Assessing the Cleveland Indians Closer Situation

Assessing the Cleveland Indians Closer Situation

Nick Pedone
3 years ago
4 min read
Assessing the Cleveland Indians Closer Situation

I’m not sure if Tito did it on purpose, but he decided to make the Indians’ closer situation as murky as possible.

For each game in Oakland, a different closer came into the ninth inning to shut the door, and each pitcher showed different results. Clase blew his opportunity with a Jed Lowrie 2-run home run. Karinchak allowed a run to score and had the winning run up to the plate multiple times. Then, Uncle Bryan was absolutely dominant throwing a 1-2-3 inning on just 10 pitches.

I’ve always been partial to Clase keeping the closer role because anyone that can throw 100 MPH with movement will always make life difficult for hitters. However, I want to make a fair case for our four best bullpen arms to be the closer, and then decide whose job it should be. Let’s get into it.

Nick Sandlin

In his last 12.2 innings of work, Nick Sandlin has allowed just 1 run to cross to plate. He boasts a K% of 35%, which is 8 points over what FanGraphs would consider excellent. Sandlin also holds a 1.78 ERA and a WAR of 0.6 in 25.1 innings pitched. Everything I’ve listed puts Sandlin in the top percentile of relief pitchers, so why isn’t he the closer right now?

Even though I believe Sandlin has earned the ability to throw in higher leverage situations, his flaws are still fair concerns. He holds a walk rate of 13.3% which is very bad. You can’t have your closer giving up free base runners, especially if he has to come in after the 9th inning.

My other concern comes with how little he chooses his fastball. Sandlin has nasty movement on his slider and sinker, but a closer has to be able to throw a consistent fastball. It’s his least used pitch, only throwing it 17% of the time. Overall, Nick just needs more time in the majors, and surely he will be used in higher leverage roles over the course of his tenure in Cleveland.

Bryan Shaw

Every time I write about Bryan Shaw this year, I want to start it off with an apology. I let my past experiences cloud my judgment, and fully write off a pitcher who needed a second chance. I’m not sure how Shaw did it, but he fixed whatever issues he had towards the end of his first stint in Cleveland, and his horrible tenure in Colorado.

Shaw has a chance to throw a career-low ERA in his age 33 season. That’s beyond insane. He might be pitching a little over his head right now, as his expected ERA is .5 higher than his actual ERA and he also holds a 16.3% walk rate, which will raise a ton of eyebrows. But even with his ridiculous walk rate, he’s seemed to always find his way out of trouble. He’s leaving runners on base at a career-best 83% and also holds the highest strikeout percentage of his career by over 6%.

The only reason Shaw isn’t the closer is his age. I think Tito wants one of his young guys to lock up the closer role and has decided to let Uncle Bryan hold down the lower leverage 7th inning, just like he did his first time in Cleveland. Lastly, if the Indians go on a bit of a losing streak look for Shaw’s name to come up in a few deadline deals.

James Karinchak

Crazy James has an interesting case to be the closer. Let’s start with the obvious thing. He’s striking out nearly 15 batters per nine innings. He has a wicked fastball and a nasty curve, and he does a phenomenal job mixing up when one is coming, throwing them both 50% of the time. His curve just seems to fall off the face of the earth, keeping hitters on their toes at all times.

His barrel rate is only three percent because hitters can never really time up what’s coming at them.

His numbers jump off the charts at you, why isn’t he the closer?

Honestly, it’s hard to give him the closer role because he’s a head case. He loses his mind over every little mistake and that leads to him piling up walks (13.6 B/9). Despite becoming one of the most dominant relievers in the sport, the game hasn’t seemed to slow down for him. If he can control his emotions a little better, he might start to put himself in the Josh Hader category of relievers.

Emmanuel Clase

And then there was one.

Clase throws a cutter that touches 101 MPH. Not only does he throw hard, but he also keeps zeros on the scoreboard. His 2.13 ERA and K% of 25% are elite for a 23-year-old closer. His walk rate of 8.8% is still high, but it’s significantly lower than the rest of the bullpen.

Also, his most recent blown save came off a home run, but he’s still only averaging 0.47 home runs per nine innings.

Another positive for Clase is that he doesn’t get hit very hard. His barrel percentage is under 3 and his hard-hit rate is under 30. At this point in Clase’s career, there aren’t many weaknesses in his game, but why shouldn’t he be the closer?

In his last 7 outings, he’s given up 6 runs and lost 3 games. I feel like he’s been a lot more comfortable when he’s come in for the setup role, rather than the closer. He’s pretty streaky and you can’t have that as your closer. Every closer will blow saves, but he can’t go through weeks at a time where he gets absolutely shelled.


The verdict here isn’t easy. It’s so difficult that I’m going to give a full cop-out answer. In higher leverage situations I trust Karinchak the most, in lower leverage saves, I trust Clase. Lastly, I also want to see Sandlin getting some hold or at least 7th inning opportunities so we can see what we really have with him. This bullpen is great, let's get some starters that can actually bridge the gap to these guys.

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