Saturday, March 6, 2010

All-Aught Indians--RP5--Rafael Perez (2006-2009)

Today we are going to take a look at the lefty portion of our All-Aught relief crew, and the first part of 'Dos Rafael' to enter our team of the decade. The All-Aught Relief Pitcher #5 is Rafael Perez.

Now Perez doesn't enter this club without some questions, but before we look at those, we have to take at why he made this team. In 2007, Perez arguably became the best left-handed reliever during the regular season. In 2008, he was undoubtedly the best bullpen pitcher out of the entire Indians bullpen. In 2009, he fell apart, but the two previous seasons were too good to keep him off this team.

The Indians signed Perez as a starter out of the Dominican Republic in 2002. It didn't take him long to make an impact, as he was named the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2003 for Burlington, going 9-3 with a 1.70 ERA. He would climb up through the Indians system in 2004 and 2005, before finally breaking through with the Tribe in 2006.

At the end of 2005, the Indians' brass began converting Perez to the bullpen, thinking that his fastball and slider would fit much better there. In 2006, Perez would start his year in Akron, in their starting rotation. The Indians would call him up briefly in April for one appearance out of the pen. He was sent back down to Akron thereafter, and continued starting for the Aeros. In early June, he was recalled by the Tribe, and again moved to the bullpen. He wasn't dominating by an stretch, making 11 appearances and rolling out a 4.70 ERA. Who could blame him, with the Tribe bouncing him around from the pen to the rotation, and from Akron to Cleveland. The Indians would send Perez down to Buffalo for the first time, and would keep the lefty in the pen. He would shine, holding lefties to a .115 average in his 13 games. Perez would get the September call-up. Overall, Perez did very well at the major league level. Even though his overall ERA was 4.34, he didn't give up any runs in 14 of his 17 appearances. He would give up six runs, but two earned runs each, in three different games.

In 2007, Perez would start the year in the rotation in Buffalo, and to be quite honest, was shelled. Lefties hit a robust .325 off of him, and he gave up multiple earned runs in all of his starts. The Indians would still call him up out of necessity, where he would enter one game as a reliever, and go three innings, giving up no runs on three hits and a walk, while striking out three. The Indians would send him back down, but not for long. They would recall him for good (at least for 2007) at the end of May.

At that point, it was lights out for the American league. 34 of his 44 appearances that year were scoreless, and only two of those appearances saw more than two runs cross the plate. His 1.79 ERA was third best in the league. Overall, opponents only batted .219 against him, with lefties only going at a .145 clip. The numbers do continue from there, but you get the point. Perez was about as unhittable as you can be, and combined with Rafael Bettancourt, gave the Indians as dominating a set-up duo as their was in baseball. Without a doubt, the solidity of the bullpen started and ended with Dos Rafael.

His dominance would continue into the ALDS, where he pitched in three games, and for six innings. He would only give up one run and three hits in his outings, and really dominated the Yankees hitters. In game one, he would pitch two perfect innings, while striking out four. In game two, the infamous gnat game, Perez would come into the game after Fausto Carmona's impressive nine-inning performance and slam the door on the Yanks to get the win. Again, Perez would go two innings, while striking out one, while again going two perfect innings. The Indians would score in the bottom of the 11th to win the game. Perez would struggle a bit in his third outing after replacing starter Paul Byrd, but would go two innings again, giving up a couple of singles, a walk, and a solo shot from Alex Rodriguez. Fortunately, the Indians were ahead 6-2, and would go on to win the game and the series.

The ALCS was a different story. Perez would pitch in three games for only one inning total, while giving up eight runs, five earned. That's right folks, his ERA was 45.00, and that's not a typo. Still, Perez had a sublime 2007, and was up to the ALCS, was one of the top five relievers in the game.

In 2008, Perez continued to succeed, if not exactly impress. He was, without a doubt, the best reliever the Indians had that season, in a year in which the bullpen imploded. Perez was, more or less, the rock of a bad pen.

Perez would show up in 73 games and 76.1 innings. 53 of those 73 games were scoreless for the lefty relief specialist. His overall ERA was 3.54, but after April 25th, it was an even better 3.11. Overall, batters would hit .234 against Perez, while lefties were at .222. No, Perez wasn't the same pitcher that he was in 2007, but he certainly was still awesome at times. He was prone to more errors in judgment under pressure situations, and was prone to some big innings, but overall he still did very well.

Then came 2009. I could hash out the season step-by-step, but what would be the point. I don't know that I need to say anything more than 48 innings and 39 earned runs, for a 7.31 ERA. It was so bad, that Perez was sent down to the minors early in the season after a devastating start. He would more or less dominate in Columbus, before returning to the Indians in late May. Perez was sent back down to Buffalo on July 8th. How bad was it? His ERA was 8.88 when he was sent down. Perez would pitch better down the stretch, but still had games in which he would implode. His ERA would drop to that 7.31, but it would include games in which he gave up two, three and four earned runs.

It's easy to get down on Perez, and deservedly so, but it would be a mistake to ignore the 2007 and 2008 seasons, in which he was one of the top left-handed relievers in the league. Perez spent winter ball finding himself again in the starting roll, and was lights out.

Will we get a return to form from the lefty-reliever? It's hard to say, but for two seasons, he was as good as it got out of the pen, and puts him in our All-Aught Indians bullpen, as our fifth reliever.

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