Cleveland Indians: Will the Closer Role be Utilized in 2017?

The Cleveland Indians did away with bullpen roles during the 2016 postseason, but things will be different this year during the regular season.

After watching Zach Britton sit in the bullpen during a Baltimore Orioles loss in the American League Wild Card Game, baseball fans were furious. How could Buck Showalter leave his best pitcher in the bullpen for 11 innings?

In direct opposite fashion, Terry Francona used a revolutionary bullpen strategy that allowed the Cleveland Indians to breeze through much of the postseason. By doing away with the traditional bullpen role, he put his best pitchers on the mound when they were needed most, no matter what inning it was.

Andrew Miller stole the spotlight, but Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw completed what was one of the most dominant bullpen trios in recent memory. Any of the three could enter a game at any time, with Francona choosing to go with whoever was needed most at any given time.

Miller was usually the one brought in early in close games, with the mindset that the game could be lost as early as the fifth inning. While a manager like Showalter wanted to save his closer for a save situation, Francona realized there may not be a save situation if his team gave up an early lead.

The fluidity of the bullpen in the postseason was exciting to watch, but the same methods may not be possible during the 2017 regular season. Francona cannot bring Miller in for two or more innings every other game, while Allen will not be making an appearance in the fifth or sixth inning in a 1-1 game against the Minnesota Twins in June.

So based on the length of the MLB regular season and the lack of off-days, the Indians may be forced to use some traditional bullpen roles, at least for most of the season. Allen will likely see more time as the traditional closer, while Miller can come in for the ninth inning if Allen was needed earlier in the game. Then again, Miller may be used in the seventh of eighth inning of a close game to hold a lead, as he is the best bullpen arm, allowing Allen to close it out.

Given the Indians make the postseason once again, the roles should switch back to how they were in the 2016 postseason once October arrives. The strategy is one that works well, but one that simply cannot be sustained during a grueling MLB regular season.

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