It didn’t take long for people to start worrying about Chris Perez‘ ability to close. Before the season started there was skepticism about his ability to repeat his past success—behind his 36 saves and 3.32 ERA from 2011, Perez’ strikeout rate plummeted as his velocity declined—and his blown save that set up the Opening Day heartbreak last week poured gasoline on the flames.
With declining peripherals and an heir apparent waiting in the wings in Vinnie Pestano, we asked our Weekly Wroundtable panel: How long of a leash should the Indians give Chris Perez? Joining us this week is WaitingForNextYear‘s Craig Lyndall. Here’s what we all had to say:
Craig Lyndall (WaitingForNextYear): Perez probably has the whole season as far as I’m concerned. I know a lot of people have anointed his replacement in Vinnie Pestano already, but I can’t see it just yet. This season the Indians will need Perez to be as good as he was a year ago, if not better if they have any hopes in the division and (hopefully) playoffs.
The chances of the Tribe being successful this season while demoting their closer seems very remote to me. If somehow the Indians decide to demote/replace Perez, it would have to be via trade before the trade deadline I think.
Lewie Pollis: I don’t have a specific outline for what it should take for Pestano to replace Perez, but it shouldn’t take much. His Opening Day collapse wasn’t just an isolated incident. His fastball velocity has dropped dramatically—he averaged 94.5 mph in 2010, and it’s down to 91.4 mph so far this year—and he just doesn’t strike anyone out anymore. With the number of walks he allows, he simply can’t be counted on to be a very good pitcher without missing more bats, let alone an elite late-inning arm.
In order for this team to have any hope of competing this year, they have to expect that a late lead is safe with their bullpen, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that Perez can’t be counted on to close it out. But even if his downward trend is reversible, it seems more logical to let him work out his issues in middle relief or mop-up duty.
If the Indians want to pump up Perez’ save total so they can flip him midseason (i.e., the Oakland A’s model) that’s fine. But Pestano is and of a right ought to be the ace of the relief corps—the Capone of the Bullpen Mafia, if you will—and whether it’s the top of the sixth or the bottom of the ninth, in a high-leverage situation Manny Acta’s first call should be to Pestano.
Steve Kinsella: Chris Perez has a role on this team and that is to work the ninth inning. He’ll be out there to shut the door with a lead or he’ll come in at home in a tie game—either way, it’s his job. I am aware of his peripherals that have dropped year after year and his decreasing velocity but he shouldn’t be removed as closer until he becomes as erratic as Fernando Cabrera.
The Indians need Perez to maintain his value as a closer and hopefully this will result in being able to grab an outfielder or a first baseman from another organization at the trade deadline. The Indians in one respect are lucky that they are pigeonholed into having their best reliever as their closer. Vinnie Pestano is a serious weapon and should not be elevated to the ninth inning role either until the Indians are out of contention or Perez is moved to another team.
Katie Hendershot: To some extent, Chris Perez has to have some freedom. We can’t expect Manny Acta to pull him out of the game at the first sight of trouble, even if that means giving fans a heart attack. That being said, I think, especially after coming off an injury that limited his exposure to game situations in Spring Training, there needs to be a limit. There is no clear-cut formula Acta should follow that dictates when to pull Perez. Certainly though, if he looks uncomfortable and the lead looks like it’s being threatened, then we should take that as an indication that it’s not going to be a good outing for Perez.
While it makes me nervous when Perez loads the bases with one out and only a one run lead, it’s something that we will have to learn to trust him with. Pestano might be the future, but Perez is the present, and Acta must have confidence in his closer and trust him in difficult situations. No one wants to see a repeat of Opening Day, so yes, there should be a limit, but I think we need to see more from Perez before we define that limit. We need to see what he can do this year after a few more outings before we decide that he needs to be pulled at the first sign of trouble.
Brian Heise: I’m willing to give Chris Perez a pretty long leash when it comes to the closer role. A lot has been made about Perez’s performance last year and how his batting average against was up, his strikeout rate was down, and his fastball lost some zip. But the fact of the matter remains that Perez only blew four saves all season long. He was 36 out of 40 in save opportunities and he wasn’t healthy. That’s actually pretty good considering the fact that most closers are going to blow a few opportunities every year. By the time things are said and done there’s maybe one guy each year who’s either perfect or as near perfect as a closer can get. That’s it. So to sit here and bash the guy for one bad performance on opening day when everyone’s performance is magnified (which admittedly, I did) is counter productive.
So yes, while Pestano may have better “stuff” and Perez has a tendency to compound problems by overthrowing when he gets in trouble, it would take a monumentally bad stretch of outings before I’d even consider a change. Until that happens, Perez should be the closer.