Shane Bieber walks off the field after the second inning against Tampa Bay on Aug. 30. (Julio Aguilar, Getty Images)
Cleveland Indians 2019 Pitching Report Card
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Pitching could have turned into the Cleveland Indians' biggest weakness in 2019 after the club sustained devastating injuries to three key members of the starting rotation. Instead, Tribe pitchers stepped up throughout the organization and helped keep the club in the thick of a playoff chase while infusing young talent throughout the staff all season long.
Injuries to headliners Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger along with Carlos Carrasco’s leukemia diagnosis limited the staff unlike any of the past four years. But a string of right-handed starters from the 2016 draft class emerged to provide depth and consistency with Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale adding to Shane Bieber’s breakout sophomore season.
Cleveland’s 3.76 team ERA was fourth-best in baseball behind Houston, Tampa and the Dodgers. The Indians ranked fourth in earned runs allowed (601) and fifth in walks allowed (450) while finishing eighth in strikeouts (1,508).
While expectations for the bullpen were low at the beginning of the season, Tribe relievers developed into one of the top units in the American League early on, anchored by closer Brad Hand's electric start and buoyed by veterans such as Oliver Perez and Tyler Clippard. Offseason acquisitions such as Jefry Rodriguez and Nick Wittgren also played vital roles for Cleveland's pitching staff throughout the year.
With Kluber and Carrasco expected back in the rotation for 202, and the progress made by Bieber and Clevinger this season, Cleveland could again have one of the deepest starting rotations in all of baseball when spring training rolls around.
Below are statistics notable accomplishments and overall grades for pitchers who made significant contributions to Cleveland's staff in 2019. Grades were based partially by using BaseballReference.com's pitching WAR metric.
Bieber built upon his strong rookie campaign by rising to the top of the Indians starting rotation and making a team-high 33 starts. He provided consistency and quality every time he took the mound, becoming the youngest Indians pitcher to throw more than 200 innings since CC Sabathia did so in 2001. He won MVP honors in his first All-Star Game appearance and was just the eighth pitcher since 1969 to record 15 wins and 250 strikeouts by his age 24 season. Bieber led the AL in walks-per-nine innings (1.68) and ranked 3rd in strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.48) and WHIP (1.05). The 2016 fourth-round draft pick will likely garner Cy Young Award consideration in the AL and has all the makings of a franchise cornerstone heading into 2020.
W-L: 15-8, 3.28 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 3.32 FIP.
214 1/3 IP, 40 BB, 259 K, 31 HR.
Notable: Bieber tied for third in the majors with 24 quality starts.
Shane Bieber pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning on Aug. 4. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
Clevinger overcame a back strain early in the season and returned to dominate the American League Central Division while posting his best season despite missing more than two months on the injured list. He ranked sixth in the majors among pitchers with at least 125 innings with a 2.71 ERA and his 1.78 ERA at Progressive Field was tops among pitchers with at least 80 innings in their home park. Clevinger won eight consecutive road starts from July 3-Sept. 24 and had a streak of 10 straight winning decisions July 3-Sept. 8. He was named AL Pitcher of the Month for August with a 1.96 ERA and 5-0 record with 11 walks and 51 strikeouts in six starts.
W-L: 13-4, 2.71 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 2.49 FIP.
126 IP, 37 BB, 169 K, 10 HR.
Notable: Opponents hit just .212 against Clevinger with runners on base (36-170).
Mike Clevinger pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning Aug. 29. (Duane Burleson, Getty Images)
Plesac joined the Indians at the end of May as the rotation was reeling from the loss of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. In just his third professional season, Plesac helped stabilize the rotation by providing depth and quality innings, going at least seven innings and allowing two or fewer runs in four of his first six starts. He recorded the second-lowest ERA among American League rookies with at least 15 starts (3.81) and finished second in rookie wins (8) and sixth in innings pitched (115.2).
W-L: 8-6, 3.81 ERA, 1.228 WHIP, 4.49 FIP.
115 2/3 IP, 40 BB, 88 K, 19 HR.
