Cleveland Indians: The long-awaited return of the Bullpen Mafia

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Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Brad Hand #33 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

In 2011 the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen was dubbed the Bullpen Mafia known for eliminating opposing batters. Now in 2020, that name could be resurrected.

In 2011 the Cleveland Indians saw their best season under manager Manny Acta, finishing just below .500 at 80-82 and a second-place finish in the AL Central. The success of the team that year was due in large part to the bullpen unit, the self-proclaimed “Bullpen Mafia.”

During that season, the Indians’ bullpen had five players that pitched at least 60 innings with all five registering an ERA below 3.35 and a WHIP below 1.24. As a group, they combined for 38 saves and logged 258 strikeouts over 284 innings while giving up just 95 earned runs.

Led by closer Chris Perez, who had the highest ERA of the bunch at 3.32, the bullpen flourished and locked down games late, despite not having any big name players. In addition to Perez, the core of the bullpen consisted of Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano as the right-handers and Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez as the left-handers.

Now, looking at this year’s team, something similar can be said. Of the five core arms, there are three right-handers and two southpaws, the same makeup of 2011. Everyone has an ERA below 3.75 with the closer having the highest. If you take him out, the core five all have an ERA below 2.20. Additionally, everyone’s WHIP is below 1.05.

Now, you might be asking ‘Why now? Why not 2016 or 2017?’ The difference is who makes up the bullpen. Having Andrew Miller on those teams eliminated the chance of a Bullpen Mafia because he was so well known. The special aspect of the 2011 unit that reflects in the 2020 group is the lack of knowledge about the group and it isn’t exactly one, two or three guys. They’re unknown and operate as one.

No one expects the current bullpen to be dominant, but they are proving they can be. They strike when needed and eliminate the opposition.

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