Will Francona’s approach keep Indians among better bullpens in majors?
Cody Allen finished ninth in the American League in saves last season as he converted all but four of his 28 save opportunities. Yet, when asked if Allen is his closer, Indians manager Terry Francona might rather opt for a root canal than saying that.
Just like Francona refuses to officially name a closer, there isn’t a designated "long or middle reliever". In an age when bullpens are often constructed with specialists, Francona constructs his bullpen with the best arms that he has and lets the circumstances of the game play out. That approach could be considered old school.
"I don’t think Tito should or is going to back himself into a corner of pitching guys in certain spots. You want your best guys in there and want to win every game," Allen said. "There might be a time when I am better suited to come in and face a couple righties in the eighth and maybe get a guy out in the ninth. Then you might have a guy like Josh Hamilton and a couple lefties behind him and Zep (Marc Rzepczynski) might be better closing it out. "
Most of the credit should go to the bullpen for keeping the Indians’ season from imploding the first four months. When the season ended the Indians set an American League record with 573 relief appearances and became the first team in the league to have four pitchers make 70-plus appearances in a season. Bryan Shaw set a team record with 80 followed by Allen (76), Rzepczynski (73) and Scott Atchison (70). The 35 wins by the bullpen was also a team record and led the majors. Of the MLB-high 343 runners they inherited, only 67 scored. The 19.5 percentage was the lowest in the majors.
Even though the bullpen racked up plenty of appearances, Allen gave Francona lots of credit for not overworking them.
"There was never been a time where I have thrown four days in a row or warmed up more than once," Allen said. "The innings and appearances may be there but the number of pitches, times you warm up, the amount of pitches thrown when warming up he’s watching all of the other things around it. "
The core of the bullpen returns in tact. Besides the aforementioned four, Kyle Crockett and Nick Hagadone were solid. Should he not make the rotation, Zach McAllister would move to the bullpen after doing well in seven September appearances. Of the 10 non-roster pitcher invitees, the one who could have the best chance of making it is Anthony Swarzak. In his past three seasons with the Twins, the right-hander had the second-most relief innings in the majors.