Notable: Plesac led the majors with six pickoffs, all at first base. He allowed just one stolen base on two total attempts in 21 starts.
Zach Plesac pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning Sept. 5. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
Civale made his big league debut with six shutout innings in a spot start against Detroit on June 22 and returned to the rotation in early August, starting nine more games down the stretch. He pitched at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in six of his first seven appearances. His command and control are what excites Francona and coaches on the major league staff. Civale's emergence now crowds the field for spots in the starting rotation in 2020.
W-L: 3-4, ERA 2.34, 1.040 WHIP. 3.40 FIP.
57 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 46 K, 4 HR.
Notable: Right-handed batters hit just .203 off Civale (25-for-123) with an OPS of .602.
Aaron Civale delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning on Sept. 7. (Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)
Slowed by a pectoral strain in spring training, the 13-year veteran arrived in late April and solidified the Indians bullpen by pitching effectively in a variety of roles, including as Francona’s go-to reliever to pitch after long rain delays and open bullpen games. Clippard finished the season with the second-lowest batting average (.173) and tenth-lowest ERA (2.38) among AL relievers in 50 relief outings. Batters hit .197 (15-for-76) off him with men on base (8th-best in AL) and .238 (10-for-42) with runners in scoring position.
W-L: 1-0, 2.90 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, 3.89 FIP.
G: 53, 62 IP, 15 BB, 64 K, 8 HR.
Notable: Clippard held first batters faced to a .098 (5-for-48) mark overall in 2019.
Tyler Clippard pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning on June 5. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
Hand earned his third straight All-Star Game bid on the strength of an outstanding first three months of the season before fading in his last 25 appearances. Through June 24, Hand allowed just four earned runs and held a 1.05 ERA with 50 strikeouts. He converted 34 of 39 save opportunities including 22 straight to open the season. Hand did not pitch Sept. 9-20 due to left arm fatigue and appeared in one game during the season’s final two weeks due to a lack of save chances. Hand’s durability and consistency will be a major question mark heading into 2020 for the Indians bullpen.
S: 34, 3.30 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 2.80 FIP.
G: 60, 57 1/3 IP, 18 BB, 84 K, 6 HR.
Notable: Hand's 405 relief strikeouts since 2016 rank first among MLB pitchers.
Brad Hand pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning on July 14. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
Acquired just before spring training in a trade with Miami, Wittgren joined the club in early April after Mike Clevinger went on the injured list. He quickly proved a solid contributor to the bullpen with 39 scoreless outings and 18 appearances of at least 1 1/3 innings. Wittgren retired 41 of 55 first batters faced and held hitters to a .195 average with runners in scoring position.
Holds: 12, 2.81 ERA, S: 4, 1.075 WHIP, 4.17 FIP.
G: 55, 57 2/3 IP, 15 BB, 60 K, 10 HR.
Notable: Wittgren allowed just two of 27 inherited runners to score, tops on the club.
Nick Wittgren delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 8. (David Berding, Getty Images)
Plutko began the season on the minor-league injured list before making his season debut with the club in May. He pitched from early June through the end of the season and was a consistent starter behind Bieber and Clevinger. Cleveland went 14-6 in his starts and he allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of his 20 outings with eight quality starts.
W-L: 7-5, 4.86 ERA, 1.290 WHIP, 5.23 FIP.
109 1/3 IP, 26 BB, 78 K, 22 HR.
Notable: Plutko's 26 walks were third-fewest in the majors by a pitcher with at least 20 starts, while his walks per nine innings rate of 2.14 was eighth-best in the AL.
Adam Plutko pitches against the Washington Nationals during the second inning on Sept. 28. (Scott Taetsch, Getty Images)
The lone free agent signing from the 2019 offseason, Perez proved effective as a the primary left-handed option out of the bullpen for Francona. The 17-year veteran struggled to a 8.44 ERA in his first nine appearances, but recovered to allow just eight earned runs over his next 58 outings. Perez found difficulty in getting right-handed hitters out as righties collected 14 extra-base hits and an .889 OPS against him. Perez allowed opponents to hit .242 (22-for-91) with runners on base and .291 (16-for-55) with runners in scoring position.
