August 15, 2014

Debating Chris Perez’s closer role – Cleveland Indians Roundtable

Shortly after last night’s incredible ninth-inning comeback, former WFNY weekend man Brendan Porath nudged the WFNY staff: Let’s do a roundtable about Chris Perez. So here we are, again, talking about the controversial closer’s role for the rest of 2013. Share your takes in the comments.

WFNY_roundtable

Brendan: So, Jason Giambi delivered one of the most dramatic and enjoyable wins in Indians franchise history. But it promptly overshadowed the continuing troubles with Chris Perez — the Tribe’s shaky (is what we’ll call it) closer. Next time, the stakes may be higher and we can’t repeatedly count on old Jacobs Field magic when there may be other options.

The Indians have five, and hopefully more, very important games left in their season. Giambi said Perez can “wipe the slate clean and start fresh” today, and Francona indicated they weren’t planning on “shifting gears” so late in the season.

But should the Indians proceed without Perez as their closer, starting tonight if there’s a save situation and then through whatever is left ahead, which may include some exceedingly tense postseason situations? If you were to shuffle it up, how would you change things? Who’s the new closer, and then who fills the role vacated by that arm? And how would you use Perez, if at all, going forward if he were no longer the go-to arm at the end of games?

Kirk: I’ve been on the “Chris Perez is overrated, he’s not that good” bus for about three years now. Truth be told, if Vinnie Pestano was in 2011-2012 form, this would be a no brainer and Tito may have already made the move. CP has an ERA of 5.95 in August and September combined!!!! He’s blown two of the biggest home games all year (Detroit series opener and this one). He’s just too inconsistent to rely upon for key outs.

As it stands, I’d choose between Justin Masterson and Bryan Shaw for my closer. Shaw has been tough as nails since mid-August, allowing just 3 earned runs and 11 hits, walking 6 and striking out 19 in 21 innings of work. Masterson or Salazar, whoever would have the lower pitch count threshold, should be in the mix as well. Masterson is the all star, and there are few that Tito would trust more with the game on the line. He also has postseason experience in the pen. Salazar’s stuff is phenomenal, but if he can throw north of 90 pitches, I keep him in the rotation.

TD: I think two ways – if a save situation comes up tonight and Francona doesn’t go to Perez, you may lose him the rest of the way. As much as I want to replace him as closer, doing so now would move things around in roles that have been defined with just five games remaining. This would be a seriously dicey proposition. You could send Allen into the closer’s role with Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepcynski, and Joe Smith handling the seventh and eighth innings. Or you could go radical and keep everyone where they are and have Justin Masterson come on to close these last five games, since he will be pitching out of the pen.

Then there is this – Danny Salazar. The Indians probably won’t use him in the rotation should they make it to the playoffs (then again should they make the Wild Card, it will be his turn in the rotation). He has that power arm and could be a serious option to close out games in October, ala David Price during his rookie season of 2008.

How would I use Perez? Honestly, I don’t know if I would. But I think Terry Francona is going to send him right back out there tonight if the situation arises.

Jacob: Shocker: I don’t really mind. I’ve written before about the folly of Chris Perez’s future. Yes, he’s overpaid. Yes, he’s not really an “elite” closer in MLB. Sure, he’s probably not gonna be here in 2014. But yes, he’s still probably the most experienced and reliable *gulp* guy that we’ve got.

This is Perez’s sixth year in the big leagues. He has 332.1 innings, 132 saves and countless high-pressure moments under his belt. Before the Detroit dilemma, he had a 0.95 ERA in an 18-game stretch. This has been one of his worst MLB seasons and he’s still OK overall.

Look at Bryan Shaw: 25 years old and 160 career innings. Cody Allen is 24 with 97.1 innings. Justin Masterson won’t be the closer; that just ain’t happening. These options are inexperienced and late September isn’t the time for an audition or tryout.

Moving away from Perez as the closer would be a peculiar call by Francona, even if it irates some fans. Yes, CP has blown some of the biggest games of the year, but he’s still the guy you stick with to show faith in the rest of your roster that you’ve got their back.

