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Pitching Keeps Tribe Alive

Sunday May 22, 2011

On the Reports, we will be occasionally featuring an up-and-coming baseball writer that has come to our attention and share their work with you, the readers.  Part of our mandate at MLB reports is to provide the best baseball coverage and analysis in the business.  MLB reports ultimately is designed to expose our readers to the world of baseball and the stories, facts, insights and profiles behind it.  In order to meet this goal, we would like to give exciting young writers the chance to showcase their talents and provide a fresh pool of ideas to our site.  In today’s premier feature, we are excited to have Shane Miller as our first guest writer with his post on the Cleveland Indians.  Shane’s topic was to discuss the start of the Indians season and to review the success behind it.  The direction and focus of the story was up to our writer and in today’s feature, Shane takes a look at the Indians and the pitching that has been the core of the team’s success in 2011.  Enjoy! 

Shane Miller (Guest Writer for MLB Reports): As the second month of the Major League baseball season is coming to an end, the Cleveland Indians to many baseball fans surprise still sit atop the American League Central division.

Well today I am here to discuss how the Indians have managed to lead the AL Central for the first two months of the season. My observation has been that pitching has been the main component to their early season success.  As part of this article, I will be discussing the Indians pitching staff and how they have led their team to success beyond the wildest dreams of most baseball observers.

Pitching without a doubt has been the ultimate key to the Tribe’s early season success.  The Indians pitching staff has the second best ERA in the American League at 3.45 and have managed to keep the ball in the park by giving up the third fewest home runs in the AL by only giving up 28 home runs on the season. Also the Indians have also been successful in keeping runners off the base paths giving up the second fewest walks in the AL at 127.  A pitching staff that manages to keeps its walks and runs down will in most cases be successful and the Indians pitching staff of 2011 is proof that good pitching is the backbone of a winning baseball club.

A great deal of credit is due to manager Manny Acta, who has done a wonderful job with all the young pitchers he manages on the Indians.  Cleveland also happens to boast one of the youngest, if not the youngest starting rotations in major league baseball.

Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and rookie Alex White make up the Cleveland Indians starting rotation.  On paper, not much was expected of the Indians starting five going into the season.  But success is contagious and as the season has progressed, the pitchers that few in baseball gave much credit have proven that they are for real.  The fans in Cleveland are getting excited about their Indians and the team starts and ends with its rotation.

As the newly anointed staff ace, 26-year-old Justin Masterson is enjoying a break out season.  So far Masterson is 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 48 strike outs and 19 walks in 60.2 innings pitched.  Masterson has done an excellent job this season in keeping the free passes to a minimum and keeping the ball in the park by only allowing one home run all year.  At his current pace, Masterson is a likely 2011 all-star candidate and is finally fulfilling the hype that surrounded him from the time he came up with Boston as a rookie.

Tomlin is another pitcher who is not getting enough recognition for the amazing season he has put together so far in Cleveland.  Looking at Tomlin’s stats, he is 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, with 27 strike outs and nine walks in 52.2 innings pitched.  The only red flag that I could find with Tomlin is that he has given up eight home runs this season.  The number of long balls needs to go down as he only gave up 10 home runs in 73 innings pitched last season.

Another starter of note, the rookie White has pitched very good so far this season in the three games that he has started.   White has compiled a record of 1-0, 3.60 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 13 strike outs and nine walks in 15 innings pitched.  Like I indicated with Tomlin, White also has an issue with long balls by giving up three home runs in 15 innings pitched so far.   This means that White is averaging a home run every five innings pitched.  In my opinion, if White can keep the ball in the park he will one day become an outstanding pitcher. (*Editor’s note:  at time of publishing White has been placed on the DL by the Indians with a finger injury.  While the severity is unknown, White could be lost for the season by the Indians.  As adversity tests character, the Indians rotation will be put to the test if White is lost to the team for any kind of extended period.*) 

With two of the five starting pitchers for the Indians enjoying breakout seasons and a rookie putting up great numbers in three starts, no wonder the Indians are in first place and have a record of 27-15.  The Indians bullpen has also been another source of strength of the Indians team overall.  The Indians bullpen is made up of Frank Herrmann, Joe Smith, Vinne Pestano, Tony Sipp, Chad Durbin, Rafael Perez and closer Chris Perez.  While again unimpressive on paper to start the year, the Indians relief corps has been lights out all year and one of the best in the game.

The closer, Chris Perez has been very good for the Tribe this season, going 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 11 saves, 11 strike outs and 10 walks in 18 innings pitched.  The walk totals are very high and if Perez wishes to remain a closer long-term he needs to cut down on those walks.  He is currently averaging six walks per nine innings and that needs to be at least cut in half for him to be able to remain successful.

