Scott Atchison: Cleveland Indians’ Elder Statesman

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Scott Atchison was a very pleasant surrpise for most Tribe fans this year. Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Atchison Goes From Afterthought to Bullpen Mainstay

Every offseason the Cleveland Indians sign several players to minor league deals with invites to spring training, and last winter was no exception.  Every team does this, and there are different reasons a player might sign a minor-league deal. Reasons include, but are not limited to, a career minor leaguer looking for a fresh home, a former big leaguer coming off injury and looking to rebound (such as Scott Kazmir), or a journeyman reliever that knows he’s just going to be depth/AAA fodder.  Scott Atchison fell into that last category last winter when the Tribe inked him to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp.

Atchison was coming off a disappointing 2013 season with the New York Mets. He signed there as a free agent after being non-tendered by the Red Sox, something he has been all too familiar with in his professional career. In fact, Scott Atchison has been designated for assignment or non-tendered six times since the start of the 2010 season, including being designated three times by the Terry Francona led Boston Red Sox in 2010-2011. Francona obviously liked Atchison though and the Indians brought him in, and low and behold the old man did what he always does and won himself another shot with a big league club.

Needless to say, the expectations with Atchison weren’t too high for most Tribe fans. Most (including myself) viewed him as mere roster fodder and that guy in the pen that Francona could abuse and/or use when a game was out of reach early. However, it didn’t take long for Atchison to start to prove he was worthy or more high leverage work, posting a 0.77 WHIP in the month of April and finished the first half with a 0.95 WHIP.

He eventually found himself in the seventh inning role once John Axford was bumped from his closer’s role forcing Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to both move back an inning. Atchison really didn’t miss a beat all year being Mr. Dependable for Francona. He ended up recording career highs in innings and appearances joining Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen with 70 or more appearances this year.

A case could be made for Scott Atchison being the best Tribe reliever in 2014 as he finished second in fWAR (0.8), tied for second in bWAR (1.4), first in WHIP (1.028), second in innings (72), and tied for first in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.50).  Not bad for a guy that looks like he should be at home collecting Social Security checks.

The Indians were so thrilled with how well Atchison pitched that they signed him to a major league extension for the 2015 season with a team option for 2016. Now as crazy as it sounds, this deal actually was not needed to keep Atchison in Cleveland for 2015. Despite being older than the pyramids, Scott Atchison actually was still not eligible for free agency following the 2014 season.  He finished the year with 5.168 years of service time, meaning he’d have be eligible for arbitration. However, the Indians were able to get him at a good price of only $900K, likely less than what he’d have gotten in arbitration given the rather impressive year he had. The team option is for only $1 million in 2016 with a mere $100K buyout.  This deal has almost no risk for the Indians, and as Atchison proved in 2014, some good upside left in that old body of his.

While some may point out that 2014 was an anomaly or a “career year” for Atchison, that really wasn’t the case. Between being designated for assignment/non-tendered several times by the Red Sox, Atchison actually managed to have a rather successful three-year run from 2010-2012, posting a 3.18 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 102 games and 141.2 innings. 2012 in particularly was very good for Atchison when he threw over 50 innings with a 1.85 ERA and WHIP of just 0.994. In fact, a reasonable case could be made that Atchison was one of the best relievers (statistically) in baseball during the 2012 season.

Since the start of the 2011 season Atchison also matches up quite favorably in a several categories with a couple other Tribe right-handed relievers.

Scott AtchisonBryan ShawCody Allen
Games179247180
Innings199239169
ERA2.893.013.11
WHIP1.101.231.22
K/BB Ratio3.172.463.07

*Allen’s stats cover just 2012-2014 (made MLB debut in 2012)

These stats aren’t the only ones to use for a reliever, and one could argue there are better ones out there.  However, most would agree the key for any reliever is to limit base runners, and as seen by Atchison’s WHIP he clearly has done a good job at that the last few years, better than even Shaw or Allen.  Atchison may not be flashy on the mound, but he gets the job done and has been for a few years now despite few noticing.

Not only was Scott Atchison a great addition on the mound for the 2014 Tribe bullpen, but he was a great fit into that Indians clubhouse.  He wasn’t the outspoken leader that guys like Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi have been, but his personality and willingness to take a joke sure fit in with the club as guys like Chisenhall, Tomlin, and Kluber really seemed to get in on the action:

There were several more, but those were a few of my personal favorites. Scott Atchison was a good sport about it and admitted he enjoys the role of Tribe Elder Statesman.  For a team full of youngsters, the old man jokes really seemed to be a team-builder and was a joy to follow all season long.  Here’s hoping that old fossil still has another year in him, as the Indians will be counting on Atchison to be more than the mop-up man he appeared to be heading into 2014.  No sir, in 2015 the Indians will be relying on Atchison to be a lock-down, late-inning reliever. The same kind of reliever he has proven he can be in the Major Leagues.