Paul Hoynes’ mailbag overflowethed again this weekend. As every Clevelander knows, Hoynes’ columns are always worth a read, and this was no exception: Hoynes dished on Lonnie Chisenhall‘s future, Sandy Alomar‘s managerial potential, and the perks of following an MLB team. But perhaps the most interesting part of Hoynes’ column was his insight into a potential Chris Perez trade:
Hey, Hoynsie: What do you think the Indians can get back for Chris Perez? I think the Angels are desperate for a closer, and would give up Mark Trumbo. He started hot, but soon fell out of favor and sat pretty much the last month of the year. He strikes out a lot and would fit in great with our lineup. — Todd Schreiber, Charlotte, N.C.
Hey, Todd: The Angels led the AL in batting average and were third in runs scored last season, but still finished third in the AL West. There seems to be some unrest between GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia in how the club should be put together, so maybe they would move a player such as Trumbo.
Last year Oakland sent closer Andrew Bailey to Boston for slugger Josh Reddick and he certainly helped the A’s. If I’m the Indians, however, the only way I trade Perez is if I’m convinced Vinnie Pestano can replace him as closer.
Nothing’s a given, and you never know how the mental aspect of the game will affect how someone plays. It’s entirely possible that the idea of moving from the eighth to the ninth inning would screw with Pestano’s head and wreak havoc on his mechanics, or that the league might figure him out and he’d cease to be an effective pitcher. But barring such a collapse, there’s absolutely no reason to think Vinnie Pestano couldn’t handle the closer’s job.
I don’t mean to single Mr. Hoynes out with this. The whole mainstream sports media systematically overrates closers and assigns undue weight to the arbitrary category of “saves.” Yes, there’s a psychological difference between pitching in the penultimate inning and being the very last man on the mound, but it’s not as big as it’s cracked up to be. A professional athlete who has tens of thousands of spectators in his office and whose every move is televised has to be able to thrive under the pressure just to come in to work. Most players can thus be expected to handle the ninth inning.
Vinnie Pestano has a 2.50 career ERA. He’s fanned 168 batters in only 137 innings. He’s got a great fastball and a wicked slider. Plus, a setup man sees plenty of opportunities in close and late situations—in fact, Manny Acta often deployed Pestano in higher-leverage situations than Perez. And for those who put stock in such numbers, he actually has a better ERA (2.12) in save situations than he does in non-save situations (2.87).
Chris Perez is a very good closer, but he’s likely worn out his welcome in Cleveland, he’s going to get expensive in arbitration, and—perhaps most importantly—he could bring back a solid return for the Tribe, be it an established MLB player or a package of promising prospects. That the Indians have Vinnie Pestano to replace him is a positive, not a concern. That he’s next in line definitely shouldn’t deter Chris Antonetti from shopping Perez this winter.