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Round Table Discussion: Bullpen

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Round Table Discussion: Bullpen

Unread postby swerb » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:01 pm

NOTE: This will be made into a front page column. Keep the responses relatively short, and stick to the topic at hand.

While we will discuss a number of topics between now and opening day, each topic will be made into it's own front page piece once the discussion runs it's course, and I have the chance to edit it into a presentable front page piece.

The concept is a round table discussion with banter back and forth between the writers, not long winded diatribes on all your thoughts on the matter at hand.

Others are welcome to opine as well.


Welcome fellas. Here we are, about a month away from the beginning of what has the makings to be a very exciting season of Indians baseball.

Present for this discussion are the following Swerb's Blurbs Indians writers: Steve Buffum, Tony Lastoria, Jarad Regano, and Mark Melnik. I am Rich Swerbinsky, and will be moderating the discussion in addition to chiming in with my thoughts.

Let's start things this way. Mark Shapiro is on the record as saying the bullpen is his greatest area of concern for this season. He cited the losses of guys like Howry and Riske, and the overall year to year volatility of relief pitchers as his main concerns. We've seen both ends of the spectrum here, with the leagues worst bullpen ruining our hopes in 2004, and the leagues best bullpen leading us to 93 wins in 2005.

Are you as concerned as Shapiro is about the bullpen this year?
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Unread postby swerb » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:02 pm

REGANO: Shapiro had always said that the bullpen is the "easiest" area to address. This, however, was before the debacle that was the 2004 bullpen featuring the likes of Jose Jimenez and Scott Stewart.

I think the Tribe is counting heavily on rookies with good arms (Carbrera, Brown) to take the place of established vets like Arthur Rhodes and Bobby Howry. While I do share Shapiro's concerns, I personally feel that another big bat continues to be the Tribe's biggest weakness heading into 06.

BUFFUM: Well, it's certainly the most volatile element on the team. The rotation looks largely the same. The lineup looks largely the same. But the bullpen is replacing three guys who performed (at least in parts) very well last season.

Forget the roles for a moment: I want to know if the guys are actually healthy. To me, a healthy Matt Miller makes up for David Riske, and Riske was pretty damn good. (Miller keeps the ball in the park better, though, which is a plus.) And Mota? Who the hell knows which Mota shows up?

MELNIK: While I am concerned about some individual performances, I think there are enough quality arms in the bullpen to make this a better than average group. When healthy, Miller has shown to be an excellent reliever. Betancourt has been effective too and has a really live arm (though appears to wear down sometimes). I am really, really excited about Cabrera and his stuff too (though he had a habit of putting too many guys on base at times last year---I expect him to take a lump or two this year). I don't see any reason why Miller, Betancourt, Cabrera, and Mota can't be effective in those 6th/7th/8th inning roles. Can they be as effective as Howry, Riske, and Rhodes were last year? While it is unlikely, I don't think they have to be very far off. In addition, there really aren't any more questions about this group than the group going into last season. With that, I am not that concerned about the group as a whole.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:26 pm

Who isn’t concerned about the bullpen? Bullpens in general are up and down in nature around baseball, so Shapiro isn’t the only GM with sweaty palms over this issue. The White Sox traded away two key bullpen guys in Marte and Vizcaino, so I am sure there is some concern there too. And, is Jenks for real? Etc.

The Indians lost three integral pieces in Howry, Rhodes and Riske to the bullpen. Howry was arguably THE best right-handed setup man in baseball last year. Replacing that is going to be tough. So, why not replace the best right-handed setup man in 2005 with arguably the best right-handed setup man in 2003 and 2004 in Mota?
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:27 pm

BUFFUM: You know, that's a good point: Raffy usually gets left out of this discussion, but Betancourt strikes out more than a hitter an inning and sports a pretty brisk 4-to-1 K-to-BB ratio. That's superior. Why is he any less than what Howry was in 2005? He's no spring chicken, but you let Miller be Riske, Raffy be Howry, and Cabrera take over Raffy's innings, and the only missing element is Rhodes.