H: 22, 3.98 ERA, 1.230 WHIP, 3.56 FIP.
40 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 48 K, 5 HR.
Notable: Perez led the Indians with 22 holds, which ranked 12th among American League relievers.
Oliver Perez pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the ninth inning on May 16. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
After missing most of 2018 with an elbow injury, Goody posted 10 holds and a 3.54 ERA in 39 appearances. From June 14-Aug. 11 Goody allowed just four runs in 24 innings and did not allow an earned run over 17 straight appearances. But his ERA ballooned after August 13, allowing 12 earned runs in 15 games and posted a September ERA of 11.37 in nine outings.
H: 10, 3.54 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, 4.62 FIP.
40 2/3 IP, 22 BB, 50 K, 7 HR.
Notable: Goody limited right-handed hitters to a .188 average and .396 OPS.
Nick Goody tosses out Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers at first on Sept. 18. (Jason Miller, Getty Images)
Carrasco’s 2019 season will not be graded on the number of wins or strikeouts he posted, but rather on the character and determination he showed in getting back on the mound after receiving a leukemia diagnosis in late May. Prior to going on the injured list, Carrasco had pitched mostly effectively as a starter, going 4-5 with a 4.98 ERA and 79 strikeouts. At the time of his diagnosis, Carrasco led the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.18) and walks-per-nine innings (1.52) and was 7th in the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings (10.949). He returned in September with the hope of bolstering Cleveland’s bullpen down the stretch, appearing in 11 games with a 6.60 ERA in 15 innings.
W-L: 6-7, 5.29 ERA, 1.350 WHIP, 4.41 FIP.
80 IP, 16 BB, 96 K, 18 HR.
Notable: Carrasco finished the season ranked eighth on the Indians all-time strikeout list (1,223). He recorded two starts with 12 strikeouts each, including a five-inning outing on April 6 against Toronto.
Carlos Carrasco calls for a new ball against the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth inning on Sept. 22. (David Maxwell, Getty Images)
Acquired in the Yan Gomes trade in November, Rodriguez stepped in and started eight games from late April through June 1 before heading to the injured list with a sore shoulder. Rodriguez posted a 2.92 ERA in his first four starts with the Tribe, but won just once in Oakland on May 12. He rejoined the club in September, making two appearances and allowing one run in three innings. Rodriguez allowed 18 extra-base hits in 46 2/3 innings and allowed left-handed hitters an .820 OPS.
W-L: 1-5, 4.63 ERA, 1.479 WHIP, 4.54 FIP.
46 2/3 IP, 21 BB, 33 K, 5 HR.
Notable: Rodriguez's ERA in the first and second innings of games was 1.13 (two earned runs in 16 innings).
Jefry Rodriguez pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning on April 24. (Ron Schwane, Getty Images)
Olson struggled to a 4.40 ERA in 39 appearances and missed the final two months of the season due to illness. He posted 29 scoreless outings, but allowed nine runs in 14 1/3 innings over his final 17 outings before going on the injured list with shingles.
H: 1, 4.40 ERA, 1.630 WHIP, 4.42 FIP.
30 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 28 K, 3 HR.
Notable: Opponents hit .311 (19-for-61) against Olson with runners on base and .324 (12-for-37) with runners in scoring position.
Tyler Olson throws in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals on April 12. (Ed Zurga, Getty Images)
Cimber spent the full season on the big league roster, leading the team in appearances with 68 and finishing second with 19 holds. He posted 49 scoreless and allowed 24.4% percent of inherited runners to score. Cimber struggled for stretches, posting a 12.15 ERA in August and and 8.82 mark from July 26 to the end of the season. Left-handed batters hit .296 with a .943 OPS against him.
H: 19, 4.45 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 4.36 FIP.
56 2/3 IP, 19 BB, 41 K, 6 HR.
Notable: Cimber earned his first major league save on Sept. 11 when he struck out LA's Albert Pujols in the ninth to preserve a 4-3 Tribe win.
