Apr 16, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) shakes hands with relief pitcher John Axford (44) after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Cleveland won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

John Axford and Cleveland Indians Closers Through the Years


John Axford worked himself into a baseloaded jam in the 9th inning yesterday afternoon for the Cleveland Indians. After getting two outs, with a single in the middle, Axford gave up a single and walked a man loading up the bases with the Tribe up 2. Such has been the odyssey of Indians closers for what seems like the past decade or two. He was able to get a ground ball up the middle to end the game, not before adding a grey hair or two to the already greying fan base. One Twitter follower even hinted that if the great Mariano Rivera was on the Tribe he wouldn’t be able to work a 1 – 2 – 3 inning, such is our fate with closers. So lets take a look back at Tribe closers’ numbers through the years.

We are going to focus on Walks, Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Saves and Losses. Indians fans have gotten overly used to the teams’ final pitcher putting a few batters on base before getting the final out. Interestingly it seems as if Indians closers, outside of Chris Perez last year, haven’t blown more saves then the average closer. Instead today’s focus is on how the 9th inning happens more then the result. We will start with Axford this year and work our way backward, also included some of Rivera’s numbers from the same time, and his Yankee replacements:

Closer Year WHIP ERA Saves Losses Yankees WHIP ERA
John Axford 2014 1.57 3.52 6 1 Shawn Kelly 0.83 1.86
Chris Perez 2013 1.43 4.33 25 3 Rivera 1.05 2.11
Chris Perez 2012 1.13 3.59 39 4 Rafael Soriano 1.17 2.26
Chris Perez 2011 1.21 3.32 36 7 Rivera 0.9 1.91
Chris Perez 2010 1.08 1.71 23 2 Rivera 0.83 1.8
Kerry Wood 2009 1.38 4.25 20 3 Rivera 0.9 1.76
Jensen Lewis 2008 1.44 3.82 13 4 Rivera 0.67 1.4
Joe Borowski 2007 1.43 5.07 45 4 Rivera 1.12 3.15
Bob Wickman 2006 1.43 4.18 15 4 Rivera 0.96 1.8
Bob Wickman 2005 1.26 2.47 45 4 Rivera 0.87 1.38
Bob Wickman 2004 1.45 4.25 13 2 Rivera 1.08 1.94
Danys Baez 2003 1.16 3.81 25 9 Rivera 1 1.66
Bob Wickman 2002 1.51 4.46 20 3 Rivera 1 2.74

A few numbers that stick out: The Indians have only 2 seasons where their closer had an ERA lower then 3.00. The Yankees have 1 season over 3. The Indians have 3 seasons with a WHIP lower then 1.2. The Yankees have no seasons where their closer was over 1.17. Some of these seasons the Tribe was not very competitive as shown with Save totals of 13 twice and 15 once.

Obviously comparing any closer to Rivera is going to make the other closers look bad. Yet could there be a middle point. Somewhere between Rivera’s under 1 WHIP and under 2 ERA and the Tribe’s average WHIP, 1.34, and average ERA, 3.75, couldn’t hope prevail? The Indians will always be limited in their resources but given that bullpen arms are often developed from within shouldn’t this chart have a few names on it with 1.2 WHIPs and 2 point something ERAs for a few years? Couldn’t luck finally come around and keep us from 9th inning grey hairs while we watch the Tribe play?

Obviously Axford is early in his time with the Indians, but he is on a one year contract. Best case scenario is that he becomes the Rivera lock down closer we haven’t had in years. Yet that would probably price him off the team at the end of the season. Worst case scenario is this becomes a norm that we all have to get used to. Vinnie Pestano was seen as the young up and coming closer but his velocity is down. Could Cody Allen, Brian Shaw or Blake Wood be the guy at some point? Or is this like cold winters, bound to happen in Cleveland?

What do you think has been the closer issue over the years?

Tags: Cleveland Indians John Axford

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