Which, of course, we don't have, unless you think Wedge can let Miller's numbers against lefties override his vision of Miller's weird delivery.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:31 pm

The only problem with Raffy is he typically loses a lot of his effectiveness when used on consecutive days. As a setup man, you'll be used on back to back nights often, and sometimes three days in a row. (aside comment: can anyone find Raffy's stats pitching two or more days in a row? I recall many times the announcers mentioning how much he declines when used like that).
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Unread postby mark » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:32 pm

One thing I can't seem to really shake right now is that we are testing our luck a bit with Wickman. I tended to roll my eyes at people who were critical of Wickman last year. As a sinker/slider pitcher, Wickman has always tended to pitch out in and out of jams. In fact, I like closers like Wickman because it usually takes 3 hits to score on him (because of his stuff) as opposed to guys who throw gas and one mighty swing can tie the game. That said, it is hard to ignore the dramatic drop in Wickman's "Ks per 9 innings". Last season's was the lowest in 10 years for Wickman. While Wickman was never really a strike out pitcher, I think it signals a drop off in the quality of his stuff. Furthermore, it concerns me that if I had to get one out to save the season---Wickman wouldn't have been the guy I would have picked last year. Your closer should be that guy. If he were that for us now, it would be more a testament to the new guys we have than anything Wickman is doing right.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:33 pm

I don't see any reason why Miller, Betancourt, Cabrera, and Mota can't be effective in those 6th/7th/8th inning roles. Can they be as effective


I see no reason that the return of a healthy Matt Miller and a full season of Fernando Cabrera cannot replace the departed Rhodes and Riske. Heck, maybe Wedge might actually USE these guys late in games. Let’s face it, during the stretch run last season Rhodes was on a personal leave from the team…and Riske was used primarily in mop up duties. We had a four man bullpen, and we faired pretty well without Riske and Rhodes late in the year. At some point, Shapiro may have to look to acquire a second lefty in the pen, or give fast-tracking prospect Tony Sipp a look late season like they did with Cabrera last year.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:33 pm

Consigliere wrote:So, why not replace the best right-handed setup man in 2005 with arguably the best right-handed setup man in 2003 and 2004 in Mota?

Because he was lousy in Florida in 2004 and lousy all last year? I can't shake the impression that he's not 100%.
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Unread postby mark » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:36 pm

As for the Betancourt thing:

I don't have any stats on his back-to-back efforts. That said, the announcers typically make a thing about him getting wore out. One thing, though, is that we don't need to have a 8th inning closer like Howry. If we try and recreate role, that could lead to problems. I see no problem in playing this like the beginning of 2001 when Shuey and Karsay would take turns setting up Wickman. You can use any combination to get to Wickman now. In fact, that was the way Wedge was doing it until Howry really emerged.

My point being, Betancourt can still be a set up guy without pitching a lot of back-to-backs.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:38 pm

One thing I can't seem to really shake right now is that we are testing our luck a bit with Wickman.


This corner was hoping we'd land Trevor Hoffman this past offseason. Wickman is a solid backup plan, but how much longer can we play with the Wck before it gets lit and we all get burned? It should be noted he gave up 9 HRs last year, the most HR/IP in his career.

The wildcard in the bullpen is Wickman. If Wickman stays healthy and doesn’t hit the wall and become Danny Graves 2005 as a closer, the other pitchers should flourish in their defined roles. If Wicky goes down, then chaos could be the result as we scramble for a closer and move guys around to different roles.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:39 pm

Consigliere wrote:... or give fast-tracking prospect Tony Sipp a look late season like they did with Cabrera last year.

Speaking of Sipp, what are the odds that Scott Sauerbeck can be more than a LOOGY? Striking out a guy an inning is pretty good ... unless accompanied by a walk every inning, too.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:42 pm

Steve Buffum wrote:Because he was lousy in Florida in 2004 and lousy all last year? I can't shake the impression that he's not 100%.


True. There are concerns with his health, and the health issues may have affected his performance to some degree in 2005. But, what if Mota is healthy? If this guy is healthy, he is one of the most dominant setup men in the game. The problem is, we won't know how healthy he is until the season starts since the Indians are taking it easy with him and Wickman in Spring Training and they are not likely to pitch much.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:43 pm

My point being, Betancourt can still be a set up guy without pitching a lot of back-to-backs.


Which is why I believe Betancourt is the primary 7th inning guy, and does some spot 8th inning duty when Mota needs a break.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:45 pm

Steve Buffum wrote:
Consigliere wrote:Speaking of Sipp, what are the odds that Scott Sauerbeck can be more than a LOOGY? Striking out a guy an inning is pretty good ... unless accompanied by a walk every inning, too.


I am not a fan of using Suaerbeck in any other role than as a LOOGY. He just gets abused against righthanders. There is no way you can keep him out there an entire inning, as in 2005 righties hit .377 off him with a .946 OPS. That is not good.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:52 pm

Consigliere wrote:Which is why I believe Betancourt is the primary 7th inning guy, and does some spot 8th inning duty when Mota needs a break.

Well, this gets into a whole different roundtable discussion about the quality of Eric Wedge as manager. Skirting that for now, it is pretty obvious that he prefers a very rote Defined Role Bullpen: is he flexible enough to do something like this? I mean, I don't think we used our resources very efficiently last season: it worked out because people either pitched over their heads or got lucky, but who's to say we won't need some better resource management in 2006?

