Is Francona Overusing Pitchers?

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Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) take the ball to relieve relief pitcher Bryan Shaw (27) in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the year, jobs have been long since earned, roles have been established, and routines are well entrenched. This late in the season, starters are getting very close to pre-established innings limits and therefore, bullpens become more important than ever. But too often, as is the case I fear with the Indians, a manager falls in love with a certain order of things and doesn’t embrace change. It’s a problem that many around the league have, such as Ned Yost in Kansas City, who refuses to use his best 3 pitchers out of order and uses them almost every game.

Terry Francona is a great manager, one of the very best in the game, but I fear he has an issue with bullpen management. He, as stated above, has a routine with his bullpen that he has not broken from often, even though his favorite toy seems to be wearing down.

Bryan Shaw is the Tribe’s 7th/8th inning pitcher and has done a masterful job this season and last since coming over from Arizona in the Trevor Bauer/Shin Soo Choo trade (which is looking more and more like a win for the Tribe). However, being that he has pitched so well, Francona has used him more than others over those 2 years. Shaw broke in with the Diamondbacks in 2011, pitching in only 33 games/28.1IP. In 2012 he saw an uptick in games appeared and innings pitched to 64/59.1 and had a decent K/9 rate of 6.2. These last 2 years with the Tribe though have seen his numbers grow, 2013 being his most worked in terms of games and innings, but this year isn’t over and he is already close to hitting those marks from last year with 2 weeks still to go.

With reliever’s, there are few stats that are worth their weight, because reliever’s in and of themselves carry such small sample sizes with regards to innings pitched and the like. But over Shaw’s last 28 days, you can see the numbers have ballooned a little bit. in the last month, he has appeared in 14 games and pitched 14.1 innings, all good numbers. He’s striking out almost a batter an inning, another great measuring tool for relievers, but you can see that possibly, as the the innings have tallied up, his stuff is getting a little flat. He has given up 6 HRs on the year, but 2 have been in the last 7 days. His season-to-date BABIP is a very good .261 but his 14 day and 7 day totals blow up to .286 and .400, respectively.

I understand this screams as small sample size, and maybe it was one rough outing, and I understand that the adage of “dance with the one that brung ya” rings true (the Indians would not be so close to playoff contention if Shaw hadn’t pitched so well this year), I wonder if it might not be time to slow down his workload, especially if the Tribe makes it to the playoffs. Francona has already called on Shaw in 75 games, an uptick of 5 from last year and the season isn’t over yet. Why not use players like Zack Crockett or Nick Hagadone or even someone like Austin Adams? They might be unproven players, but how do they get to be proven if you don’t use them? Crokcett and Hagadone are lefties, which complicates things, but a good live arm is better than one that might be grooving pitches.

I also understand that its a catch 22 with the fans and the front office. If Tito pitches Hagadone in the 8th and he gives up a lead, everyone questions, “why didn’t they just use Shaw there?” and if he uses Shaw and he grooves a slider that doesn’t slide and goes over the fence the battle cry is “why is he pitching him so much?” I just feel like this far into a season, you need a little change up from the routine and give some guys some rest.

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