Dissecting Chris Perez’s Blown Save

Justin Masterson and the Indians played what many would consider an ideal Opening Day game through the first eight innings Thursday against Toronto. The offense produced a solid four runs off Ricky Romero, Masterson struck out 10 and got another 11 batters to ground out in an eight-inning, one-run masterpiece start, and the Indians carried a 4-1 lead into the ninth. But then they handed the ball to Chris Perez, and things went downhill in a hurry.

The Blue Jays needed just five batters to tie the game against Perez; he would face seven overall, allowing three runs on three hits and two walks, recording just two outs. Let’s take it hitter-by-hitter:

Links lead to Brooks Baseball at-bat pages.

None on, none out: vs. Yunel Escobar
0-0 91 MPH high inside ball
1-0 91 MPH low inside looking strike
1-1 91 MPH middle middle line drive single center field

Immediately one thing jumps out: Perez, a supposed flamethrower — one with a 94.3 MPH career average fastball and 93.4 MPH average fastball last season — is barely cracking 90 on the radar gun. His location has always been a bit iffy, and it was here as well — the strike call on the 1-0 pitch was questionable, and even with that gift, he served up a nearly dead-center 91 MPH fastball on the next pitch. Pitchers can get away with that pitch at 95; not so much at 91.

Runner on first, none out: vs. Kelly Johnson
0-0 90 MPH high outside ball
1-0 90 MPH middle outside looking strike
1-1 83 MPH middle middle swinging strike
1-2 82 MPH low outside foul
1-2 92 MPH middle outside foul
1-2 83 MPH middle outside line drive single center field

If Perez’s poor velocity was a result of not taking enough warmup pitchers, it hardly surfaces in his second batter faced. Perez dialed it up to 92 against Johnson and it would be his fastest pitch of the outing. Perez had another gift call here — the 1-0 pitch to Johnson was well outside of the strike zone. The 27-year-old’s curveball appears here and generates the only swing-and-miss of the day for Perez, and surely Johnson wants this pitch back:

Despite gaining the advantage at 1-2, Perez is unable to put Johnson away, and Johnson is a straight-up bad contact hitter — he mustered just a 71.8% contact rate last season. It became apparent that Perez’s stuff simply lacked the oomph — whether it was the break of the breaking ball or the fast of the fastball — to put hitters away. Perez threw nearly the same mistake curveball on the at-bat’s final pitch, and Johnson did not miss it again:

The result: a single to center field and the rally is started.

First and third, none out: vs. Jose Bautista
0-0 90 MPH low middle looking strike
0-1 92 MPH middle well inside ball
1-1 92 MPH low middle fly ball sacrifice fly center field

Perez just doesn’t seem to have much of an idea where the ball is going. The second pitch of the at-bat nearly hits Bautista before Perez serves him up a very hittable low-in-the-zone but down-the-middle pitch which Bautista drives to left. It isn’t deep enough to tie the game, but Bautista hit it well enough not only to score Escobar from third but to move Johnson up from first to second.

Runner on second, one out: vs. Adam Lind
0-0 90 MPH middle inside ball
1-0 90 MPH low outside looking strike
1-1 91 MPH middle outside ball
2-1 82 MPH low inside ball
3-1 92 MPH middle middle looking strike
3-2 90 MPH high outside ball walk

Perez’s control is mostly gone by this point, and Lind seems to pick up on that fact: his bat leaves his shoulder just once on this at-bat, to check his swing on a well out-of-the-zone full count fastball. Although Pitch F/X suggests Perez may have been squeezed on the first pitch, the strikezone against lefties was shifted towards the outside corner all game long (as we saw on the second pitch against Johnson). From there, it was darting in-and-out, low-to-high, and the final pitch of the at-bat missed the zone by about a foot, bringing up the winning run with just one out.

First and second, one out: vs. Edwin Encarnacion
80 MPH high middle ball
91 MPH middle well inside ball
92 MPH middle middle strike looking
91 MPH low outside ball
91 MPH middle inside fly ball left field double off the wall

Perez remains wild, missing badly with his first two pitches. This allows the Jays’ DH to get ahead, and whereas Lind let a 3-1 meatball go by (and Encarnacion let a 1-1 meatball go by), Encarnacion does not hold back on a second opportunity, crushing the 91 MPH middle-in fastball off the left field wall to tie the game. This is not the kind of pitch we expect from an elite reliever, whether it’s speed, movement, location or results:

Perez would muster one more out against Brett Lawrie (despite throwing some more middle-middle mistake pitches) and then walk Eric Thames on four straight before departing. With the velocity never showing up, Perez was a shell of even the pitcher who struggled to miss bats in 2011 (5.6% swinging strike rate). He drew just one whiff in 31 pitches, and on a mistake pitch against a poor contact hitter at that.

This lack of velocity has to be a major concern for the Indians, as never in the last two seasons (and just once before overall) has Perez ever struggled so much to get life on his fastball:

Click to embiggen

Perez put up a 4.27 FIP with a 93.4 MPH fastball last season. The Indians have a very capable relief ace in Vinnie Pestano waiting in the wings — he worked 1.1 scoreless in extras Thursday, including a strikeout and three whiffs in 25 pitches. Perez simply doesn’t have the control to offer anywhere near what Pestano does without that life on his fastball; if Perez can’t find it soon, he’ll be one of the first closers to lose his job.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

32 Responses to “Dissecting Chris Perez’s Blown Save”

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  1. Excellent piece Jack.

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  2. Great piece. One thing about the velocity is that it seems the radar gun had just about every pitcher in the game 2-2.5mph below their average — seems more likely it was badly calibrated than everybody was off-pace..