Adam Cimber warms up before the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins on May 1. (Mark Brown, Getty Images)
Acquired in late July along with Christian Arroyo from Tampa Bay, Wood made 17 appearances after joining the team in early August. He made nine trips between Triple-A and the majors, including seven different stints with the Rays. Twelve of his appearances for Cleveland were scoreless. Wood recorded a 3.29 ERA in his last 25 total relief appearances.
G: 17, 3.86 ERA, 1.531 WHIP, 4.68 FIP.
16 1/3 IP, 5 BB, 15 K, 3 HR.
Notable: Wood started two games for Tampa as an "opener" pitching four scoreless innings.
Hunter Wood throws in the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 31. (Mike Carlson, Getty Images)
Spent three months on the injured list for the first time in his career with shoulder inflammation, limiting him to his fewest appearances (25) since 2012. Otero posted a 1.50 ERA over his first 10 outings thru May 1 before slumping to a 7.71 ERA in 10 May outings. Returned from the injured list in September to make five appearances, allowing four earned runs in six innings. Right-handed batters posted an OPS of .990 against Otero while lefties have batted .325 (74-for-228) against him since the start of 2017.
G: 25, 4.85 ERA, 1.517 WHIP, 5.17 FIP.
29 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 16 K, 6 HR.
Notable: Otero walked just three of the 131 batters he faced in 2019.
Dan Otero throws in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals on April 12. (Ed Zurga, Getty Images)
Joined the bullpen in May and remained with the big league club until going on the injured list in August with a right shoulder impingement. Provided a different look out of the Tribe pen with an average fastball velocity of 94.4 mph according to statcast. Did not allow an earned run in 18 of his 25 appearances and worked to a 1.50 ERA in his first 11 outings with the club. But after June 10, Cole posted an ERA of 5.79 and was largely ineffective.
W-L: 3-1, 3.81 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 3.83 FIP.
26 IP, 8 BB, 30 K, 4 HR.
Notable: Cole recorded his second major league save on July 25 at Kansas City, a 5-4 win. It was his first save since May 15, 2015 at San Diego while with Washington.
A.J. Cole pitches against the Texas Rangers on June 17. (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)
Kluber’s season was derailed when he was struck on the right forearm by a Brian Anderson line drive in Miami on May 1. His season all but ended when he strained an abdominal muscle during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus in August. At the time of his initial injury, Kluber was struggling, having allowed a .297 opponent batting average and an uncharacteristic 3.8 walks per nine innings. Kluber was selected to make his fifth career opening day start, becoming just the fifth pitcher in club history to start five straight opening days.
W-L: 2-3, 5.80 ERA, 1.654 WHIP, 4.06 FIP.
35 2/3 IP, 15 BB, 38 K, 4 HR.
Notable: With his 200th career start on April 14, Kluber became just the 14th pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark with the club, and the first since C.C. Sabathia in 2008.
Corey Kluber pitches in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals on April 14. (John Sleezer, Getty Images)
Trevor Bauer accounted for the second-most strikeouts on the team (185) and second-most earned runs allowed (66) in 24 starts with the club before being traded at the end of July … Seven other relievers appeared for the Indians in 2019, led by Neil Ramirez's 16 outings … Two position players pitched in games for the Tribe. Mike Freeman gave up a two-run homer to Renato Nunez of Baltimore on June 29 in his second career appearance, and Kevin Plawecki pitched a pair of scoreless innings in losses to Atlanta and Seattle … Four players made their big league debuts with the Indians in 2019, including Plesac, Civale, Josh Smith (later selected off waivers by Miami) and James Karinchak … Logan Allen, acquired in the Bauer trade, made one relief appearance against Boston on Aug. 14 nearly two months after making his big league debut with the Padres … Danny Salazar made his first start since September 2017 when he pitched four innings against Houston on Aug. 2. Salazar left the game with a groin injury and did not pitch again for Cleveland.
Kevin Plawecki pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning May 5. (Ron Schwane, Associated Press)