Before I get started with my first post, I’d like to thank Stephanie and Susan for giving me the opportunity to contribute to It’s Pronounced Lajaway. I’ve had a number of opportunities to write about baseball in the past, but am very much looking forward to focusing my efforts on our beloved Tribe.
A year ago, Vinnie Pestano didn’t even have a guaranteed spot on the Opening Day roster. Now, depending on Chris Perez’s health, he may be the Tribe’s Opening Day closer.
A lot can change in a year, and for Pestano the change was all for the better.
2011 was a true breakout year for Pestano, who recorded 23 holds and two saves out of the Tribe pen. And one aspect which made his performance so impressive was the fact that he pitched consistently in high-pressure situations. Among relievers who tossed at least 50 innings in 2011, Pestano ranked 16th in average-leverage index, a statistic designed to measure the average pressure a pitcher faced (close and late = more pressure).
But, as good as Pestano was, ultimately, it was just one year. And Pestano, who was a 20th-round pick and a lightly regarded prospect, still needs to prove he can repeat his rookie performance year after year.
Like many late-inning relievers, the key to Pestano’s sustained success will be his ability to get ahead in the count and slam the door once he’s there – something which he did exceptionally well in his rookie year.
In 2011, Pestano worked his way into 149 two-strike counts. Of those 149 batters, just 20 reached base. That’s a .134 opponent OBP, which ranked 3rd in the majors, trailing only Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.
There’s a certain element of that statistic which is out of Pestano’s control (mainly the defensive contributions), but one thing he can control are strikeouts. And of the 149 batters who saw a two-strike count against Pesetano, a whopping 84 returned to the dugout without making contact – good for a “putaway rate” of 56.4 percent, highest among non-closers and 4th overall.
Pestano was particularly brutal on righties, who recorded just five hits (.052 BA) and struck out 70 times (68.6 percent) in 102 two-strike plate appearances. The heat map on the left shows right-handed hitters’ contact rate vs Pestano in two-strike counts. As you can see, in the upper-outside portion of the strike zone he was nearly unhittable. Needless to say, this is where the majority of his two-strike pitchers were located, almost all of which were fastballs.
The small hot zone on the inner-half of the plate is the result of a few foul balls and just two hits – one by Scott Rolen on May 20 (93 mph fastball on the inside-third of the plate) and another by Alcides Escobar on August 28 (91 mph fastball just off the inside corner).
All of these statistics are certainly encouraging, and his minor league strikeout rates indicate he likely has the ability to keep up this pace. But Pestano’s performance in two-strike counts – and his ability to get into two-strike counts, for that matter – will be something to keep an eye on early in 2012.
Follow Ryan on twitter @TribeFanMcC