Should the Indians move Perez out of the closer's role?
Temporarily relieving closer of duties could help Tribe during playoff push
By Jake Dungan
September 10, 2013
For those whose hair hasn’t turned gray or been pulled out after Monday night’s – let’s say dramatic – win over the Royals, I have a question for you: Should the Indians consider moving Chris Perez out of the closer’s role for the rest of the year as they make their push for the playoffs?
Of course, the knee-jerk reaction for many would be yes since the former All-Star is not what you consider a fan favorite. Is it a drastic move? Seems like it, but in actuality, it’s not considering that closers are replaced regularly, mostly due to injury.
Nevertheless, teams have managed to catch lightning in a bottle in their attempts to fill the vacant role. The St. Louis Cardinals lost Jason Motte toTommy John surgery early on and needed to find a replacement in a hurry. Enter former Tribesman Edward Mujica, who seemingly out of nowhere stepped in and became a more dominant closer than Motte has ever been going 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and 36 saves.
Similar scenarios have come to fruition around baseball as the Pirates dealt with the temporary loss of another former Indian, Jason Grilli. But not to worry, Mark Melancon is here. The right-hander stepped in and shut down opponents with an 0.90 ERA and 12 saves as their interim closer. Last year, the Yankees lost the best closer in the game to injury in Mariano Rivera, but managed to fill those seemingly large shoes with Rafael Soriano.
So it’s not all that unusual to temporarily replace a closer. However, Perez is not injured, so do you take Perez out just because he’s not reliable?
Jim Leyland and the Tigers pulled that trigger last postseason with Jose Valverde, who blew two saves before Leyland yanked him in favor of left-hander Phil Coke, who went on to save two games and dominate with an 0.84 ERA on Detroit’s path to the World Series.
The question now is would Terry Francona also consider making that move?
My gut says no since he is a notorious players’ manager and will give his guys the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, especially the veterans, like Perez. Having confidence in your players is not a bad thing by any means. In fact in most cases, it could do more good than harm, which could explain a great deal of this team’s success with several guys stepping up, sometimes out of nowhere.
Still, at some point there has to be a time where giving the team the best chance to win supersedes any hurt feelings caused by changing a players’ duties. Tito is not incapable of doing it, though.
The name Yan Gomes springs to mind. The Brazilian rookie sensation behind the dish has now caught 22 of the last 36 games for the Indians and has gotten results hitting over .300 and challenging all potential base-stealers with his cannon arm. Has it put opening day starting catcher Carlos Santana out? Maybe, but the Indians are proven to be more successful with Gomes behind the plate.
So what about Perez? Despite coming back strong from his early-season injury, he has posted a 6.47 ERA between August and September. Yes, he has recorded saves in eight of the 10 opportunities during that time, but the tightrope he walks almost every time he takes the mound is the last thing the Indians need during this critical stretch. His off the field issues could also be a factor in this.
So who would take over for Perez if such a change is made? After all, the Indians certainly have a hefty surplus of relievers after this year’s September call-ups. My first choice - and knowing Tito probably his as well - would be submarine style right-hander Joe Smith.
The crafty veteran has dealt with struggles this season, but since has regained that consistent form the Indians have come to expect from him. Since posting a 7.88 ERA in July, Smith has shut down opponents with an 0.34 ERA in 19 appearances between August and September. When he’s not struggling, Smith is the kind of pitcher that can be put in any role and get the job done. He does have two saves this season and has stepped up as the setup man in the struggling Vinnie Pestano’s absence recording 22 holds this season.
There also should be strong consideration for newly ordained reliever Carlos Carrasco, in my opinion. As a starter, the right-hander has been brutal to watch this season going 0-4 with an ERA of nine in seven starts. As a reliever, on the other hand, Carrasco has been as dominant as anyone in just five appearances out of the bullpen. He has yet to allow a run and has only allowed seven base runners via walk or hit in 11 and two thirds innings of work while striking out nine.
Carrasco is yet to have a save opportunity, but so far the mental and confidence issues he’s had as a starter seem to be a nonfactor as a reliever. His mid-to-upper 90s fastball coupled with a knee-buckling slider and decent offspeed pitches are a deadly combo as long as he continues to have confidence in being aggressive with them.
Other options could include young flamethrower Cody Allen, although he currently seems to be battling fatigue after being Francona’s go-to guy all season. Preston Guilmet has been the top minor league closer at every level for the Indians, but he has struggled in three big league appearances posting a 12.46 ERA. C.C. Lee could also be an intriguing option. While he has not allowed an earned run, he does only have two major league innings under his belt right now.
Think of it this way, if the wild card game or an elimination game later in the playoffs came down to a save situation, is Chris Perez the guy you want on the mound?
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As for Perez, I've never been a big fan of him, but I tolerate him as a closer simply because he has for the most part gotten the job done and been an average closer the past few years. Nothing wrong with that. At league minimum or $2-3M a year I'm fine with that, but when you have to pay a guy $8-10M a year for that kind of production that is where I draw the line. It's wasteful spending and why he has to go after this season. Can't spent 1/10th of your payroll on a closer unless he is a dominant one like Kimbrel or Rivera.
I do think that next year they are better off letting Perez go (non-tender) and going with a closer by committee approach until someone establishes themselves. They have Guilmet who has experience in the role in the minors, and they also have Allen you might be able to do it. The wildcard for me might be Carrasco. He could be a disaster like Carmona was in the role in 2006, or he might be a failed starter turned into dominant closer like Mesa was in 1995.
No this offseason. I would be shopping Perez and audition a replacement next spring.
I like the idea of giving Carrasco a shot. His stuff is electric and he's trained as a starter so he can get both lefties and righties out effectively.
If Perez pitched in any other inning, nobody would be calling him great or good, they would call him mediocre. Because that's what he is--a mediocre reliever. Nothing more, nothing less.
All that being said, again, you can't afford to take Perez out of the 9th while also giving Cody Allen a break between appearances to keep him fresh. Can't do both of those things at the same time.
Except for THEE MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY, that is, Chris Perez hasn't regressed is save conversion percentage. His career number is 85% conversion. His conversion rate in 2013 is 85 %.
Perhaps someone else can do a better job. Who that is remains a mystery. The usual logic of shortsighted fans who WANT to believe anyone not named Chris Perez will be a better choice should take a step back and realize that there is really only one category that matters.. Having fewer walks and more K's and giving up less home runs pale in comparison to CLOSING THE GAME. You can't argue with the FACT that as a closer, Chris Perez gets the job done..
And should continue..
Can't really rock the boat at this point though, unfortunately. Allen looks like he's going to need a few days between appearances from here on out, already at 67 on the year. Can't do that and remove your closer at the same time, as bad as CP is. Basically, you have to hope that we start blowing out some of the bad teams left on the schedule so that we can get some of these other guys into the game.