Cleveland Guardians: The Return Of The Bullpen Mafia

Once again, the bullpen of the Cleveland Guardians has become one of the best in baseball, boosting Cleveland to one of the best starts in franchise history.
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians are off to a historic start to the 2024 campaign. Per usual, pitching has been at the forefront of Cleveland's success. However, what has typically been a team powered by starting pitching has shifted to the bullpen, bringing back a monster of Cleveland baseball lore, the Bullpen Mafia.

First discovered in 2011, the Bullpen Mafia's first iteration came in the form of Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, and Rafael Perez. All members had an ERA of 3.32 or lower, a WHIP below 1.25, and combined for 258 strikeouts.

In 2020, I wrote on this page that the Bullpen Mafia may have resurfaced. Another core of five relievers that bosted an ERA of 3.75 or lower and a WHIP below 1.05. That roster consisted of Adam Cimber, Oliver Perez, Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak, and Brad Hand. While that group fit the narrative, what the bullpen is doing this season has fully brought back the Bullpen Mafia.

As of a few days ago, per a graphic posted by the Guardians' social media team, the bullpen is in the midst of an incredible start to the season. At the time of the graphic, the staff led all bullpens in ERA (2.52), walks per nine (2.67), and home runs per nine (0.48) while being tied for saves (18) and second in wins (17).

The catalyst of the group has undoubtedly been Emmanuel Clase. Not only does he have the closer role, but what he's doing is literally unheard of, as no one else has ever done it. Through the first 53 games of the season, Clase became the first pitcher with 17+ saves, an ERA under 0.33, and two or fewer walks allowed. Absolutely dominant. What's incredible is it doesn't stop there for Cleveland.

One pleasant surprise for the Cleveland Guardians has been Tim Herrin. He pitched 27.2 innings in 2023 but posted a 5.53 ERA.In the sameamountof games this year as hisentire2023 season, Herrin has dropped his ERA to 0.82, has four fewer walks (8), and hasn't given up a home run.

Herrin isn't the only shock to Cleveland fans. Hunter Gaddis has had a similar rise. Shifting to the bullpen this year, Gaddis has put together an impressive beginning to the season. Over 26 appearances, he's struck out 25 batters in 25.1 innings while maintaining a 1.78 ERA with just four walks.

While we're talking about surprises, we have to mention Cade Smith. At 25 years old, Smith is the youngestmember of the bullpenand is in his firstmajorleague season, but you wouldn't know from his stats. Through 23 games and 23.1 innings, Smith has 34 strikeouts with an ERA of 1.93. He's given up just five runs, no home runs, and seven walks. Not bad for a rookie. 

Those are the leaders in the clubhouse for the bullpen, but what's crazy is the list doesn't include some of the better-known pitchers in the pen. Offseason addition Scott Barlow has had a decent season, one that most teams would take in a closer role, but by Cleveland standards, it's below the expectation. The same goes for Nick Sandlin. His sub-2.40 ERA is strong, and he's 4-0 for the Guardians, but that's an afterthought with the current group. 

On top of that group, there's thegroup ofpitchers who have beenkeypieces in the past but have battled injuries this year. Sam Hentges has only seven appearances this year, and Eli Morgan hit the injured list after just nine appearances with a 2.16 ERA. Add to that list mid-season acquisitions Pedro AvilaPeter Strzelecki, and Wes Parsons

What should be scary is that his unit should have been even better. Trevor Stephanwas lostbefore the season, and James Karinchak hasn't beenrightfor a few seasons. Had those two been on pace with whatwas once expectedon top of what is already in place, look out. 

Emmanuel Clase is going to get a lot of love for what the bullpen is doing, and deservedly so. He's making history. However, it shouldn't be lost that this isn't just him doing it. The Cleveland Guardians bullpen as a whole is on a different level right now and has fully returned to Bullpen Mafia status.