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

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Rafael Perez

Rafael Perez

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.

In 2007, Perez arguably became the best left-handed reliever in all of baseball during the regular season. In 2008, he was undoubtedly the best bullpen pitcher in the Indians bullpen. Now he didn’t enter this team without questions, and I’d even argue that Karsay was the overall better reliever, but no one can question the importance of Perez during that magical 2007 season.

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 climbed 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 fit much better there. In 2006, Perez started his year in Akron, in their starting rotation. The Indians called him up briefly in April for one appearance out of the pen, but was sent back down to Akron thereafter, and continued as a starter for the Aeros. In early June, he was recalled by the Tribe, and again moved to the bullpen. He wasn’t dominating, making 11 appearances and rolling out a 4.70 ERA.

Who could blame him for the struggles though, with the Tribe bouncing him around from the pen to the rotation, and from Akron to Cleveland. True-to-form, the Indians sent Perez down again, only to Buffalo this time, and finally kept the southpaw in the pen.

Perez began to shine.

He held lefties to a .115 average in his 13 games, and earned a September call-up. Overall, Perez did very well at the major league level. Even though his ERA was 4.34, he didn’t give up any runs in 14 of his 17 appearances. He gave up six total runs, but two earned runs each of three different games.

In 2007, Perez again started 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 still called him up as a reliever out of necessity. His first game of the 2007 was an impressive three inning performance in which he didn’t give up a run on three hits and a walk, while striking out three. The Indians continued their 2006 pattern by sending him back to Buffalo, but not for long. They recalled 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 Betancourt, gave the Indians as dominating a set-up duo as there was in baseball. Without a doubt, the solidity of the bullpen started and ended with Dos Rafael.

His dominance continued into the ALDS, where he pitched in three games, and for six total innings. He only gave up one run and three hits in his outings, and really dominated the Yankees hitters. In game one, he pitched two perfect innings, while striking out four. In game two, the infamous gnat game, Perez followed up Fausto Carmona’s impressive nine-inning performance and slammed the door on the Yanks for two innings, to get the win. Again, Perez went two perfect innings. Perez struggled a bit in his third outing after replacing starter Paul Byrd, but went another two innings, giving up a couple of singles, a walk, and a solo shot from Alex Rodriguez. Fortunately, the Indians were ahead 6-2, and went on to win the game and the series.

The ALCS was a different story. Perez pitched in three games for only one inning total, while giving up eight runs, five earned. His ERA was a robust 45.00, and that’s not a typo. Still, Perez had a sublime 2007, and 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 showed 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 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 giving the Indians a solid lefty option, but was prone to more errors in judgment under pressure situations, and to some big innings. Overall he still did very well, and looked to be a big part of the pen for years to come.

Then came 2009.

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 dominated while in Columbus before returning to the Indians in late May, but was back in Buffalo by July 8th.

How bad was it? His ERA was 8.88 when he was sent down. Perez pitched better down the stretch, but still had games in which he couldn’t do much of anything. His ERA “dropped” to that 7.31, but it included 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 how good his 2007 and 2008 seasons were, 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.

Perez never again really regained his brilliance of 2007, but for two aught seasons, he was as good as it got out of the pen for the Indians, and puts him in our All-Aught Indians bullpen, as our fifth reliever.

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