James Karinchak #99 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Wait a minute, is that the ghost of Bryan Shaw coming out of the bullpen? The revival of Shaw’s career after three awful seasons between Colorado and Seattle has been fairly characteristic of the Tribe’s bullpen contributions. Though the baseball gods demand a sacrifice for the return of Shaw, as the three batter minimum rule has claimed the career of Oliver Perez early in 2021.
Nick Sandlin has also been a pleasant surprise in his age 24 season to go along with Phil Maton and Nick Wittgren. Those four arms have combined for an ERA of 3.91 and a WHIP of 1.21 in 119 innings, proving to be good enough to give the offense a chance to work its late inning magic. The major concern for the bullpen has been an inflated workload since the injuries to Bieber, Civale and Plesac, while every other starter for the Tribe has eclipsed six innings pitched just once in 41 starts.
Cal Quantrill also proved significantly more useful out of the bullpen before the need to stretch him out into a starter, registering a 1.17 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 23.1 innings pitched in relief. Even more recently the Indians have received a boost from journeyman Blake Parker since debuting June 5th, logging a 3.18 ERA across 13 appearances.
Closer deserves to be talked about independently of the rest of the bullpen, and the Tribe have two of them that turn almost every other franchise in baseball green with envy. James Karinchak has continued to embrace the “Wild Thing” persona through 38 appearances in the first half, owning an ERA of 2.49 and his patented ludicrous 15.4 K/9. Karinchak has gone 4-2 this season while adding nine saves to the mix.
Emmanuel Clase, the primary return to Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade, has stymied opposing bats for much of the season and may find himself towards the top of rookie of the year conversation. He features a Cutter and a 4-Seam Fastball that both average 100MPH, so it’s fairly easy to see how he accumulated an ERA of 1.02 over the first 81 games, reaching the midway point with a 3-3 record and 11 saves as the other half of Cleveland’s closer-by-committee approach.
Things should improve for the bullpen as players (hopefully) return after the All-Star break, either by reinforcing the offense or getting stud starting pitching back. All things considered, the unit has been the most consistent for the 2021 Cleveland Indians in the first half. It’s hardly even debatable. The relief corps earns a very respectable B+ for the first half of the season.