The Indians didn’t have the same level of dominance in the bullpen as they did in the rotation but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of studs (and duds) this decade. The first two of our three studs should come as no surprises.
Cody Allen and Andrew Miller both dominated this decade. Allen as the Tribe’s closer and Miller as his electric setup man. Allen became the Tribe’s franchise leader in career saves and his 7.5 fWAR more than doubled that of second-place Miller (3.7). Allen threw 440 innings for the Tribe and saved 149 games. Things may not have always been perfect but he was the Tribe’s best reliever in the 2016 World Series and along with Miller and Bryan Shaw helped carry the team to Game 7.
Miller wasn’t around as long as Allen or some other relievers, being acquired in a blockbuster deadline trade in 2016, but his two and a half years in Cleveland were pure domination. Among Tribe relievers with at least 50 innings he posted by far the lowest FIP at 2.30 (Oliver Perez closest at 2.75) and his 13.32 K/9 was also tops for the Indians.
Injury slowed him down in his final season in 2018 but nothing comes close to those 2016-2017 years. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 American League Division Series as well. Another easy choice with Allen. The third and final stud though is a bit trickier…
After much debate, I finally settled on who I had envisioned from the start: Bryan Shaw. Anything but a fan-favorite, Shaw went out and just got the job done more times than not. A setup man who was always in the shadow of Allen and Miller, he helped form that three-headed bullpen monster in 2016. He posted the third-highest fWAR, coming in just behind Miller at 3.6. That was obviously aided by his 358 innings which ranked second to only Allen.
But he also posted a top 10 FIP at 3.45 (min 50 innings) and was arguably the best reliever in baseball down the stretch in 2013. His play in September of that year (along with Nick Swisher) helped the Tribe bullrush towards that Wild Card birth and really help set the tone for the rest of the decade.
Relievers like Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano were right there with Shaw. Their FIPs were all within 0.05 of each other and Smith was even right there in WAR at 3.4. However, neither had the impact that Shaw did. Shaw took a beating too on innings and just kept on coming before he left in free agency. Gave the Tribe everything and then some.
As far as duds go…boy were there some bad ones. Trying to look at ones that actually pitched a few times though, the first dud of the decade is Neil Ramirez. Among relievers with at least 50 innings, he posted the worst FIP and fWAR at 5.47 and -0.4, respectively. Somehow he lasted more than a year with the Indians pitching in 2017 and being brought back (via arbitration even) for 2018.
Mercifully the Tribe finally cut bait with him after 16 appearances last year. There’s really nothing good to say about Ramirez other than it was cool having three guys with the same last name on the Opening Day roster last year…I guess?
The second dud is a guy I hate putting on here cause he is one of my favorite follows on Twitter: John Axford. Remember when I said Ramirez had the worst WAR among relievers with at least 50 innings? Well, Axford had a worse WAR at -0.5 though he fell just short at 43 2/3 innings. No one, regardless of inning minimums, posted a worse fWAR than Axford.
The most frustrating part of Axford’s struggles was that he left that 2014 and went on to actually have a very solid career. He moved on to Pittsburgh in 2014 and immediately turned things around and even had a good year in Colorado of all places the following year.
The third and final dud was a spot I spent way too much time mulling over. Hector Ambriz was a guy I looked at for the longest time. A Rule 5 Draft pick for the 2010 season and the Indians kept him in the big leagues the whole year (save for a couple of rehab outings). The Tribe rarely picks a guy in the Rule 5 draft and I can see why. A
mbriz was bad across the board with a -0.4 fWAR, 5.35 FIP, and 5.59 ERA in 34 appearances and 48 1/3 innings. They managed to keep him in the organization but he never pitched in the big leagues for them again and has been in the Mexican League the last four years. Veterans like Josh Outman and Chad Durbin also had some very forgettable (and bad) stints with the Tribe and were worthy of the dishonor here.
Ultimately though the choice for the final dud goes to Kerry Wood. I’ll be honest, I initially forgot he even pitched for the Tribe this decade (probably because 2010 isn’t’ actually this decade but I digress). He signed a two-year, $20 million contract before the 2009 season to the closer and boy did that backfire. One of the few large free agent contracts given out during the Shapiro years, Wood was coming off a 2.1 fWAR season as a reliever and was one of the best relievers in the game.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, they saw none of that in his one and half seasons with the club. Only his last year with the Tribe was this decade, and those 23 appearances and 20 innings were enough. He posted an ugly 6.30 ERA and 5.18 FIP while walking five per nine innings. His -0.2 fWAR wasn’t the worst but consider the lower inning total was arguably even worse than Ramirez or Axford.
Like with Axford, he found some success after leaving Cleveland with both New York and Chicago. But unfortunately for the Tribe, that was no consolation.
Studs: Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw
Duds: Neil Ramirez, John Axford, Kerry Wood