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February 5, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 2/5/2013
Chris Perez | Indians
Heading into 2012, I counted Chris Perez among the closers who were likely to lose their jobs before the end of the season. Although he logged 36 saves and a respectable 3.32 ERA in 2011, Perez’s peripherals—5.88 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 28 percent ground-ball rate—were awful that year. And even conceding that he’s always had a knack for converting balls in play into outs (.248 career BABIP), Perez’s 4.30 FIP in 2011 pointed strongly toward an imminent regression.
Ironically, while Perez’s 3.59 ERA in 2012 represented a small step backward from the preceding campaign, his peripherals actually improved dramatically: 9.21 K/9, 2.50 BB/9, 40 percent ground-ball rate. And, most importantly, Perez never lost his job, becoming one of the handful of closers who went wire-to-wire as their respective team’s ninth-inning men last season.
To single out either season as a predictive tool for Perez in 2013 is probably a fool’s errand. While his 2012 rebound in strikeouts more closely resembles his career average (8.68 K/9), his gains in control warrant skepticism. It’s unwise to entirely dismiss the idea that a previously erratic pitcher with questionable makeup can refine his repertoire and improve his control—indeed, Perez seems to have relied more on his above-average slider last season—but I’d bet against the 27-year-old posting a similar walk rate in 2013.
Put all of that together, and I think Perez nets out as a league-average closer in 2013, especially if you account for his job security. The right-hander won’t wow you with eye-popping strikeout rates, but he should amass about one of them per inning, and since there’s mounting evidence that he has the ability to induce weak fly-ball contact, I don’t see a modest regression in walks killing him, either.
Vinnie Pestano | Indians (holds leagues)
Shallow (30 Keepers): No
The other preseason storyline in the Indians bullpen last spring was whether second-year ace setup man Vinnie Pestano would take the reins as the Tribe’s new stopper if—when, really—Perez faltered. The handcuff scenario wasn’t such a reach: while Perez’s wonky 2011 peripherals provided plenty of fodder for fantasy types and statheads, Pestano’s unforeseen emergence as a dominant high-leverage reliever and prized source of holds was equally intriguing.
Standard leaguers who drafted and stashed Pestano in hopes that he’d soon take over the ninth inning may have been disappointed, but holds leaguers were surely pleased. Pestano logged 36 holds, good for second best in the majors, and, for the second consecutive season, he was, statistically speaking, at least as good as the closer for whom he was setting up.
To be sure, though Pestano was once again an above-average reliever last season, he wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in 2011. Specifically, his strikeout rate dipped pretty substantially, from 12.19 K/9 in 2011 down to 9.77 in 2012, and while that may seem nitpicky, when we’re gauging keeper candidates, nothing escapes the microscope. While striking out more than one batter per inning is nothing to sneeze at, and Pestano’s ERA actually improved by a quarter of a run, all of the ERA estimators docked him substantially for the regression in whiffs. FIP, for example, pegged Pestano at 2.71 in 2011 but was less enthused (3.37) last year.
So, what caused the dip in strikeouts? Well, we can’t rule out static, since we’re talking about 60- and 70-inning samples, but it’s too simple to chalk it up to that and walk away. There’s also the splits issue— Pestano was flat-out filthy against righties (.168/.227/.261) and not quite as good against lefties (.237/.329/.423)— but that was also true in 2011. In fact, Pestano was actually better against lefties in 2012 than he was in 2011. Instead, the most sensible culprits I could find were Pestano’s virtual abandonment of his two-seam fastball—which he junked in favor of a two-pitch repertoire consisting of a four-seamer and a slider—and the loss of one mph off his four-seamer. Taking those factors into consideration together, we have a plausible explanation: hitters had one fewer effective pitch to worry about, and one of the remaining pitches was less effective.
All things considered, though, those concerns probably shouldn’t impact Pestano’s bottom line too much. While a double-digit strikeout rate is always ideal, most owners in holds leagues will gladly take a guy who can finish in the top 10 in holds, strike out a batter per inning, and keep his ratios in check. Pestano won’t be as coveted in standard leagues heading into this year as he was last spring, but he’ll still be a high-end option in leagues that count holds.