There’s not a whole lot to remark on with the Cleveland Indians in 2018 that hasn’t been examined. Nothing remarkable, at any rate. Jose Ramirez was stupendous, then suddenly wasn’t. Trevor Bauer was robbed of a Cy Young by an errant batted ball. Clevinger had great hair, the rotation was amazing. Lindor, Lindor’d. That was about the size of it. On the good end anyway.
Then there was the bullpen. I know, it was a source of pain and misery for the entire season. Each and every reliever, all the way down to Oliver Drake and probably Jeff Beliveau drew some kind of commentary. Usually each produced an article or two rich with hope, then another one a few weeks later bemoaning each failure. But it took a whole season – and a few weeks to regain sanity after experiencing the Lovecraftian hellscape that was watching late Indians for the Indians – to really put it all in perspective. And it truly can be said, it looks like hell.
It seemed all season that the bullpen was just giving up a lot of home runs. Like, an uncomfortably high number. But that’s probably just bias, right? The fact that I watch an inordinate number of Tribe games compared to anyone else. Turns out, I’m not crazy. At 17 percent, the Cleveland bullpen’s HR/FB ratio was far and away tops in the majors. In fact, it’s the highest home run rate by a bullpen since batted ball stats started being kept in 2002. The difference between them and second place Minnesota (14.5 percent) is essentially the same as between the Twins and 16th ranked Philadelphia. Some records should stay held.
The Twins also topped the majors in total homers given up by relievers with 89, 11 better than Cleveland’s total. Thanks to a brilliant rotation, the Cleveland ‘pen also pitched 146.1 fewer innings than Minnesota’s. So at least we were spared that kind of mess. If the Tribe had held up the rate they showed in 2018 for the same innings pitched as the Twins had, you’d have seen 103 home runs allowed by Indians pitching. It’s a fun thought experiment to think of who would absorb those extra 25 home runs. If your’e feeling like being mean to yourself anyway. Just off the top of my head, five more to Dan Otero, two or three to Adam Plutko in long relief, and maybe 10 more to COdy Allen? That sounds feasible.
If they’d pitched as much as Tampa Bay’s bullpen – 824.1 innings – that works out to 138 home runs. Imagine spotting a run to the opponent almost every game. Once again, thank goodness for that rotation.
That the Indians were able to place their relief pitchers in harm’s way so little – that baseball low 463.1 innings was more than 50 fewer than the second place Astros – and yet still let them affect the season so mightily is a testament to the relief corps’ unique greatness. And while it wasn’t all home runs, in many ways they were a pretty middle of the road team, relief-wise. Their Hard Hit Rate ranked 13th highest at 36.1 percent, their ground ball rate ranked 11th highest at 44.1 percent, and their walk rate was fourth lowest at 8.1 percent. All that was good news, at least. It looks like something to build on, right?
Unfortunately not a lot of that any of it matters anymore. Yes, you could convince yourself that the Indians’ home run rate will fall back closer to league average in 2019 – 12. 1 percent, incidentally – because of regression to means and all, but the amount of turnover in big roles we’re about to see with Allen and Miller and even Oliver Perez, and the number of innings that have to be eaten by new people just throws everything into the air. That 17 percent is sure to drop, and that alone is enough to engender some kind of hope. How much remains to be seen.
Nothing is more soul sucking, nothing more painful than a relief homer that gives up the game. The Indians were the best at giving us that in 2018, and with the departure of Allen and Miller among others there’s sure to be change. Maybe Danny Salazar will be the savior. Maybe Neil Ramirez will recapture his early season magic. Who knows. Dan Otero is still going to be around. Adam Cimber needs to make some adjustments pretty soon. Will he? Will Otero still keep handing hitters home runs? Will everyone else just stay the same? Or get worse, even? That’s for wondering as we delver deeper into the offseason. For now let’s remember what we all just went through. Or better yet, let’s forget it. As quickly as possible.