The Cleveland Indians are an organization that prides itself of giving people second chances. In the most recent version of the team, they have done so with many people including Ryan Raburn, signing the below average utility infielder to a minor league deal after his worst career season in 2012 when he batted .171 and knocked in 12 in 66 games. After Raburn proved very worthy of his million dollar contract, he was rewarded with a two year $2.75M contract that the Indians are currently regretting. Jason Giambi was a similar case with the Tribe pulling the veteran slugger out of retirement, based on his over 400 home runs and 1,400 RBI. Based on his past and his locker room presence, the Indians over looked his -0.3 WAR in 2013 and brought him back for 2014, where he has managed a -0.5 WAR, despite playing just 15 games.
There is a point to all this and that is to point out a hypocrisy in the Indians actions when it comes to players they raised themselves. While relief stats are often undervalued due to their lack of significance, if a pitcher is to acquire a large amount of saves or holds, it at least means that player was trusted in important situations late in games for the long term. With that being stated, the Indians have had ten relievers in the entire history of the club who have had at least 70 saves and holds combined. Of these ten, only five saved or held at least 75% of these opportunities. While there are other stats to be considered, this alone provides a very elite group of Indians relievers, the top which is Bob Wickman, the Indians all time saves leader. Another pitcher in the group is Mike Jackson, who was arguably an even better closer than Jose Mesa. The remaining three should be very familiar to Indians fans as they were all in the 2013 bullpen, Joe Smith, Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano.
In addition to the cumulative stats, these five have other evidence to back them as some of the greatest ever. All five have a career K/9 above seven and, aside from Wickman, all have a BAA below .225. Each has thrown a significant amount of relief innings (at least 180) and as already mentioned, has pitched consistently in “clutch” situations. Having established that these are the best of the best in the bullpen, it is time to focus more individually on Pestano.
Pestano’s K/9 of 10.8 is simply the greatest in Indians history. His 2.93 ERA falls below every pitcher already listed, except Joe Smith, and also bests all but two other relievers in Indians history (Fritz Coumbe and Johnny Enzmann) in ERA among pitchers with at least 180 IP. Of the 73 most used relievers in Indians history, Pestano ranks third all time in ERA, including the extremely pitcher friendly 1960′s and the incredible bullpens of the late 1990′s and 2000′s. Any way you look at it, Vinnie Pestano is one of the greatest relievers in Indians history and is definitely has the best career of any still affiliated with the team.
The same team that is paying Jason Giambi $1M to sit on the DL based on past performance obviously didn’t care much for Pestano’s as they took him to arbitration this Spring and won the case due to one injury marred season. The disrespect didn’t end then as he was demoted in April after pitching in just three games. Pestano threw just 2.2 innings and allowed eight hits before Chris Antonetti decided he had seen enough and sent one of the greatest relievers in Indians history to AAA.
After two months of dominance in Columbus, Pestano was finally given a chance, but not until Blake Wood, Josh Outman, Nick Hagadone and Mark Lowe were all given chances despite not having any where near the track record of Pestano. Every other reliever, outside of Cody Allen, has also dealt with struggles including a demotion within the bullpen of John Axford. Towards the end of June, the Indians finally went back to Pestano and he dominated. Obviously, a players past performance can only be a small part of future roster creation as every players’ career ends at some point. That time is not quite yet for the 29 year old Pestano.
Starting on June 20th, Pestano pitched eight straight scoreless innings as he was moved slowly back into work, pitching just an out or two at a time in his first six appearances. In those 2.2 innings, Pestano struck out five (out of the eight total outs) and allowed just two hits. While this playing time is not significant, it was all he was given and he made the most of it. This was enough to increase Terry Francona’s confidence in the righty as he began to pitch complete innings and in close games. In these, Pestano threw 3.2 innings in four games, striking out four and allowing three hits. In all, this has lead to a career high 13 K/9 and a 1.52 ERA over all his appearances starting in June.
As always, his nine positive outings ended up being completely ignored, with the only emphasis placed on his only loss and the only appearance where he allowed as much as a single run, when he gave up a 14th inning home run to Jacoby Ellsbury. All the work Pestano did in regaining his control and getting his fastball back up to 92 from 89 went for naught because he gave up one solo home run to a perennial MVP candidate who makes more per season than any player in Indians history. Yesterday, Pestano was sent back to AAA to make room for Zach McAllister, but realistically, it was to keep Hagadone and rookie reliever Austin Adams on the roster.
The Indians continue to respect players who came up on opposing teams, like Axford and Scott Atchison more than the ones that came up in Cleveland. He can continue to toil in AAA, but it is hard to imagine anyone pitching better than he did from June 20th through July 10th, so outside of pitching for another team for a few seasons, it is hard to see how he could prove himself enough to resume an important late inning role on a Major League team. With the way the team and the city treats it’s former greats, maybe it is a good thing LeBron James went to the heat. Had he stayed in Cleveland and not won a championship, Cavs fans would likely be booing him out of town right now instead of welcoming him back.