Vinnie Pestano’s Struggles are Hard to Ignore
Minutes before posting this article, Vinnie Pestano was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. C.C. Lee was called up to take his spot in the bullpen.
The best part about the start of any season are the outrageously inflated statistics thanks largely in part to small sample sizes. After one week we have players on pace to hit .500 and hit 75 home runs. We even have pitchers on pace to post a 0.00 ERA and strikeout somewhere around 700 strikeouts. Obviously, those trends never hold up. Numbers average out, regression happens, and we’re able to make legitimate decisions regarding players.
Right now, though? Right now it’s next to impossible to make an educated decision on any player, whether it be good, or bad. There are no trends. We don’t know what will hold up and what won’t. All we can do is make our best guess with what we’ve seen so far and the use of historical data to help put these number into the proper context.
That brings us to the question at hand; the giant elephant in the room, if you don’t mind the metaphorical idiom.
What are the Indians going to do about Vinnie Pestano?
There’s no reason to sugar coat it. Through his first three appearance this season, Pestano has looked terrible. Coming off of an injury plagued 2013 season that saw him spend time on the disabled list and ultimately get demoted to Triple-A, 2014 was supposed to be a redemption year of sorts. That’s not happening, not even close.
In 2.2 innings of work, Pestano has allowed 6 runs to cross the plate, only 4 of which have been earned. His ERA has ballooned to an astonishing 13.50. And while he isn’t walking anyone, he’s being hit all over the field. Opposing hitters have collected 8 hits off of Pestano, including a home run, a triple, and two doubles.
All of this would be easy to live with if there were positive signs to point to the fact that these are just fluky numbers that will correct themselves over time. I’m not so sure that’s the case. From my vantage point, Vinnie Pestano looks like a pitcher that has completely lost it. If that is the case, it’s a sad day to be a fan of the Cleveland Indians. Pestano was so dominant for so long that watching him fall apart like this is anything but enjoyable.
The problem for Pestano is that injuries have robbed him of what made him so good. While he was by no means a flame thrower, Pestano regularly topped out at around 93 MPH on his fastball and about 81 MPH on his slider. He had just enough velocity to make things difficult for opposing hitters.
Now? Well, Pestano appears to be a shadow of his former self when it comes to velocity. So far in 2014, Pestano’s fastball velocity is coming in around 88 MPH according to the Pitchf/x data on Fangraphs. That’s roughly a 5 mph decrease in the velocity of his fastball. To you and me, that would be no big deal because 88 MPH is still fast. To a major league hitter, though? That’s a huge difference. Those extra few milliseconds to decide on pitch type, location, and whether or not to swing are a big deal.
Another factor is that Pestano’s fastball has absolutely no movement on it at the moment. The best fastballs have some sort of movement on them. The later this movement occurs, the more effective the pitch. Right now, everything is straight and might as well be on a tee. Case in point, the double he gave up to Brandon Moss in Oakland on an 89 MPH fastball and the single to Jason Kubel over the weekend on an 88 MPH fastball.
Making matters worse, Pestano has also lost velocity on his slider. While it is not nearly as drastic a decline as his fastball, this is still critical. The lack of velocity has robbed Pestano’s slider of any real bite. Being closer in speed to his fastball also hasn’t helped. In addition to lacking bite, it’s not keeping hitters off-balance. This was never more apparent than during last night’s game when Xavier Nady took Pestano deep on a hanging slider.
All of that combined has resulted in what we have seen so far this season from Pestano. Mainly, a field day for opposing hitters.
But what should the Indians do? How do they fix this? Honestly, I don’t think they can without Vinne Pestano making a concerted effort to become a completely different pitcher. When he reaches back for the gas, the tank is empty. Unless he develops a new approach to going after hitters, it will continue to be more of the same. As a power pitcher for the majority of his career, I’m not so sure he’ll be able to do it, not without taking a major step back.
We saw the Indians and Mickey Callaway were able to retool Ubaldo Jimenez and help him find himself. Whether or not they can do the same with Pestano remains to be seen. Jimenez was a starter, working large chunks of innings at a time with a wider margin of error. Pestano is a reliever, and a late inning reliever at that. He can’t afford one bad inning to get to four good ones. For Pestano, a single outing can be an inning or less.
For that reason, it appears that the Indians have reached a crossroads with their one-time closer of the future. They can either keep him on the 25 man roster (doubtful considering his performance and the pending returns of Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi), send him down to Triple-A to work out his issues, or perhaps look for a possible trade partner in order to give Pestano a fresh start somewhere else. It is doubtful that the Indians would want to go the route of trading Pestano, but they may not have any choice. Perhaps Pestano needs surgery to rectify the problem.
It’s sad, considering how dominant Vinnie Pestano was as the eighth inning set-up man in 2011 and 2012. It just goes to show that all it takes is one injury to derail everything. It’s clear that whatever happened last season with his elbow has either lingered or possibly injured him beyond repair. If that’s the case, it was a good ride while it lasted, but the Indians cannot afford to wait for Vinnie Pestano to find and reinvent himself.