Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/19/14

Editor’s Note: Jon and I had a friendly Twitter debate over this issue on Tuesday night. Read his solid take on using Chris Perez in such a scenario.

On Tuesday night, Chris Perez entered the 10th inning against the White Sox at home with the game tied at three. He exited with the White Sox leading 5-3, after allowing two runs on two hits in just his third non-save appearance in 2012, collecting his first loss of the season. This wasn’t the first time that I cringed as Manny Acta sent his closer into a tie game at home. In fact, I said as much several times last season prior to Perez breaking ties. Given the small sample size I have to work with, it’s easy to dismiss the claim. However, in my opinion, Chris Perez is largely ineffective when pitching in tie game scenarios, and Manny Acta should avoid doing so automatically.

Perez has entered a tied game 16 times in the past two seasons, and he has now broke that tie in six such scenarios. Here are the stats that communicate my concerns.

Chris Perez, in 2011 and 2012, combined:

Tie games: 16 1/3 innings pitched (16 appearances), 3 wins, 6 losses, 4.96 ERA

Non-tie situations: 57 innings pitched (63 appearances), 1 win, 2 losses, 3.00 ERA

Acta is not alone in his strong belief that you throw your closer in a tie game at home in the top of the ninth. In fact, nearly all managers do it. When you have a dominant closer, a Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, or Joe Nathan, it’s hard to refute that. But, Chris Perez is a special breed of closer. He’s been pretty lights out lately, but for a good chunk of his time in the back end of the Tribe ‘pen, he has been a pitcher who will take the ball with a three-run lead and often give up a run or two while preserving the save or at least put a few runners on. In short, his margin of error shrinks in a tie game and that one run with a 2 or 3-run lead instead breaks the tie.

One of the other things to keep in mind is whether you’re pitching Perez or any closer in the 9th, 10th, 11th, or 18th inning at home, it’s the exact same scenario. Acta actually did hold off in doing this for one inning to throw Nick Hagadone in the ninth, who struck out the side. Seeing that is a step in the right direction from where I’m sitting. My point is that if the Tribe keeps winning and winning close, then Perez will continue to pitch often, and there will be plenty of strings where he throws two or three straight days. Why not put off using Perez until he is perhaps your next to last guy available in the bullpen? (You obviously need to hold someone back so that Perez isn’t forced into working multiple innings.) Avoid using him in a situation where he doesn’t have as much success, and have him available for the next time you need him in a situation in which he generally thrives.

Maybe the better question to ask is, “What are the highest leverage situations and who do you want pitching in them?” To me, it’s pretty clear cut that the Tribe’s best bullpen arm is Vinnie Pestano. Others may disagree and say that it’s Perez, Joe Smith, or even the newest weapon Hagadone. Sometimes the tighest jams and the toughest outs are often in the seventh and eighth innings with runners on base. If that’s the case and I trust Pestano the most, maybe I’m making a big fuss over nothing. Often lost in this debate is what part of the order lines up for those last few innings. There have been occasions where Pestano has had to work through the heart of the order in the eighth to get Chris Perez setup for a save against the bottom of a team’s order.

Let’s flash back to the last Tribe team that made the playoffs and its closer, Joe Borowski. I’m not sure any informed Tribe fan would argue that Borowski was the best arm in that bullpen. He was, however, the most equipped to handle the ninth inning. See save, get save, so to speak. The Indians had two lights-out “Raffys” in lefty Rafael Perez and righty Rafael Betancourt. Together, they formed a three-man unit that made life extremely difficult for opposing hitters. JoBo went on to save 47  games in 55 opportunities (including postseason) but did so with a 5.07 ERA and allowing 77 hits in 65 2/3 innings pitched (69 games). Borowski pitched in a tie game just nine times that season, though he did give up a run in three of those appearances. Meanwhile, Betancourt went 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 79 1/3 innings (68 games) and Perez was 1-2 with a 1.78 ERA in 60 2/3 innings (44 games). They also had Jensen Lewis give them a late season push from the right side and Aaron Fultz to matchup from the left side. That setup, Borowski handling the saves and the two Raffys handling the tight spots, took the Tribe to within one game of the World Series.

So, maybe the point of this article is that Chris Perez needs to keep doing what he does best, grab saves in whatever way he can, pretty or ugly. Let Pestano, Smith, and Hagadone navigate the seventh and eighth innings with the game in doubt. But, maybe, just maybe, Acta will do a little more contemplating before automatically sending Chris Perez out in that tie game scenario.

As the closer position continues to evolve and the position gets more volatile, maybe we’ll see a shift in how managers handle their ninth innings and tie games. Instead of hiding behind a “by the book” rule, managers will rely more on matchups, metrics, and, yea, maybe some gut feelings. Because, if your manager only goes by the book, any average Joe with the instruction manual could do it. And Manny Acta’s better than that.

(Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)


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