The Angels bullpen has been pretty much stuffed to the brim with quality arms for a few weeks now, but don’t tell that to Jerry Dipoto. When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll, ya know? Dipoto continued his recent spate of reliever stockpiling on Thursday with his first-ever August waiver trade as GM, acquiring sidearm righty Vinnie Pestano from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league right-hander Michael Clevinger.
Pestano, 29, was one of the Tribe’s most reliable relievers from 2010-2012, but hit a rough patch last season and never really got an opportunity to right the ship in Cleveland this year. The Anaheim native has spent most of 2014 with the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, where he’s posted a stellar 1.78 ERA and 11.0 K/9 in 30⅓ innings. With numbers like that–not to mention his track record of success–it’s worth investigating what it was that might have kept the Indians from giving him more than nine innings in the Show this year.
The first thing to note is that Pestano has experienced a not insignificant drop in his velocity between 2011 and the present that seems to correspond nicely with his diminishing returns. Correlation is not always causation, of course, but the loss of nearly 3 MPH off his average fastball (from 93.5 to 90.8) can’t just be ignored either. When his four-seamer averaged more than 92 MPH (’10-’12), batters hit .182 and slugged .281 against the pitch, essentially turning them all into John McDonald. At < 92 MPH (’13-’14), though, which is admittedly a smaller sample, big-league batters have hit .276 and slugged .505 against the pitch. That’s not so good.
It would be easy to lay all the blame on the velocity and just move on, but I believe there’s more to the story than that.
Like every other sidearm pitcher ever, Pestano is tougher on same-side hitters (RHBs) than guys who have the platoon advantage (LHBs). Pestano, for instance, has a rather extreme split of 528 OPS-against vs RHBs and an 829 OPS-against LHBs in his career. With most right-handed slingers (see: Darren O’Day, Brad Ziegler), this known deficiency against lefties isn’t too big of a deal because their teams utilize them primarily with a string of right-handed batters coming up. For whatever reason, though, this has not been the case with the Indians and Pestano. He has faced a total of 485 MLB batters over the last three seasons, and roughly 52% of them have been left-handed. As you might imagine, this has had some serious adverse effects on his results.
It’s not just the drop in velocity that has hurt Pestano of late, then, it’s also his team’s strange proclivity toward using him in situations where he’s set up to fail. While guys like O’Day and Ziegler have thrived by facing upwards of 60% RHBs, Pestano has been left to toil against a majority who have a natural advantage over him. This is a mind-boggling approach for any team, but especially so for the Indians when you consider how important platoons have been to the team’s success on the offensive side of things.
When you add together Pestano’s velocity issues, his ROOGY-ness, and Cleveland’s already-solid bullpen, it becomes easier to understand why the Tribe stowed Pestano at Triple-A for much of the year, and why they were willing to give him up for a low-ceiling pitching prospect like Clevinger. Pestano might have been the organization’s “closer of the future” at one point in time, but it is pretty evident he was no longer part of their long-term plans.
None of this means he can’t help the Halos down the stretch, of course. With Mike Morin and Joe Thatcher on the shelf indefinitely, the club could use another reliable mid-innings guy who doesn’t come with training wheels attached (i.e. Cam Bedrosian). So long as Mike Scioscia is sure to use him predominantly against RHBs, Pestano should be a good addition to the ‘pen, if he’s called upon. For now, he’s been assigned to Triple-A Salt Lake.
Oh yeah… to make room on the 40-man for Pestano, the Angels DFA-ed Tommy Field, who I honestly had no idea was still around.