Fear Creeps Into Bullpen Mafia After Rough Week

vinniehrYou won’t find a bigger Vinnie Pestano fan than yours truly. Ever since he was a late September callup, earning a save in 2010 against Kansas City at a game that I attended, I thought this guy had the stuff to be a back end of the bullpen option long term. He’s been a huge key to the early season success of this team the last three seasons, and you won’t find a more fun guy to interact with on Twitter. But, this last week has not been a good one for Pestano. In fact, nightmarish is the word that comes to mind. With a four-run bottom of the eighth inning for the Red Sox yesterday afternoon, Pestano lost the one-run lead and the game for the Indians as they fell for the second straight day, this time by a 7-4 count. More than the individual loss, the team’s first in 26 such scenarios where they were tied or ahead after six innings, it’s the bullpen’s sudden demise that is equally as troubling as the fluctuation from the starting pitching in terms of keeping this baseball club afloat as contenders.


Yesterday, Vinnie topped out at 90 mph today on his fastball, but his fastball was sitting at 87-88 mph, way down from his sitting average of 91-92, though he was touching 93 and 94 several times earlier in the season. His slider, a key change of pace breaking pitch for him, doesn’t have the biting frisbee motion that it has for most of the past two seasons. The best thing about Vinnie as a setup man is that despite not having 95-96 mph heat, he trusted his stuff and never backed down from anyone1. Occasionally, it meant giving up a homer, but they were so few and far between as he was able to challenge the best hitters in the league and come out ahead most of the time. One of the best things about Vinnie, unlike Perez, is that he normally doesn’t scatter multiple baserunners in an inning where he ultimately gets the job done. Lots of 1-2-3 innings with more strikeouts than Perez and no nibbling. When Vinnie doesn’t have it, it’s pretty clear right away. It happened a few times in both 2011 and 2012, but this is clearly different.

Now, with a loss in velocity and less movement, it’s pretty difficult for Vinnie to record outs. Even in his 1-2-3 inning of mop-up duty on Friday night, Pestano threw 10 fastballs at 89 mph and 4 of them at 90 mph. Last night, it was 4 heaters at 90, 7 at 89, 7 at 88, and 5 at 87. Whether it was the back-to-back outings or the fact that Vinnie’s elbow just isn’t in shape to pitch right now, Vinnie probably has to be yanked from his customary eighth inning role until further notice. What I fear is even more likely is another trip to the disabled list, for an extended stay. If he has a dead arm, there’s not much they can do other than shut him down and send him on rehab when they think he’s back to full strength.

Below, I have grabbed data from BrooksBaseball via BaseballReference about pitch statistics from a Vinnie appearance on April 22nd before his “cranky” elbow and last night.

Pitch Statistics as coded by PITCH INFO
Pitch TypeAvg SpeedMax SpeedAvg H-BreakAvg V-BreakCountStrikes / %Whiffs / %SNIPs / %Linear Weights
FA (Fastball)93.0293.82-4.6912.4476 / 85.71%0 / 0.00%4 / 80.00%-0.6140
SI (Sinker)94.6094.6-12.0510.0811 / 100.00%0 / 0.00%1 / 100.00%-0.0624
CU (Curveball)80.6582.087.571.8563 / 50.00%1 / 16.67%3 / 50.00%-0.1717
Pitch classifications provided by PITCH INFO.
Pitch Statistics as coded by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm
Pitch TypeAvg SpeedMax SpeedAvg H-BreakAvg V-BreakCountStrikes / %Whiffs / %SNIPs / %Linear Weights
FF (FourSeam Fastball)89.0590.71-1.167.822314 / 60.87%3 / 13.04%10 / 52.63%1.5785
SL (Slider)77.1678.1510.76-2.1943 / 75.00%0 / 0.00%2 / 66.67%0.8614
Pitch classifications provided by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm.

You’ll see a max speed drop of 3.11 mph and an average speed drop 3.97 mph on Vinnie’s fastball. You’ll also see that Vinnie’s breaking pitch (a curveball in the first graphic and a slider in the gameday data) also is down 3.49 mph. In the April 22nd outing, Vinnie hit the strike zone in 10 of 14 pitches. Last night, it was 17 of 27, a deviation from his strike-zone-pounding persona. If Vinnie is truly hurt, he’s not doing himself or the Indians any favors by being out there right now.

Do the Indians have the horses to withstand the loss of Pestano for any length? I would argue that they do. They did it for two weeks just a few weeks ago with Joe Smith and Cody Allen each sliding down a slot in the pecking order. The hard-throwing Allen is ready for a larger role in this bullpen, and Joe Smith has been tough as nails. Chris Perez is your ninth inning guy, and Bryan Shaw has shown the ability to blow it by people as well. If Brett Myers can get back, maybe you stick him in the bully (yes, the most expensive middle reliever you’ve seen at $7 million since Barry Zito a few years back). Still, with the left-handed carousel of doom between Rich Hill (who flatout SUCKS right now), Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, and the now-Yankee David Huff that TD wrote about earlier this week, and suddenly, what was the undeniable strength of the team suddenly isn’t.

Frankly though, everyone in the bullpen has been struggling lately. Just take a look at the last eight games for the pen.

5/18 – 1 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 K
5/19 – 1 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 2 K
5/20 – 7 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 8 K
5/21 – 2 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 6 K
5/22 – 4 IP, 5 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 6 K
5/23 – 4 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 6 K
5/24 – 2 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 K
5/25 – 3 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 5 K

Last 8 games:
27 IP, 20 ER, 31 H, 13 BB, 36 K
6.67 ERA, 12 K/9, 4.3 BB/9

First 40 games:
124 1/3 IP, 41 ER, 98 H, 53 BB, 131 K
2.97 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Bullpens go through up and down spells for sure. This could just be one of those weeks, but my fear with Vinnie’s lack of velocity and several blow-ups by the usually-reliable bullpen this week is that the Tribe doesn’t just have a rotation problem. They may have a pitching staff problem.

(Photo: Plain Dealer Wire Services)


  1. Hence, my affectionate nickname for him, “No Fear” Pestano” []