Friday, March 12, 2010

Room for Improvement: Raffy Perez

Well, that was a long layoff. This is an Indians blog, so we shan't be talking about the reasons for that, as they had nothing to do with the Cleveland Indians per se.

When I left off, I was looking at the players from whom we could reasonably expect (where "reasonably" is rather nebulously defined, but hey) improvement in 2010. I was surprised to find Grady Sizemore to be the player with the highest potential for raising his VORP, but at least he's an everyday player. The third-greatest potential comes from a guy who only pitched 48 innings in 2009 and probably won't pitch a whole lot more than that in 2010.

Now, you're probably wondering: how bad does a guy have to pitch to be considered a huge performance sink on an entire team in only forty-eight bloody innings? Well, how about this bad:

12.38 H/9
4.69 BB/9
1.90 WHIP
1.28 K/BB
7.31 ERA
-1.247 WXRL
-9.6 VORP

That's how bad. I mean, negative nine point six VORP. Trevor Crowe "hit" .235/.278/.333 for an EqA of .219 in 202 PA ... and "contributed" -4.5 VORP. Raffy Perez was worse than Trevor Crowe and Wyatt Toregas (-4.4 VORP) put together. Raffy Perez was so bad, he offset the positive contributions of Luis Valbuena (3.7 VORP), Jhonny Peralta (3.7 VORP), and Mike Brantley (1.7 VORP) ALL BY HIMSELF. Worse than Zach Jackaon (-4.3), Jess Todd (-3.4), and Scott Lewis (-1.2) put together. That, my friends, is some Serious Bad.

Two things are obvious in looking at Perez' career:

1) He was invaluable, awesome, and superlative in 2007
2) 2007 ain't comin' back any time soon

Sure, Perez MIGHT pitch that well again. Stranger things have happened. And look, Raffy Perez is unquestionably a talented pitcher. Pulling low-90s velocity out of a frame reminiscent of Ichabod Crane, with a nasty wipeout slider, Perez was one of the most-fun things to watch in 2007. You can tell me that he looked terrific in winter ball. I will nod uncommitally. It is better to look good in winter ball than to look crummy in winter ball. But in terms of being real, super-meaningful data points, well ... color me skeptical.

And look: 2008 was pretty fine. He posted a 3.54 ERA while striking out more than a batter an inning (86 in 76 1/3 IP). He gave up fewer than a hit an inning and tossed up a 3.74 K:BB ratio (after a 4.16 K:BB in 2007). He made 73 appearances, which is kind of too many appearances, but did you have Rich Rundles fever in 2008? Yeah, me neither. (Rundles had a nice-enough 1.80 ERA in his 5 innings, but ... c'mon, it's five innings. And Rich Rundles. Use your brain.)

But really, before I get all jiggy trying to run regression analyses or push data around like a bully or make stuff up out of whole cloth, let me present you with a slightly more radical way to look at this:

  • The Indians employed Raffy Perez as their primary left-handed reliever in 2009.
  • Raffy Perez was execrable.
  • The Indians will employ someone as a primary left-handed reliever in 2010.
  • He could plausibly be expected to be far, far less execrable.
  • Thus the position of "primary left-handed reliever" can be expected to post a significant improvement in VORP.

Now, you could point out that Tony Sipp has passed up Raffy Perez. Sipp posted a 10.1 VORP last season, although he did it in only 40 innings and battled injuries. So maybe you want to talk about "co-primary" or "primary and secondary" left-handed relievers. Look, with this starting rotation, we're gonna have plenty of opportunities for left-handed relief pitchers. Also right-handed relief pitchers, ambidextrous relief pitchers, and snide blogwriters. The point is, the POSITION of left-handed setup/late-inning guy was very, very, very, very bad last season, and it stands to reason that the Indians will find SOMEONE who will be significantly better.

Again, this guy could certainly be Raffy Perez. As I said, he's got talent and a track record. Last season was so, so, so very bad that he almost has to improve to prevent some sort of point singularity of the type Gregg Easterbrook fears from the Large Hadron Collider. Perez has good stuff, looked good in the winter, and has proven he can get major-leaguers out.

But I don't want to have to DEPEND on this HAVING to be Raffy Perez. My point is, I think the Indians can very reasonably be expected to improve in this regard whether Raffy Perez pulls his head out of his posterior or not. The Indians would love for this to be Perez, but will not sit around and wait for it to clearly NOT be Perez as they did last season. Therefore, I will project a 25-point improvement from Raffy Perez (Sipp's 10.1 in 40 IP shows that a 15-VORP season isn't out of the question, and remember Perez is coming from nearly negative ten) this season ... whether or not it's actually Raffy Perez making this improvement.

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