cody Allen of 2016 will not be standing just past the right field fence; they were not out there in 2018 either. Rather, in Oliver Perez, Tyler Olson, and Brad Hand the Indians pen has been constructed to dominate left-handed hitters.
Indeed, the Indians have built one of the most extreme splits based bullpens in recent memory where optimized specialists, and managerial strategy could leverage this Cleveland Indians pen into one significantly better than that of 2018.
In 2018, there were 495 pitchers who pitched at least ten innings; of those 495, Oliver Perez was 15th in FIP and 10th in ERA against left-handed hitters. Brad Hand was 27th in FIP and ran an ERA of 2.06. Tyler Olson? Well he dominates lefties as well to the tune of a career FIP of 2.68 against left-handed hitters with a 31.3% strikeout rate.
The Indians third best left-handed pen arm positively dominates left-handed hitters which is a strong basis for constructing a pen.
Of course, Brad Hand is in general the Indians best reliever and will be relied upon to get out both left-handed and right-handed hitters but Perez and Olson if leveraged correctly could be utilized for 65-80 appearances where they face only 1-3 hitters depending on opponent lineup construction. Leveraging Olson and Perez daily; in the optimal situations will be among Terry Francona’s biggest responsibilities in 2019.
However, the splits for the Indians go deeper; a few of their right-handed weapons are also best if used for targeted usage.
Dan Otero has a career FIP of 3.22 against right-handed hitters where his heavy fastball is most valuable because he can run it in on the hands against same-sided hitters. His splits are less extreme in that he has a career 3.66 FIP against left-handed hitters; thus limited exposure should not be too costly.
Adam Cimber is similarly constructed as a targeted matchup reliever. Cimber and his wonky release point have stymied right handed hitters to the tune of 3.20 FIP and a 2.63 wOBA.
Positively for the Indians; their bullpen has a collection of productive relievers when used optimally be it Olson/Perez as lefty-specialists or Otero/Cimber as righty specialists with Hand left to carry the primary workload.
Between those five arms there is a strong basis on which to construct a competent pen; then the ceiling will be determined by the development and health of the following four pitchers: Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson, Jefry Rodriguez, and Chih-Wei Hu. Each of the four above have high leverage ceilings but also significant risk and in the case of Anderson and Hu; the Indians appear to be humorously strengthening them in the spring as starters rather relievers; a suboptimal approach.
In the end the Indians should dominate left-handed hitters; be competent against right-handed hitters and if one or two of the lotto ticket relievers click; the pen could be dynamic.