Sunday, May 6, 2012
Chris Perez: Not So Bad (knock wood)
Indians closer Chris Perez had a terrible outing on Opening Day, he gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks, blowing a lead and losing the game. It was a nightmarish way to begin the season, and even as I knew not to put too much emphasis on any one game (a mistake Opening Day lends itself to), I really felt Perez no longer had any place near an important game. Over the last year, his strikeout rate had crashed, while his flyball and line drive rates were noticeably up. I wanted him removed from his role as closer, until the time when (if) he could establish that he'd regained some of the control and velocity he'd lost during the previous year.
Sunday afternoon against the Rangers, Perez got around a lead off hit from Mitch Moreland by retiring Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, and Ian Kinsler to preserve a 4-2 lead. That's about as good a set of three hitters as you can face, but Perez handled them and picked up his 11th save of the season. The save is a pretty silly stat (to begin with, it treats entering the game with a 3-run lead and the bases empty the same as entering with only a 1-run lead and the bases loaded), but it's not a total nothing stat, and those 11 saves lead all of Major League Baseball. Perez has also lowered his ERA all the way to 2.84 and his WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) is 1.11, both are very respectable figures. Over the last month (which conveniently rids his record of that first game), Perez has pitched 12 innings over 13 appearances. He's given up just one run over that time, with only six hits and three walks. His ERA and WHIP for the last month both rest at a tidy 0.75.
I don't know how much anything has actually changed. Since the Opening Day fiasco, Perez is throwing his slider more often than he did over the last couple years (31% of the time, compared to 22% in 2011 and 23% in 2010), and it's been a more effective pitch. Batters are swing more often, but making contact less frequently, a nice combination. His flyballs are down (lessening the potential for home runs), along with his walks. We're still in the portion of the season in which SSS (small sample size) is a likely explanation for just about any surprising trend. Heck, for a relief pitcher, even an entire season's worth of numbers falls pretty close to what would be considered SSS. Point is, I'm not sure if the rest of 2012 will look more like the last month, or more like Opening Day and most of 2011.
The Indians sit in first place in the American League Central right now, and Perez has been a big part of the team's early success in run prevention. He's come into a lot of high leverage situations and finished off a lot of close games. I came down hard on Perez when I sensed he wasn't going to be good enough to help the team, so today I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge that Perez has been really, really good for a month now.
I sure hope it keeps up.