Sports Outside the Beltway

The 2007 Indians Bullpen

The size of the contracts handed out to this year’s free agent class has been widely noted. Paying $100 million to a player of Carlos Lee’s caliber would not have happened over the past couple of off-seasons. However, the current conditions (weak free agent class, MLB’s economic boom) have given the players record contracts.

Alternatively, Indians GM Mark Shapiro has rebuilt his team in a fashion that is very efficient. The Indians have filled holes in LF, 2B, and the bullpen with moderate-cost and short-term contracts, allowing them the flexibility to add further upgrade and depth for the remainder of this off-season and in coming seasons. Shapiro has not signed any superstars, but has upgraded each of these positions.

David Delucci in LF, as either a full-timer or a platoon, and Josh Barfield at 2B are upgrades over their 2006 counterparts. Plus both are relatively inexpensive, with Delucci at $11 million over 3 years and Barfield possibly not eligible for arbitration for 2 more seasons.

The Tribe’s 2006 bullpen was one of the primary parts that went wrong for the Tribe. So Shapiro has devoted a great deal of his efforts toward rebuilding the bullpen into a group with much potential. The new additions include Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Fultz, Joe Borowski, and the latest rumor out of Boston, Keith Foulke. Just for kicks, let’s assume that the Indians sign Foulke. The newbies would include three former closers and a decent LOOGY.

So how much of an improvement is the ’07 pen over the ’06 pen? Last season, the bullpen ran a line of 422.2 IP, 219 ER, 166 BB, 348 K, and 51 HR for a 4.66 ERA that ranked 11th in the AL. The starting rotation registered an ERA of 4.31, good for 3rd in the AL. Doubtless, the bullpen was a major factor in the poor season. Fans often moaned at the bullpen’s inability to hold a lead or register a save after Bob Wickman was traded. Plus, many have noted that the Indians run differential should have given them close to 90 wins, with the bullpen being an explanation for the difference.

How about the new and improved version for the coming season? Using The Bill James Handbook 2007′s projections for pitchers, we can look at the projected perfomance for the ’07 Tribe. I assumed that the bullpen will consist of Foulke, Borowski, Fultz, Hernandez, Fernando Cabrera, Francisco Carmona, Matt Miller, and Rafael Betancourt. Totaling their projected numbers and prorating them over the 422.2 IP of the ’06 Indians, the new bullpen will post the following line in ’07:

    422.2 IP, 177 ER, 141 BB, 295 K, and 43 HR for an ERA of 3.78

During the 2006 season, an ERA of 3.78 would have ranked 5th in the AL and significantly improved the Tribe’s season.

So will the Tribe win in 2007? Clearly, they have improved, barring injury. What we can know for sure is this: Indians fans should be happy right now that Shapiro is at the helm.

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