This gets magnified by the fact that Gardenhire (superior talent) and Guillen (superior usage patterns) wield their bullpens like large, sharp halberds.
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Unread postby swerb » Tue Mar 07, 2006 4:00 pm

To me, we can talk all day about how effective guys like Miller, Sauerbeck, Betancourt, and Cabrera will be ... and it will ultimately pale in comparison to what I see as the two biggest keys to this bullpen.

The health of Bob Wickman and Guillermo Mota.

I think that's why Shapiro would concur, and that's why he so publicly worried about it.

Wickie and Mota both have been incredibly effective when healthy, and have the potential to be one of the most effective 1-2 punches in the league late in games. They also would top my list of "AL relief pitchers least likely to avoid the DL".

If we get the '05 Wickie and '03 Mota, we won't have to worry as much about Betancourt on back to backs, Miller being able to replicate last year, and Cabrera's development.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 4:14 pm

I'm not worried about Wickman's health. I'm worried about Wickman's effectiveness. Shoot, he's two years removed from elbow surgery, I consider him healed from that. What health issue does he have? Bad HDL/LDL ratios?

For the record, I'd like something better than the 2005 of Wickman's stats. The luck, I'll take.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 4:17 pm

I think for any team, the health of their 8th inning setup man and closer is the key to success for a bullpen. But, I will agree with Buffum in that I want *more* from Wickman next year as far as performance goes. The guy really was lucky a lot last year, which scares the bejesus out of me this year. That luck thing tends to flip on you in a hurry.
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Unread postby swerb » Tue Mar 07, 2006 4:32 pm

Steve Buffum wrote:I'm not worried about Wickman's health. I'm worried about Wickman's effectiveness. Shoot, he's two years removed from elbow surgery, I consider him healed from that. What health issue does he have? Bad HDL/LDL ratios?

For the record, I'd like something better than the 2005 of Wickman's stats. The luck, I'll take.

Wickman has been effective as long as he's been healthy. He's always been a guy that gives up more hits/walks than other guys he listed at the top of the save leaders with. He's never had their stuff.

He's a guy that is willing to put guys on base for the sake of achieving the ultimate goal: getting the last three outs before the opponent can tie the game.

If his elbow remains sound, I see it as likely that Wickie is 85-90% as effective in strictly converting saves this year as he was last, which would still make for a pretty good closer.

IOW, I see the elbow not holding up as more of a risk than his save % plummeting.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:00 pm

Okay, well, apropos of nothing, does anyone see Steve Karsay having really, truly, this time we mean it, recovered from injuries and be ready to pitch? I actually think he can contribute this season, although I'm not particularly interested in him being on the opening day roster.

Danny Graves, on the other hand, is finding it too difficult to get good rotation on his pitches with that gigantic fork sticking out of his back.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:25 pm

Steve Buffum wrote:Okay, well, apropos of nothing, does anyone see Steve Karsay having really, truly, this time we mean it, recovered from injuries and be ready to pitch? I actually think he can contribute this season, although I'm not particularly interested in him being on the opening day roster.

Danny Graves, on the other hand, is finding it too difficult to get good rotation on his pitches with that gigantic fork sticking out of his back.


I see Karsay on a return path along the likes of Bob Howry in 2004. Not that both had the same injuries, but just saying I expect Karsay to go to Buffalo and prove his durability....and if he does and a need arises, he makes his debut late June (like Howry in 2004). I think there is nil chance he makes this team out of Spring Training, same with Graves (who looks to be about done).
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Unread postby mark » Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:52 pm

I initially felt either Graves or Karsay would make the team given that Davis, Tadano, and Brown all have options left. That said, in the emails that were exchanging before the thread, it was pointed out that Graves or Karsay making the team would cause the Indians to make a move on the 40 man roster. Looking at it from that perspective, I can't see either one making the team. Furthermore, I don't think either one of these guys are really going to be able to help much. Graves appears to be as done as done gets. Karsay might be able to make it back---but with his injury past I have my doubts that he will be able to hold up anyway.

There is no real harm bringing these guys in...but I have zero expectations for either one of them.
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Unread postby mark » Tue Mar 07, 2006 6:00 pm

Wickman has been effective as long as he's been healthy. He's always been a guy that gives up more hits/walks than other guys he listed at the top of the save leaders with. He's never had their stuff.


I agree he's always been effective when healthy...to this point in his career. While Wickman may not have had the "stuff" of some of the top name closers, I don't want to sell him short either. Wickman threw some nasty junk with both his slider and sinker---especially during the apex of this career---which I would argue was 2000-2001.

