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Pestano’s Performance Solidifies Bullpen

Pestano’s Performance Solidifies Bullpen

| On 11, Oct 2012

After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. This week we analyze the Tribe’s young core of players moving forward.

It was a Cleveland Indians’ record-breaking season for setup man Vinnie Pestano in 2012. Along with Joe Smith and Chris Perez, the three formed one of the more formidable back ends in the major leagues.

Unfortunately for the Indians, their second-half collapse gave the team too few opportunities to hand the ball to the trio with the game at stake.

Pestano proved to be a steady force out of the bullpen. He earned a 3-3 record and saved a pair of games in September. His 70 appearances were second to Smith’s 72 for the team lead. The 27-year-old right-hander led the bullpen regulars in several other key pitching statistics, including strikeouts (76), innings pitched (70), batting average against (.207), WHIP (1.10), and ERA (2.57).

Pestano spent most of the season leading all of baseball in holds – the number of times a reliever pitches at least one-third of an inning in a save situation without surrendering the lead or finishing the game. He surpassed the previous club record of 31, set in 2007 by Rafael Betancourt, and finished the year with 36, good for second in all of baseball to Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Joel Peralta (37).

The Indians were 50-20 in games in which Pestano appeared. The numbers were even more improved when Pestano and Perez appeared in tandem in the eighth and ninth innings.

Pestano started the season with an impressive effort in the strikeout category. In each of his first 21 appearances, Pestano recorded at least one strikeout. It was the longest such streak by a Cleveland reliever to start a season since 1918. On the year, he struck out at least one batter in 55 of his 70 appearances.

He matched the strikeout streak with an equally impressive string of scoreless innings. Starting with a swinging strikeout of New York Yankees’ catcher Russell Martin on June 27th until a one-out, two-run home run by Los Angeles Angels’ slugger Albert Pujols on August 13th, Pestano threw 21 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He had worked his ERA all the way down to a season-best 1.24 prior to the Pujols’ homer.

Pestano did some of his best work against right-handed batters. Righties batted just .168 against him and walked half as frequently as lefties. He averaged nearly six strikeouts for every one right-handed batter walked.

A rough five weeks to close out the season helped to skew Pestano’s overall numbers; otherwise, his final line would have been more impressive. Over his last 15 outings, he gave up nine earned runs, including four home runs. He had a 0-2 record in this span with a blown save, but he did save two games at the beginning of September filling in for Perez, who missed action due to the birth of his daughter. Pestano’s 5.52 ERA and a .302 batting average against him during this time helped to increase his ERA by 0.78 in that home stretch of the season.

Pestano’s 2012 numbers were no fluke and, until his September slide, were in line to meet or exceed his successful efforts from his first full year in the majors in 2011.

Pestano successfully climbed up through the Indians’ farm system after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2006 draft. He made his brief major league debut in 2010 as a September call-up for the Indians, pitching five innings and allowing two runs on four hits in limited action.

The 2011 campaign saw significant improvement, as he went 1-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings of work. He averaged 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.05 WHIP. He held right-handers to a .115 batting average and all batters to a .184 average overall. His strong season helped to cement his role as the setup man of the future for closer Perez.

For his career, Pestano is now 4-5 with a 2.50 ERA with five saves. Despite a decrease in 2012 in his strikeout rate, he still averages more than a strikeout per inning and three times as many strikeouts as walks.

What does not translate numerically is the confidence that Pestano exuded this season on the mound.

During his scoreless stretch and strikeout streak, Pestano had the look of a pitcher who knew he could work out of any jam. He is a high energy reliever who, for a portion of the season at least, had his actual sprint times from the bullpen to the mound posted on the scoreboard at Progressive Field. No matter how poorly the team played, when he was set to take the mound, he did so with a mad dash from the bullpen.

For now, Pestano’s role is established as the late-inning setup man and a leader in the back end of the Tribe bullpen. However, that role could easily change for 2013 if the Indians decide to make a move with the effective, but controversial, Perez, who is due what likely will be a substantial raise through arbitration this winter.

Moving Perez, a two-time American League All-Star, is made a little easier having a durable and successful arm in the bullpen like Pestano’s. He showed this season, and in years prior, that he is more than capable and up to the task of closing. He was a perfect two-for-two in ninth inning save opportunities in 2012. He had the same mark in 2011, when he converted two ninth inning save chances in the month of July. He even earned the save in his second professional appearance on September 26, 2010 against the Kansas City Royals, working a scoreless ninth.

“It’s a little bit different,” Pestano said September 1st after his first save of the season. “The crowd wants a little bit more in the ninth. I try not to treat it any different than the eighth innings I’ve thrown the last couple of years.”

When asked by Indians’ broadcaster Tom Hamilton if he could see himself someday as a closer, Pestano said, “Yeah. That’s my goal. I feel very comfortable in the late innings. You know, just waiting for the opportunity but there is no real hurry here. You have a great closer in [Perez] so I’m not looking to take anybody’s job or step up. I think with Chris closing games out and me in the eighth inning, I think that gives us the best chance to win baseball games.”

The emergence of 2011 draft pick Cody Allen (0-1, 3.72) in July and the midseason acquisition of hard-throwing right-hander Esmil Rogers (3-1, 3.06) from the Colorado Rockies gives the team two young in-house candidates to replace Pestano in the setup role, if needed.

When his success and potential are coupled with a contract placing him under team control until the end of the 2016 season, Pestano’s place on the ballclub as part of its core is solidified for years to come.

Regardless of whether Pestano is out there on the mound in the eighth inning as a setup man or in the ninth inning as the Indians’ closer, he is an integral piece of the club’s bullpen moving forward into 2013. His durability and effectiveness make him more than a reliable option as a bullpen leader. His fire and intensity is exciting for the fans and his accessibility via social media (@vinniep52) makes him a fan favorite already.

Pestano does not back down from a challenge and is one of the first to point the finger at himself when his effort on the mound fails to meet his expectations. He stranded the majority of runners he inherited in relief. Only one time during the season did he give up earned runs in back-to-back appearances.

If, after two solid and consistent seasons with one of the best setup men in the league, the thought of Pestano becoming the closer scares you, get a dog.

Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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