The Cleveland Indians bullpen surprised a lot of baseball purists in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
In fact, the Tribe pen posted a very respectable 3.53 ERA which was good enough for third in the American League.
The Indians relievers also achieved a WHIP of only 1.16, which was second in the AL.
Although those stats from last year are impressive, there are lots of questions regarding the 2021 Tribe bullpen.
Not surprisingly, Brad Hand left Cleveland to pursue greener pastures and a thicker wallet ($10.5 million) with the Washington Nationals.
The natural question is who should replace Hand as closer?
A more interesting question is should the Indians even use a closer in 2021?
The Case for Naming a Closer
#Indians 22yr old RHP Emmanuel Clase throwing his bullpen today in Goodyear.
🎦 via @indians Instagram
Video attached is Clase back in October during fall instructs.https://t.co/RWqeNw8wnb pic.twitter.com/e7utEqT5uq
— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) February 21, 2021
There is one good reason for the Indians to name an official closer for the 2021 campaign.
It all comes down to one word: Stability!
Players love knowing what to expect on a nightly basis and this especially true of relief pitchers.
Old school baseball managers still designate a closer and a setup man, while using the rest of the bullpen as middle relievers.
This strategy tends to work well if you have a veteran closer on the roster, which the Indians do not.
There is no doubt that Terry Francona will miss handing the ball to a proven closer like Cody Allen or Hand in the ninth inning.
However, the cupboard is not bare in the bullpen as the Tribe has two solid options for the closer role.
Early reports say that James Karinchak has the inside track at the role but do not count out Emmanuel Clase.
Both Karinchak and Clase have the wicked stuff that is necessary to be a top-tier closer for the Tribe.
The Case for Not Naming a Closer
While most teams still name an everyday closer like in years past, the overall ways relievers are used is changing.
Lots of managers are realizing that sometimes a sticky situation in the sixth, seventh, or eighth innings warrants a relief appearance from the closer.
A team can lose a game in the seventh inning just as easily as they can in the ninth inning.
So, why not take a game-by-game approach to managing the bullpen?
For example, if Karinchak has closed out a couple games in a row, maybe designate Clase as the closer for a game or two.
The closer role or even the save statistic for that matter may be redefined soon.
Heading for Home: What Will Happen?
James Karinchak…going Full Karinchak. pic.twitter.com/cAW9da4vH9
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 27, 2020
Our best guess is that Francona names Karinchak as the Indians closer for 2021 and who can blame him?
Karinchak only has one save in the Majors but has the type of filthy curveball that gives hitters horrifying nightmares.
However, Clase will be nipping at Karinchak’s heels for the closer role in Spring Training.
Clase has an absolutely sickening 100 mph cutter than even former Tribe star Francisco Lindor called extremely nasty.
Clase will also be hungry to put last season behind him after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs and missing the entire 2020 season.
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