Scott: As the resident “apologist” who now gets tweeted at every time Perez slips up—you know, as if I have anything to do with it—I think you really need to consider a switch. I completely agree with the “too late to change” mentality. Upsetting the apple cart now could prove toxic. But I really don’t know how Terry could go to him in the event of a tie game or one-run lead.

With the expanded rosters, the Tribe opted to double the bullpen. There are options there. I think the main goal should be to do what’s best to win these games—chemistry is ancillary at this point. If not throwing him out there ruins him forever, maybe he shouldn’t have been out there to begin with, closer’s mentality being what it is.

Jon: My bona fides in wishing Chris Perez would go away are fairly well-established, but in this case, I probably agree with Francona, albeit not with a great deal of confidence.

As much as I think Chris Perez is an entirely flawed pitcher who needs to miss more bats OR keep the ball on the ground, I don’t necessarily think our other options are all that tantalizing. Cody Allen would be the obvious choice, but that fastball is straight as an arrow, and players are starting to line it up. Couple that with his age and inexperience and I sure don’t think it’s a slam dunk, not to mention the gap it would leave in the 7th inning. I suppose you could try Salazar or Carrasco, but that seems a bit unfair to ask of guys who’ve never pitched out of the bullpen before–images of 2006 Fausto Carmona are dancing through my head. I’d take the LOOGY’s off the table, as they’re situational guys. And even if you trust Joe Smith (I don’t, but it’s up for debate), you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul here: someone has to pitch the eighth if Smitty’s in the ninth.

And then, if you remove Perez from the closer spot, do you leave him off the post-season roster altogether, as he’ll likely be an unbearable drag on the other guys? That seems silly, as he’s quite certainly one of the 7 best arms we have out there (at least it’s clear to me, though you might argue otherwise).

The bigger issue is that current ideas about bullpen usage are just broken. The ninth inning isn’t always the highest leverage situation, deserving of your best pitcher. Sometimes that make-it-or-break-it moment comes in the 6th or 7th inning, and I’d love to have a manager that recognized when to deploy your best reliever, regardless of a silly statistic that doesn’t mean all that much. That’s never going to happen though–not with entrenched valuation of the save that comes along with arbitration and free agency. In many ways, we’re stuck with an imperfect system.

And we’re similarly stuck with an imperfect closer. I think I still have to dance with who brung me, while keeping the blood pressure medication within reach.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Personally I think the closer “role” is overstated. Leave him in there for games where they have 3-run or even 2-run leads heading into the 9th, odds are he doesn’t blow it. But if it’s a tight game or at the first sign of trouble, you either don’t put him up or you don’t leave him in.

    It’s like Mesa in the playoffs – he was able to close out (or hang on) in the big games with a big lead; in crunch time, with only a 1-run cushion, he couldn’t do it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You stole my Joe Table thunder Ezzie!!!!

  • JNeids

    You just had to go drop the M-bomb, didn’t you?

  • JNeids

    Does anyone have an update on Vinnie P? I’ve hardly heard his name since he got sent down. I THINK he got called back up and has pitched once or twice, but I’m surprised there haven’t been more updates considering how solid and dominant he was for us last year. I’m assuming his health just never got back to 100%, but would still love to know how he’s doing as I’m still a fan of his.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    As a lifelong CLE fan, I’ve realized that whenever we don’t say it, it happens. Whenever we do (Browns looking good! etc.), it doesn’t.

    :(

  • nj0
  • nj0

    I agree with what you’re saying, but I think if we have better options then why not use them? I’d keep our best arms for the higher leverage situations that usually occur in the 7th or 8th, but if there are still better options than Perez after that? Sorry, Chris. There’s the bench.

  • MrCleaveland

    I understand that Francona likes to give his veterans the benefit of the doubt, so I’m afraid we’re stuck with Perez in save situations for the time being. But Francona has got to be ready to yank him at the first sign of trouble, not after it’s too late.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Well that’s basically what I’m saying – put him out there with a 2-3 run lead, because you will still have a better arm on tap if he gets into a jam. But by keeping him in there, you keep his head somewhat on straight (and he’s still better than most other options) and keep the clubhouse calmer. While normally I don’t factor those too much, I think that those do matter a bit with this club.

