On the heels of the 2018 season, the Indians roster was due for an overhaul and the bullpen was about to bear the brunt of the loss. Key departures in Cody Allen and Andrew Miller left Dan Otero as the lone 2016 bullpen relic. This had been in the cards and fortunately, the front office made a move to acquire Brad Hand and Adam Cimber last season to offset the blow. But Cimber went off track after joining the Tribe leaving Hand as the only reliable option in the pen following 2018. After a flurry of off-season moves to address this concern, including re-signing Oliver Perez, the unit entered 2019 with more questions than answers.
But through 21 games of 2019, the bullpen has responded quite well. They currently rank in the top third in the league with respect to ERA (3.56), FIP (3.91) and WAR (.8). They have inherited 12 leads and thus far protected 10 of them – even after Saturday’s shenanigans. After finishing dead last in 2018 with 1.51 HR/9, they find themselves in the top third through 68-1/3 innings in 2019 with .92. Following an off-season of speculation and doubt, the pen has been an asset to a team in need of some positive breaks.
To no one’s surprise, the unit is anchored by Hand who boasts a 1.86 ERA and FIP while striking out over 11/9 with six saves. The rest of the unit has been a mixed bag. Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez have been underwhelming in 2019 after helping right the ship in ’18. Ramirez continues to strike batters out at a high rate but has given up north of three HR/9 seeing his FIP balloon to 5.88 in nine innings of work. Likewise, Perez has been prone to the long ball this season offering up two in less than six innings of work. Perez has also inherited eight runners allowing half to cross the plate. His FIP currently sits at 7.51. Seeing one (or both) of these veterans correct course would be a welcome surprise to a relatively young and unproven bullpen. A return to 2018 Perez is unlikely, but a somewhat close version would be outstanding.
Otero (OT, not OP) and Tyler Olson have performed close to expectations. After allowing a league-high 31% HR/FB in 2018 Otero has only served up one in nearly nine innings of work en route to a 2.08 ERA (but 4.72 FIP). Olson leads the team with nine inherited runners, allowing three to cross. Primarily a lefty specialist, Olson has faced 11 left-handed hitters in 2019 allowing three hits and three walks only striking out one. On the flip side, he has performed well against righties striking out five and holding the 20 batters he’s faced to a .222 average. I would expect him to correct against lefties as the season progresses.
Adam Cimber has displayed a lot of the promise that made him so exciting in the first half of 2018. He is currently sporting a 2.50 FIP with seven strikeouts and three walks in 8-1/3 innings pitched with five earned runs. But four of the five earned runs and all three walks came in 2/3 inning of work in Saturday’s implosion to the Braves. Hopefully, Saturday was a blip on the radar as Cimber will be needed to shore up late innings for the Tribe.
Cody Anderson (not Allen) has appeared in three games spanning five innings striking out five earning him a 2.30 FIP. More importantly, his velocity appears to be nearing pre-injury status. Anderson could be a wild card this season as he showed some promise before being plagued by injuries for the last two seasons.
Finally, everyone’s sweetheart this season has been Nick Wittgren. Acquired from Miami this off-season, Wittgren looks to join Brad Hand as fellow Marlins cast off to move on to elite relief pitcher status. So far he has delivered in 2019 striking out nine, walking zero and only allowing two hits in nine innings of work. He sports a sterling 0.00 ERA, .53 FIP and .29 WHIP. Of the five runners he has inherited, zero have scored. He has been a breath of fresh air to a bullpen searching for a late-inning ace to pair with Hand. The jury is still out on the 27-year-old, but so far he has given us a lot to look forward to.
The season is still young, but at this point, we’re already 13% into the 2019 campaign. Looking back at the 2018 season in this same time frame, the Tribe pen was 4th in ERA with a 2.68 with a 3.43 FIP. As 2018 proved things can get sideways pretty quickly so it’s worth monitoring this unit closely. For now, they have outperformed most pre-season expectations and outside of Saturday’s second game, appear to be trending in the right direction. If Olson and Perez can provide an avenue to get lefties out and some combination of Wittgren/Cimber/Anderson can shore up the 7th and 8th inning, this bullpen could be a surprise asset to a team locked in a dogfight for the AL Central.