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    • pastadiving jeter says:

      from what i can gather, perez was still below his typical velo even accounting for that, but it was just a 1-2 mph drop rather than the 3-4 that the radar gun made it seem like.

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  3. Dickie says:

    Ten years ago, we would have said “Jeez, Perez sure blew it last night” and that would be the end of the discussion.

    Today, we get detailed pitch-by-pitch breakdowns of his collapse

    I love living in the future

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  4. Slats says:

    Vinnie Pestano should be closing.

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  5. Tom says:

    The most frustrating thing for Indians fans has to be that there is more than 1 pitcher on the team better suited to be the closer.

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  6. Matt Booher says:

    Perez missed most of the spring with an oblique injury. It’s clear he’s not ready. Hindsight is 20-20 but you have to wonder what Acta was thinking handing him the ball after only three spring outings. This wasn’t mop-up duty.

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  7. bipolarbear says:

    embiggen is a perfectly cromulent word, isn’t it.

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  8. shibboleth says:

    Any idea who kicks in as 8th inning guy if/when Pestano takes over?

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  9. HollywoodHartman says:

    I tried to read this article 3 separate times, and kept having to stop to change my underwear.

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  10. Socrates says:

    One commenter mentions the gun’s readings noting that it appears to have been off the entire game. Also, we need to remember that this is ONE outing. The way that someone averages 93MPH on his fastball is by throwing a bunch of pitches below 93 and a bunch above 93. So IF the clock is accurate, we should also beware that one bad outing doesnt mean a guy has lost his stuff.

    All that said, at 93-94 Perez is a mediocre reliever. So that appears to be his upside anyway. Lets at least give the guy a 3 or 4 appearances. Lets all remember Brandon League’s INSANELY bad 10 day stretch last season. The guy emerged from that as a VERY effective reliever.

    The basic premise still holds. Perez need to have his velocity in the 93+ range (it may have been yesterday) and Perez needs to spot his pitches better than yesterday or even last season for that matter. I suspect we will find his velocity where it should be and the location will come and go throughout the season.

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  11. Vin says:

    This is a very good article, nice job.

    The broadcasters mentioned that Perez didn’t pitch much in spring training due to an injury, so we’ll have to wait a couple more outings to see if it’s just a case of not being ready or if there’s something physically wrong with him. In any case, a loss of fastball velocity from a closer is a big red flag.

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    • Socrates says:

      And that is another point to add to my skepticism with the premise that he is worse than last year (based off of one outing).

      That said, it still remains that last year was barely adequate for a closer.

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  12. bluejays49 says:

    The problem with Pestano though is that he lacks a pitch to get lefties out, and gets absolutely lit up by them as a result (is his magical 2011, a .280/.350/.462 line against them). Pestano’s much more effective in a more flexible role than closer, so that Acta can ensure that he faces as many righties as possible.

    While a decent bullpen overall, the Indians don’t have that guy who can come into any situation and succeed – Rafael Perez and Joe Smith both have moderate platoon issues, and while Tony Sipp gets both lefties and righties out, they need him as a specialist because nobody else can get lefties out effectively.

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  13. BillWallace says:

    Awesome article. Brutal takedown. More like this please, both positive and negative.

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  14. aaronjw says:

    Excellent piece. Pestano should have closed out the game, bottom line. Perez simply did not have enough time in spring training and had no command or control. I give him credit though, he certainly took it from the fans as he walked off the field and on twitter. He also answered all questions from the media. Maybe he just has a short memory, probably the most valuable trait a closer can possess.

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  15. geefee says:

    am I crazy, or is nearly everyone’s velocity down according to pitch f/x?

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  16. jerbear1985 says:

    Great article.

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  17. Moe Koltun says:

    Jack, this is a very well written article. My main question revolves around the implication that Vinnie Pestano is ‘waiting in the wings’ to be the closer. My perception of Cleveland’s front office is that it’s a very intelligent and sabermetrically inclined front office, who is aware that Pestano actually gives the club more value as a middle reliever thanks to his versatility as opposed to being the closer. Wouldn’t this make them want to use him that way, no matter how badly Perez pitches? Wouldn’t they prefer to put someone else in.

    Keep up the great work Jack.

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    • Adam says:

      Pestano is extremely valuable in the set-up role as he showed all last season, but there are plenty of arms in Cleveland’s system that are well-suited to middle relief/set up.

      Whether or not Pestano gets the name “closer” or not, he simply needs to be the guy getting the ball in high leverage situations, especially if there’s righties coming to the plate. He’s just plain nasty against righties. If they aren’t 100% sold on him against lefties, Rafael Perez has always been solid as well and they could use the two of them in high leverage situations. Beyond those two, Cleveland can easily fill out the middle relief situations with:

      Joe Smith
      Dan Wheeler
      Nick Hagadone (currently in AAA)
      CC Lee (AAA)
      Tyler Sturvevant (AAA)
      Bryce Stowelll (AAA)
      Rob Bryson (AA)

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  18. omegagraecisso says:

    i love this level of analysis, great piece. you missed a bolding in EE’s section for his hit

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  19. Vocalmedia says:

    Thanks. Solid work and attention to detail. Quality is noticed.

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  20. jirish says:

    Thanks for this article-it shows how ugly that 9th inning was.

    Not only did Perez look unprepared to be on the mound , (he did miss most of spring training with an injury) why didn’t Manny Acta notice it? This was a time that Perez should not have been allowed to work his way out of the jam. Yeah, Perez blew the save-but Acta allowed him to do it.

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  21. Jared says:

    Perez throwing 92-93 today in the top of the 11th. Maybe the velo is just taking a little longer to come in.

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  22. My echo and bunnymen says:

    This is why I love sabermetrics. Moore please!

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