  • JNeids

    Thanks! And thanks for not putting it in LMGTFY form…

  • w____________

    For the sake of “sticking with your guy,” sure, keep him in the role. But the SECOND he goes 3-0 on a guy, with nothing near the plate, yank him. I can’t be the only one who sees Chris’s radical physical decline this season. He’s fat. Not putting on weight…. not getting chunky. Fat. The moment he is shown in the pen warming up, my entire family sighs, “Oohhhhh God… look at him!” He’s given up on being a ball player. He’s just cashing checks. Can you imagine Swish etc answering for him after last night if Big G doesn’t save the day? He doesn’t “pitch” as much as he just throws. He’s got no idea where the ball is going once he releases it. I am a baseball fan. Tito is a World Series winning manager, he HAS to see these things and be alarmed. He has to.

  • Steve

    What did your family think of Wickman?

  • w_____________

    While I’m here…. Not that it effects games in a huge way, but I’m bummed at Stubbs’ disappearance from the lineup. Not only does he not start anymore, but he’s not even the OF defensive replacement. I get that his bat is swiss cheese, but his speed and range isn’t valuable?

  • Steve

    I should really be taking notes on what kind of snarking and sniping are allowed here.

  • w_____________

    Touche. But we expected that from him. Chris has let it all go in the past few months. He’s just given up. I don’t have anything against larger humans, but this guy is a professional athlete carrying the hopes of an entire city with his right arm. We expect and deserve more.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure he’s any bigger than last year or the year before, when he was still a big guy. He was listed as 230 coming into the season. And when he came back from the injury in July, he was pretty much lights out, he’s struggling now, but I don’t see where he’s given up.

  • w_____________

    To me, he looks sloppy. And it”s not just the lack of follicle maintenance. He doesn’t care that he alienates teammates by avoiding the media. Hasn’t shown the firey competitiveness of late, no more yells or fist pumps. Wasn’t part of the celebration yesterday. Watch where Gomes sets up, and watch where most of his pitches end up. He’s reaching back and praying. I’m just not comfortable with a thrower, with low 90s stuff, sporting a 5.95 ERA in August and September, with my one game wild card.

  • Rick Manning

    I agree, stick with him but keep him on a short leash.

  • w__________

    Look at August and September alone… every member of this team save for Stubbs has stepped it up in some way and built on the momentum leading into this final week. Bourn is getting on base. ACab has started hitting for power. Swisher is much more consistent. Perez is seemingly the only player still standing in a pile of his own after that Detroit series. He seems so detached from everything that’s going on. I worry about the 9th inning of that wild card game, especially after everything this team has done to put themselves there, in spite of his horrendous stretch run.

  • mgbode

    well, you’ll likely get to see more of him in this series (and hopefully Bourn is back soon):

    http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2013/09/cleveland_indians_cf_michael_b_1.html

  • Steve

    He’s definitely lost his control, but he’s still hitting 95. I said in the other thread that the good news is that this is at least something fixable.

    He hasn’t pitched well as of late, so I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that he’s not getting fired up. And his team has his back last night, patting him on the back as he came back in, and with Giambi after the game. I don’t see where he’s alienating anyone. I think this is all assigning narrative after the fact when we’re upset at his performance between the lines. Not everyone who fails on the field is failing in some moral sense. He’s just simply not pitching well at the moment.

  • Rick Manning

    I would say that Stubbs should try to bunt his way on every time, but he’s not very good at that either.

  • w____________

    I’ll agree for the sake of getting some work done today. But, you make quite clear that he is simply not getting it done. Soon, this team will find itself in a win or go home situation, or even a win or go home inning. I’m not the only person in Cleveland not comfortable with him protecting a one run (two run…. three run…) lead in that game. Would be a damn shame to see this magical season wiped out by Brody, er, Chris Perez’s lack of focus.

  • Steve

    I think that Francona knows that this team is going to need the Perez that came back from the injury, and he’s trying his best to bring him back to that. It would be nice to not lose any games, or go through stressful innings like the top of the 9th last night in the meantime though.

  • Steve

    Again, with the “lack of focus” narrative. I’m not seeing evidence of it, all I’m seeing is evidence of a guy who has no idea where the ball is going as it leaves his hand. Poor control does not equal not caring.

