Cleveland Indians: Projecting the 2018 Bullpen

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Andrew Miller
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Andrew Miller /

The 2018 Cleveland Indians should have yet another dominant bullpen with most of the key contributors returning from last season as well as some intriguing newcomers.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians had arguably the most exceptional pitching staff of all time. The Indians out-pitched every other team in the modern era by nearly two WAR according to Fangraphs. The team displayed shear mastery up and down the staff with the most dominant starting rotation ever and one of the greatest bullpens of all time as well. While the Indians had to fill the void in the bullpen left by Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, the core of the pen will be returning for another run at the World Series.

The best way to look at the season ahead is to look at the projections for the coming season. These projections not only give an estimate for individual players but also teams and division standings. There are three primary projection systems that I look at when evaluating players and teams: Pecota, ZiPS, and Steamer.

Fortunately for us, Fangraphs combines ZiPS and Steamer into one handy projection system which mostly leaves us with Fangraphs projections and Baseball Prospectus projections or Pecota. For this exercise, I have combined both projections into one to make it more comprehensive. While no one can predict baseball, this should come as close as possible.

Here are the Cleveland Indians bullpen projections for 2018:

Cody Allen6511.
Andrew Miller6213.
Nick Goody5511.63.63.744.064.093.910.6
Tyler Olson508.
Dan Otero456.32.53.933.674.693.750.2
Zach McAllister429.73.53.603.734.144.290.5
Matt Belisle407.13.64.334.124.963.590.2

*XRA is a stat I created based on Statcast data. The projection is simply a weighted average of the last few seasons with more weight on the most recent season.

Collectively, the relief corps is projected to accrue roughly 5 wins above replacement, which ranks them as one of the top bullpens in baseball going into the season. Should the Indians perform up to their projections, the team would likely be looking at another central division title.

Let’s take a look at each of these pitchers individually:

More from Call to the Pen

Cody Allen

Cody Allen is an invaluable member of this bullpen. Allen is about as consistent a closer as you’ll find across the league. He has pitched at least 67 innings with under a 3.00 ERA in each of the past five seasons. His peripheral numbers are excellently consistent as well. Allen has struck out at least 29% while only walking 10% or less of the batters he has faced during that same time span. Unsurprisingly, the projections expect Allen to do this once again and he should be the shut down closer the Indians need. With Allen locking down the ninth, Terry Francona can use his other relievers however he sees fit.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller has been one of the very best relievers in the game over the past four seasons. While he is still projected for some gaudy numbers, these systems are expecting Miller to regress some in 2018. That only makes sense after posting some of the best possible years a reliever could ever have. Miller has also had a heavy workload the past couple seasons including throwing over 90 innings in 2016. Regardless, Andrew Miller is going to be the ace of the bullpen and should shut down the best hitters in the American League at the most crucial moments. 2018 will likely be the last season Miller and Allen share in the Indians bullpen so they both will likely want to make this yea a memorable one.

Nick Goody

Nick Goody is the pitcher in this bullpen other than Cody Allen and Andrew Miller with the highest upside. While Goody only has one full major league season under his belt, he is projected to strike out over 11.5 batters per nine innings this season. If he can meet his projected walk rate, Goody has the chance to join Allen and Miller as relief aces. That would make for a scary and formidable back-end of the bullpen. However, Goody has limited experience and could be quite volatile. The projections are projecting him for just average run prevention, but Goody has the potential for much more.

Tyler Olson

Tyler Olson came up in the second half last year and proceeded to not allow a single earned run. Olson is unsurprisingly projected to surrender some runs this year, but he should still have a successful season. If Olson can continue to keep the ball on the ground as well as he did last season, he should be a very useful reliever for the tribe. With the great arms in the pen, Olson doesn’t have to be a stud. He just needs to be a consistent contributor. He will likely serve as the match-up lefty in the middle of games before Francona wants to use Miller. A good year from Olson will make this not only a talented bullpen but a deep one as well.

Dan Otero

Dan Otero doesn’t walk anybody, ever. The highest walk rate of his career thus far was 4.3% and that was four years ago. Surprisingly, Otero is projected to walk 2.5 batters per nine innings this season even though he has only once even walked 1.5 per nine. I would certainly wager the under on that number. Otero also does an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. All of his pitches induce a large amount of ground balls, but he relies primarily on his 90 mph sinker that hitters really beat into the ground. Otero’s upside isn’t very high because he doesn’t strike many hitters out, but he is a solid ground ball reliever that any team would be happy to have for the middle innings.

Zach McAllister

Zach McAllister was part of the rotation for the Indians a few years back. He was roughly average there before he was pushed out by superior options and moved to the pen. Since the move, McAllister has made universal improvements to his game and has become a quality reliever. Due to his experience as a starter, McAllister is able to go multiple innings in the pen as needed. He is projected to have a pretty productive season this year as a middle reliever/long man for the Indians. McAllister relies heavily on his mid-nineties fastball to get his whiffs and should continue to do so in 2018.

Matt Belisle

Matt Belisle has been a solid albeit unspectacular reliever for the past eight years. He has had some excellent years, but the Indians just need him to have an average season. The projections see him doing just that. His ERA and FIP projections in the low 4s reflect the likely scenario while his nearly 5 DRA and 3.6 XRA show his likely floor and ceiling. Anything more than average that Belisle brings to the table will just be gravy as it will be the other relievers that carry the team.

Next: Indians season preview

This bullpen might take a small step back from last year’s group, but this should still be one of the best reliever groups in all of baseball. With lock-down relievers, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, as well as plenty of depth behind them, this bullpen will be able to match up with anyone in the game. The combination of this bullpen with perhaps an even better starting rotation make this Indians pitching staff one to be reckoned with.