The setup man Rafael Perez has been astounding this season with a record of 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11 strike outs and six walks in 15 innings pitched. Rafael is one of the reasons why Cleveland has one of the best bullpens in the MLB and is sneaking up behind Chris Perez to one day take the closers role away from him.  If Rafael can continue pitching like he has this season, he could definitely be the closer by season’s end if and when  Chris falters.  Rookie middle reliever Pestano is also having a great year in the Indians pen with a 1-0 record, 1.65 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 18 strike outs and six walks in 16.1 innings pitched. Pestano has been amazing this year with a very strong 9.9 strike outs per nine innings.

Pestano has done an excellent job in limiting walks and home runs given up and has only allowed three earned runs all season. The Indians obviously have amazing pitching from the starting rotation all the way to the deepest part of their bullpen. Without some of these rookie standouts or career years the Indians might not be in this position to possibly contend in historically one of the deepest divisions in baseball.  Time will tell where this team is headed but if the start of the year is any indication, the Indians will be players in the AL Central in 2011 and possibly for many years to come.

***Thank you to Shane Miller for preparing today’s article on the Indians.  You can follow Shane on Twitter.***

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The End of an Era: Ariel Pestano

MLB reports:  You may not know the name, but you will recognize the player.  Ariel Pestano (Valdes) was considered one of Cuba’s greatest catchers of all time.  In actuality, likely one of THE best catchers ever.  Pestano, known in his country at “the veteran”, has been a Cuban baseball staple for the past 10 years.  Debuting with the Cuban national team in 1999, Pestano played in the Olympics and both the 1996 and 1999 World Baseball Classic for Cuba.  By retiring in 1999 after the last WBC, baseball has lost a legend and a throwback to an era that is slowly disappearing.  In an age of generic players and cookie-cutter approaches, Pestano was one-of-a-kind.

I was first introduced to Ariel Pestano in the 1996 WBC and could not wait to see him again by the 1999 edition of the Classic.  In comparative terms, it is hard to point to a past or present major league catcher that mirrors Pestano.  I find it difficult to looking at his Cuban numbers and calculating the value of his play.  Offensively and defensively, the man could do it all.  But rather than judge him by numbers in a league unknown to me, I place my consideration in what I saw with my own eyes.  If the WBC editions were any indication, Pestano could play ball.  A patient hitter with pop, I could see him hitting 20 bombs in the major leagues if given the opportunity.  A cannon for an arm, he knew how to keep runners honest and distract hitters from getting good hacks at the plate.  But his true value was in his leadership.  Pestano was like a general on the field, leading his team to war.  Pestano was not afraid to get into the face of an opposing player or teammate if he felt that his team was being disrespected or not playing to its capacity.  His approach made for great television viewing, no doubt, but his teammates were better for having him behind them.

A big problem in baseball viewership and fandom today is the reliance on the fantasy aspect of baseball, mainly statistics.  I love researching OPS and WHIP as much as the next baseball junkie, but real baseball has value outside of the “moneyball” approach.  I recall a pitcher on the Cuban team in one WBC game in 2006 giving up repeated hits.  At one point Pestano literally ran to the mound and was about to clobber his starting pitcher.  I could not understand what he was saying, but you could not put a pin between the pitcher and catcher.  Pestano was literally in the pitcher’s face reading him the riot act.  While many critics would call such a move “unprofessional”, “bush-league” and “showing up your pitcher”, I actually enjoyed the accountability and passion that Pestano was demanding from his teammate that day.  Those types of moments do not show up in box scores the next day, but live on with a team forever.

If you have never seen Ariel Pestano play a professional baseball game, download a World Baseball Classic game on your computer involving Cuba from either 2006 or 2009 and watch the man behind the plate.  Chances are that you have never seen a player like this before and will never see one again.  Pudge Rodriguez has had his moments through the years, but has simmered down.  But in truth, he never had the intensity and life/death mentality that Pestano displayed on the baseball field.  Taking aside the armed guards with machine guns in the dugout, I have always found Cuban teams to play with heart and pride.  I recall a Cuban pitcher one game running out to the field to yell at an outfielder after misplaying a ball.  When a pitcher in any inning/situation gives up even 1-2 infield hits in a game, chances are the Cuban bullpen will be up and running.  I don’t recall ever watching a Cuban game where the bullpen wasn’t going with at least one pitcher for nearly the entire game.  This is how seriously Cuba takes it baseball and this mentality was embodied fully in Ariel Pestano.

My WBC Cuban heroes, Pestano and Lazo are unlikely to ever defect and join the MLB.  Both recently retired and based on their respective ages and devotion to Cuba- defection is unlikely, if not impossible.  Pestano retired to apparently work and train his son, who like his dad is a catcher.  The best of luck to you Ariel, thank you for the memories.

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