That said, I think there has been a change in his overall stuff. His slider appeared to flatten out a bit last season. He is far more hittable than he was during his first years in Cleveland...and again, his "Ks per 9 innings" has dropped dramatically.

While Wickman relies on ground balls to get guys out, the movement on his pitches matter. I am hopefully he can produce a similar season compared to last year. To be honest, though, if he gets bombed...I won't be that surprised.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 6:04 pm

Yeah, the sticky point with me is if you take Graves or Karsay as the last bully guy, then you have to take someone off the 40-man to do so. Considering we already are going to have to do this to add Hollandsworth, we now have to add 2 guys to the 40-man and remove two guys from it. Obviously, one of BP or Vazquez goes, but is it worth losing a Mujica, Perez or even an Aubrey to add Karsay or Graves to the roster now?

I don’t think so. Karsay needs to prove he is durable, and ST is not enough time to prove so. And, Graves needs to prove he can still pitch, and like Karsay, ST is not enough time to figure that out. So, both start in Buffalo, and if they refuse the assignment, bye-bye. I think it is going to be Davis or Brown for that final shot, and considering how impressive and dominant Brown has been, he might get it.
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Unread postby Steve Buffum » Tue Mar 07, 2006 6:18 pm

I agree about sending Karsay and Graves to Beefalo, although there's a nontrivial chance that someone with a hole will sign one to a major-league deal out of ST. (I wouldn't give it much thought.)

Outside the scope of a bullpen discussion: is there a nontrivial chance that Hollandsworth gets the wazoo? That is, that he is NOT added to the 40-man and is simply allowed to find another job? That's my vote, but I admit to a certain Yoot Bias.
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Unread postby consigliere » Tue Mar 07, 2006 6:43 pm

The 4th OFer thingy is an entirely different discussion....but it is safe to say I am in agreement with Buff on this one. I have absolutely NO interest in Hollandsworth whatsoever. None.

But, from everything Shapiro and Wedge is saying, the guy pretty much has a job locked up. I don't have the exact quote, but Wedge said something along the lines of "Hollandsworth is the 4th OFer barring injury."

Personally, I'd rather see Benny Francisco get the job. He can play anywhere in the OF, has nice pop, good speed, and even though he is an unknown he probaby offers more than what we know about Hoolandsworth (IOW, he sucks).

Frankie G and Brad Snyder are going to Buffalo no matter what they do in Spring.
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Unread postby pup » Wed Mar 08, 2006 10:22 am

Damn. Sorry I missed this roundtable. Pretty much on the same page with everyone else. All I will add is that relievers are the most fickle group of players on any team. You never really know from one year to the next. They are a "different breed" and you never know what will set them off, good or bad, at any point. Outside of a handful of closers, there is very little consistancy in bullpens. Your best option is to run in as many hard throwing guys at decent salaries and hope you strike gold in spring training or early in the season.

The one move I like is the Karsay signing. Don't know what his top end will be, but at some point he will help this bullpen.
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Unread postby rigs » Wed Mar 08, 2006 1:16 pm

off subject- but Consig, what is the deal with Francisco?
Having seen him at every level, he looks very polished but gets no love as far as prospects in the org.
Injuries the biggest concern?
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Unread postby consigliere » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:22 pm

With Francisco, he has had problems staying healthy. He missed several month of play because of injury in 2003 and 2005. The kid is a player, and profiles as a 4th OFer.....which is why the Indians would be fine adding him to the team and not worry about him sitting on the bench often instead of playing everyday in Buffalo. Relievers and utility or 4th OF types generally do not get a lot of love by those who compile the prospect rankings.

Francisco was great in the winter leagues this offseason, hitting (off the top of my head) 13 HRs with 35 RBIs in about 30-40 games. He has only played in 4 games above AA Akron, so he probably starts in Buffalo this year.

unfortunately, unless someone brings Jeff Gillooly out of retirement to whack Hollandsworth on the knee, Hollandsworth will be the 4th OFer. I'd prefer Francisco, but I'm not the Tribe GM. :wink:
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Unread postby rigs » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:31 pm

I agree, and am aware of his winter stats. I just think he could be more than a 4th outfielder (by the way, did Wily Taveras project as a 4th outfielder?)
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Unread postby consigliere » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:47 pm

It is always possible Francisco could become more. Like Gerut in 2003....although Gerut quickly reverted to form and showed why he was a 4th OF type guy.

As for Willy Tavares, yeah, that was his projection.....and I think that still is what he is.
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Unread postby rigs » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:50 pm

actually I agree on Taveras.
I think Francisco could develop more though.
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