Mark Shapiro's Power Pitching Reformation in Cleveland

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Mark Shapiro's Power Pitching Reformation in Cleveland
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

I wasn't there the day Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro realized things went wrong and the only one who probably was, was his wife, if anyone really was around.

But I can imagine it right now.

I don't know about most of you, but my deepest thoughts about anything come when I'm lying in bed before I go to sleep. Often times, if it's something that has me nervous or excited, it keeps me up at night.

I've heard Mark Shapiro mention sleep deprivation before, so it wouldn't surprise me if this nightmare of a bullpen kept him up at night.

Not just the bullpen either, but the pitching staff as a whole, all the way from Cleveland down to Mahoning Valley. Shapiro sitting in bed, maybe next to his wife, or on a couch in his Progressive Field office, thinking about what went wrong.

Can you blame him?

Let's start from the beginning when Shapiro added not one, but two arms to his major league bullpen in attempt to solidify it.

Closer Kerry Wood to the end and side-arming right-handed specialist Joe Smith to buddy up with Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, and maybe Masa Kobayashi to form some sort of a bridge from starters to Wood.

Yeah none of that really worked, for one reason or another. Let's not get into it.

But the failures of the bullpen got Mark Shapiro thinking and got him probably tossing at night.

Something is wrong here, nothing is working, so maybe we should change our ways.

So in early May, when maybe the Indians believed they still had a chance, but things were still very wrong, Shapiro vowed to change.

Turn-around or no turn-around, the way the Indians evaluated their pitchers and the type of pitchers they acquired, would soon change.

And when I mean soon, I mean, like immediately that day.

I'll continue to paste this quote into blog entries and articles as long as I live in the Mark Shapiro era, because it will either define his turnaround or be the point in which he tried to make a change in his final years as the man making the decisions.

"I think what's most troubling is that the inconsistency in the bullpen continues to be an issue. We've got to take a deep look at it and be thorough in how we examine it.

"We got to examine how we construct it, pick our players, we got to examine our performances, our coaching, everything. We've spent time doing that already, but we need to continue to do it and we need to do it more in depth."

Shapiro cited a sense of urgency at this point and actually made moves to display that urgency. He moved Aaron Laffey into the bullpen in an effort to save the season. That move was short-lived after Laffey injured himself.

He's since returned and gone into the rotation, proving that the move was just out of desperation to get outs after the starters were done.

He also made moves that were probably more destined to happen further down the road, but were sped up due to Shapiro's desperation.

He moved minor league starters Zach Putnam and Frank Herrmann into the bullpen, spots that many scouts and prospect gurus believed they were eventually headed for.

Shapiro complimented their moves with a bump up to higher competition, Herrmann going to Triple-A Columbus and Putnam to Double-A Akron.

The Indians love to stretch their relief pitchers out. Most of their relievers start their careers in the Indians organization as starting pitchers.

Rafael Perez pitched most of his minor-league career as a starting pitcher. Perez actually started in the Triple-A Buffalo rotation in 2007 and when he was called up, made a straight transition to the bullpen.

The idea behind this method is to get the pitchers more innings and more work in a year and also to make them durable. But I have to wonder, given Perez's recent struggles if that really is the smart thing to do?

Jensen Lewis started the entire 2006 season in the rotation and it wasn't till 2007 that he was moved to the pen. He, too, followed the Indians method of having their more highly regarded relief pitchers spend time as a starter.

If the Indians don't have those relief pitchers in the starting rotation, they certainly don't put them in a closer's role. In fact, the ones the regard as future closers are ones they just don't put in the role.

When the Indians acquired Jess Todd, assistant general manager John Mirabelli said that the Indians simply don't use prospects, like the caliber of Jess Todd, in the closer's role.

However, Todd followed that same pattern that the Indians use, he was a starter in the Cardinals organization for the start of his career.

So if things go right with Todd, he's had a little bit of both contrasting styles to the point where you don't really know where to praise.

The overall point here is simple. Will the Indians continue to utilize these methods with their change in philosophy?

How about with the arms they acquired in the flurry of deadline deals they made?

They acquired a lot of arms, so they've got some decisions to make on some of them. But the difference between these arms and some of the ones the Indians have had in the past favors their method a little more.

