You have to be a little bit sad about Vinnie Pestano’s demotion, even if you accept the fact that it was probably necessary at this point. He was a great pitcher the past couple of years, and seemed to be a truly good guy that was beloved by his teammates. It’s sad to see a guy like that shipped off to Triple-A. Pestano struggled for much of this year, and it was starting to become clear that Terry Francona was hesitant to go to him in key situations. You can’t have him just sitting around doing nothing – that won’t help him solve his problems. You also can’t have him blowing games left and right when you’re in the middle of a pennant race. In the best case scenario, Pestano is able to get a decent amount of work in Columbus and can correct some of his issues. Then he’ll return down the stretch to help the bullpen. But what went wrong with Pestano in the first place?
There is speculation that this is all mental, or perhaps it’s an injury Pestano has been hiding over the past several months. It could be a mechanical issue, something that will improve with some adjustments. While we may never know what’s going on inside of Pestano’s head, or if there’s something physically wrong with him, we can look at the numbers to see what has changed.
Both 2011 and 2012 were fantastic years for Pestano, so let’s break down the stats in each of those and compare it to this year.
Pestano has always had slightly worse numbers against left handed batters, as compared to righties. In 2011, right-handers batted just .115/.218/.192 off of Pestano, and he had a 4.38 strikeout to walk ratio. He was a bit worse against lefties – they batted .280/.350/.462 and had a 1.75 strikeout to walk ratio. When you look at his month-by-month performance, he happened to have a rough July in 2011, where his ERA was over 7.00. Every other month it was under 2.00, and during two months it was below 1.00. Pestano also did a great job of neutralizing batters with runners in scoring position – they hit just .176 off of him.
Pestano continued his dominance against right-handed batters, they hit just .168/.227/.261 off of him, and he had a 5.88 strikeout to walk ratio. He actually improved against left-handed batters too; they hit .241/.329/.423 off of him and he had a 1.81 strikeout to walk ratio. Pestano’s ERA jumped above 4.00 from August to the end of the year, but the entire team was slumping during that time. With runners in scoring position, Pestano held batters to a .194 average. All of his 2012 numbers were right on par with his 2011 totals for the most part. Was the jump from August to the end of the year a tip-off to the problems this year? Because that’s when it seemed that things started to go south for him.
Everything started to fall apart for Pestano this year in pretty much every aspect. Right-handed hitters, who never hit more than .168 off of him the prior two years, now improved to a .228/.338/.404 line, and he had just a 1.80 strikeout to walk ratio. That’s almost four full points below his ratio against righties in 2012. His numbers against lefties were still somewhat consistent though – they hit .275/.367/.493 off of him, but that’s still roughly on par with 2011 figures. His 1.78 strikeout to walk ratio against lefties is fairly similar to the prior two years. With runners in scoring position, batters were now hitting .235 off of Pestano, a more than 40 point jump over the prior year.
Almost everything is worse across the board for Pestano – he’s no longer dominant against right handed hitters. His walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has decreased, in addition to obviously surrendering more hits. He’s already given up more home runs than he did during the entire season in 2011, and is only one away from matching his 2012 homer total.
There are obvious questions on whether or not his participation in the World Baseball Classic is the root cause to some of Pestano’s problems. He took it very hard when he surrendered three runs without recording an out in the elimination game against Puerto Rico. (Pestano entered the game with a runner on first and two outs, with Puerto Rico up 1-0). Relievers have to have a short memory when it comes to mistakes like that, but did this somehow impact Pestano’s confidence? Even though bullpen pitchers can be volatile from year to year, there are also questions of whether or not the WBC takes a physical toll. Several relievers that participated have had a worse season in 2013, but Pestano swears that’s not the cause for his struggles. In this Ben Lindbergh piece for ESPN Insider, he agrees with Pestano – there is not enough evidence to directly connect the WBC itself with pitcher struggles. Also, how would this explain that the first signs of trouble appeared in August 2012?
Perhaps this is a mental issue, or an injury of some sorts; however, Pestano’s velocity doesn’t seem to be significantly different than it has during better seasons. This could be a situation where everything has just snowballed – once his confidence was broken, the problems just multiplied until we got to this point.
I do know that regardless of the cause, Indians fans are cheering for him to turn it around. Not just because we miss having his lights-out arm in the bullpen, but because he was a likable guy that was a fan favorite. I hope we see him back in Cleveland, and back to his old self, before too long.