  • Rick Manning

    He may not have the body of an athlete, but hes not Kenny Powers either. Well, at least not in that sense (the weight thing).

  • BAMstutz

    I don’t like how the closer role has evolved. The pitcher is inserted into the 9th inning by rote, not with any strategy or foresight. Shouldn’t Tito be matching up in the 9th like every other inning? Also, if your 8th inning guy is pitching well, and his pitch count is low, put him in to start the 9th. If he get’s in trouble, bring in the “closer.”

    I’ve been having this debate since 1997. If you remember Mike Jackson was lights-out down the stretch and into the post-season.

    If Grover had just left him in for the 9th . . .

  • Harv 21

    A few things no one’s touched on:

    - Perez pitches pretty crappy when he hasn’t worked in a while. Am I right that he hadn’t worked in like 5 days?
    - Melanie was in court getting sentenced yesterday. Perez is pretty volatile. Relevant to his meltdown?
    - Watching Perez is like watching a grenade juggler. But any replacement who is asked to do it in the season’s highest pressure games will be doing it for a first time. And you don’t want to pull multiple guys out of their accustomed roles to change one role.

    I hate Perez, at times unfairly. But here’s what I’d do: kick the tires on either Salazar or Carrasco (yikes) and see what happens. If it’s not real good, back to Perez after Giambi gives him another huggie to feel loved.

  • w___________

    OK, white flag. I won’t add any narrative this time, I promise. I’ll use your exact quote, “all I’m seeing is evidence of a guy who has no idea where the ball is going as it leaves his hand.” Focus or no focus, fat as hell or not fat as hell, this is an accurate observation of the guy who will likely be responsible for the last three outs in a 1 game playoff, against batters that are not named De Aza or Viciedo. This is not good. Period.

  • bupalos

    Absolutely. There is nothing dumber than the way rote takes over in baseball. It’s an effect of the neverending season and guys just wanting to set things on autopilot and create a comfortable groove. But when you get into the nitty gritty games, there is absolutely no reason to manage by this stupid rhythm method. Just match up with guys the exact same way you do the 7th and 8th. Ride the hot hand, send in a guy to face 2, whatever.

  • Steve

    Right, I’ve said that this still has to be fixed. But that’s going to require putting his feet to the fire again. I see the guy getting another chance tonight or in Minny. Francona is a player’s manager and he’s going to give the guy a chance to prove he can right himself. If he has another outing like he did in KC last week, it’s something to build on. But if he can’t get it together before the playoffs, I think we might see something different if/when we get there.

  • TSR3000

    Well put.

  • TSR3000

    Last night, after the 2nd homer, I was convinced Perez was doing it on purpose.

  • nj0

    It was five days, but the numbers don’t tell that story. Pitches poorly with five days rest, but fine with four or six+. Also sucks on two days rest.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=perezch01&year=Career&t=p

  • nj0

    I don’t trust him with even a 2-3 run lead.

  • 240

    I’d love to run K fucking P out there instead of Perez.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You need a personality first!

  • mgbode

    umm…not the proper word choice for this site.

  • Leo

    Francona will leave Perez in there unless for some reason he bombs again and maybe the Indians don’t get so lucky. The guy is beyond detached from the team…did you see the dugout, no one even looked at him or did anything to him. he just wen to the bench by himself and that was it. this not talking to the media bs is what really irks fans and of course the drugs incident was the last straw. he’s basically in a no win situation unless he saves big games end of this season and in playoffs. last night he looked awful, just as bad as the detroit game back in august i believe it was. its not the best route to use somebody else who hasn’t saved a game to go do it on moments notice. this is a tougher position to be in as a ballplayer than usual. more pressure for sure. hope francona and calloway talked with him today and got his mind right…this could spiral out of control and team can’t afford it.

  • bocatribe53

    perez has been hurt this yr -let’s face it , he has delivered over the past couple years on some pretty awful teams – having a so so 2013 -but he has to be our closer – he has the mental toughness – GO TRIBE ! PS – has anyone noticed Rivera blowing saves this year !! happens to the best of them