They can get away with starting a player like Bryan Price and eventually converting him to a relief pitcher.

For one, Price, acquired from the Red Sox, was a relief pitcher at Rice when he went to college. Second, he throws harder than some of the players the Indians are used to getting.

In an era in which they've drafted soft-tossers like Jeremy Sowers, the Indians have lacked drafting those power arms.

So it was of no surprise to me that Alex White was their pick earlier this year in the first round of the MLB Draft.

And that pick had Shapiro's hands written all over it. If you don't know, Shapiro isn't the main say in who the Indians draft. Sure he'll have a large hand in the higher picks, but does anyone honestly think Shapiro is pulling the strings on a 45th round draft pick?

He hires the guys in place, but the guys in place are the main cogs in the player drafting and development process.

Previously mentioned assistant general manger John Mirabelli oversees the scouting operations. Brad Grant and Ross Atkins are the other main players, with Grant involved in amateur scouting for the draft and Atkins the go-to-guy for player development.

However, I could envision Mark Shapiro busting into the war room with the Indians on the clock and demanding the club select right handed flame-thrower Alex White out of North Carolina.

And White fits that mold that Shapiro acquired in all his deadline deals.

Let's take a look at those names and just how hard they are said to throw.

Alex White - First Round Draft Pick out of North Carolina

Sits in low 90's but can ramp it up to 95, which will come in handy if they decide to move him to the bullpen.

White's future is still a bit uncertain, but with a few weeks before the deadline, the Indians don't expect to pitch him at all the rest of this season.

They originally said the plan was to move him to the pen, but he could start out as a starter.

His power definitely makes the possibility of a bullpen role a more likely status right now.

 

Connor Graham - Traded from Colorado for Rafael Betancourt

Baseball America says that Graham throws a mid-90's fastball.

Connor Graham has already made a few appearances for Double-A Akron since coming over and he's displayed the same characteristics that he did with Colorado's minor league clubs.

He's got relief pitcher written all over him with his shaky control and lack of pitches. Throw Graham in the back end and just let him rip it. He can throw his fastball as hard as he wants and can let the hard slider that he has just go.

He's running out levels to refine his pitches and with the other arms the Indians received, Graham will probably end up in the bullpen.

 

Scott Barnes - Traded from San Francisco for Ryan Garko

Here is one pitcher the Indians acquired with full-intent on keeping him in the rotation. He simply doesn't have the tools to be a relief pitcher.

His fastball can reach the low-90's, but Barnes is a pitcher who relies on changing speeds and using his command.

He is the one pitcher in all the deals the Indians made that doesn't have a fastball that can light up the radar gun.

 

Carlos Carrasco - Traded from Philadelphia in Cliff Lee Deal

Carrasco is already in the rotation and has been in the Philadelphia organization and the Indians say he could have a late audition sometime this year.

So scratch any bullpen thoughts, at least for now.

Carrasco is straight starter, but he can throw hard. He's a consistent low to mid-90's fastball with the ability to get 96 mph on the gun.

He can compliment that with the stuff he has and the issues with Carrasco fall between the ears.

 

Jason Knapp - Traded from Philadelphia in Cliff Lee Deal

Consistent mid-90's fastball with the ability to reach as high as 100 mph at some point.

How can someone acquire the ability to reach 100 mph?

Well he's only 18, so he's got room to grow and Baseball America says the Phillies believed it was a possibility at some point.

A guy who's touching 97 as a starter, I wouldn't doubt it.

Knapp is one of those players that looks like he'll be a top of the line starter in a rotation or a back-end bullpen guy. He's got the pure heat to come out of the bullpen and blow people away if he doesn't learn how to be a starter and manage his pitches.

If you are keeping count, that's now three pitchers the Indians have received that could be a starter or a relief pitcher. However, Knapp may be the best one so far and out of the ones I've still yet to mention.

 

Chris Perez - Traded from St. Louis in Mark DeRosa Deal

The one thing Shapiro mentioned when they acquired Chris Perez was that he throws hard.

That was probably the starting and ending point when discussing the acquisition. He's a straight relief pitcher that throws hard.

So began the fascination with hard-throwers for Mark Shapiro.

Perez can hit 95 on the gun and has with the Indians in the bullpen. He's starting to settle in as a back-end option and it looks like the Indians are pleased with the addition.

 

Jess Todd - Traded from St. Louis in Mark DeRosa Deal

We've been over Todd earlier as one of those pitchers who's transitioned from starter to relief pitcher.

"The Todd" can hit mid-90's as a relief pitcher and after his debut on Wednesday, the bullpen looks to be his settling spot.

 

Nick Hagadone - Traded from Boston in Victor Martinez Deal

Nick Hagadone's fastball sits mid 90's as a starter, or at least it did before Tommy John surgery.

However, Hagadone's progress has been so rapid, the Red Sox had to slow him down and everyone feels he'll regain that power in his fastball, if he hasn't already.

The potential to hit at least 98 mph is there, especially if, as you would guess it, he is moved into the bullpen.

Right now he's set to make his Indians debut Thursday night for Low-A Lake County in the rotation.

But as the case with just about every other pitcher, Baseball America has scouts that say he could fill important roles in the rotation or bullpen.

 

Bryan Price - Traded from Boston in Victor Martinez Deal

As I went over earlier, Price is a former relief pitcher turned starter with ability to return to the pen at some point.

His fastball is anywhere from low to mid-90's with the addition of sink to it. That description reminds me of 2007's version of Fausto Carmona.

Carmona was a pitcher the Indians tried in the bullpen, but he didn't have the chops to close.

Price does and he's done it at Rice before being drafted in the supplemental round by Boston.

Again, another pitcher that will probably get his future dictated by his performance and the need of the big league club. The fact that he throws hard enables that possibility.

 

Justin Masterson - Traded from Boston in Victor Martinez Deal

And the final piece of the Martinez trade has already acclimated himself to that switch-a-roo role.

Justin Masterson won't be flip-flopping for long though.

Masterson's first Cleveland appearance came out of the bullpen, but as a part of a plan to re-acclimate him to starting.

Masterson's fastball was as high as 97 mph in his first outing against Detroit, and my own eyes saw that fastball hit that speed with downward movement.

He'll make likely one, possibly two more appearances out of the pen. Either way, the stay will be short as the Indians want him in the rotation.

If Masterson becomes a mainstay, that's one less rotation spot for a Knapp, Hagadone, Price, or Graham to take, which means some of these arms will likely end in the bullpen.

Hard throwers are a rare breed in Cleveland.

Before this year, Cleveland barely had anyone that threw as hard as Bryan Price, let alone Jason Knapp.

This was an organization filled with less stellar Scott Barnes-type pitchers.

Jeremy Sowers had magic working for awhile, but the jig was eventually up and hitters have caught on.

Adam Miller was this organization's hardest thrower, and all that hard tossing led to injuries, a move to the bullpen, and more injuries.

Aside from Miller, David Huff was one of the Indians more regarded pitching prospects and he was looked at as a poor man's Cliff Lee, with a high 80 to low 90's fastball, barely. Huff's game is all about control though.

Further along Kelvin De La Cruz and Hector Rondon are more in the low to maybe mid-90s molds with their fastballs and high school picks T.J. House and Trey Haley probably fall in the same category.

Fast, but not drooling fast like Jason Knapp can throw.

When the words "sits" are usually preceding 95 mph, that pitcher is probably sitting there and ramping up even higher.

Aside from Miller, most of the pitchers the Indians have are sitting below that and occasionally reaching around 95 mph.

Mark Shapiro was dead-serious looking back at it now.

He didn't just want to look at the way the Indians brought along their talent, it seems as if he wanted to also look at the talent they brought in.

And it looks like Shapiro's mentality changed as he's probably brought in more power pitchers this year than he has his entire tenure.

He acquired nine pitchers in trades, eight of whom I regard as predominantly power arms. Throw in Alex White into the equation and you have nine.

Eight of those are all pitchers who have had experience doing both starting and relief work, or are said to have a future in either.

Off the top of my head, I can name, Adam Miller, CC Sabathia, uh...Bueller?

It sort of just dies as far as pure-power pitchers that Shapiro has gone out and brought in. You can even throw Kerry Wood into the mix, but he's no prospect.

So, a new mentality, a new breed of pitchers, and maybe new sleeping habits for Shapiro. For his tenure’s sake, I'd hope it all works.

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