First Half Impact Index Awards

By now you know the drill. Here at the Impact Index, we like to highlight the forgotten ones. The middle relievers who bridge the gap from the starter to the Proven Closer. The pinch hitters who keep the rally going. The bench guys. The bullpen guys. The unsung heroes who made the biggest impact on their team in the prior week.

So far this season we’ve brought you the stories of Tom Wilhelmsen, Xavier Nady, Jamey Wright, Mike Baxter, Steve Cishek, Dana Eveland, Jesus Guzman, Josh Lindblom, Brayan Pena, and Adam Ottavino, among others. Some of these players were one-week wonders, like Dana Eveland. Others were so good they moved into a more prominent role, like Tom Wilhelmsen, who is now the Mariners’ closer.

But by looking at these players week-by-week, we miss the ones who haven’t had a spectacular three-game run, but, instead, have been consistently good throughout the first half. Today, we salute the steady guys. One middle reliever and one pinch hitter who’ve gotten the job done for their teams since Opening Day.

The Set-Up Guy Extraordinaire

Even if you don’t follow the Cleveland Indians much, you probably know a bit about their closer, Chris Perez. He’s been good (but not great) for several years. He wears his hair on the longish side. He has strong opinions. And he likes to says things on Twitter. He called out Indians fans earlier this year for not showing up to support the team when it was in first place in the American League Central. That went over well.

But Perez hasn’t been the best reliever in the Indians bullpen, much less one of the best relievers in the American League. Not even close. That title belongs to the 8th inning guy, Vinnie Pestano.

Pestano debuted in the Indians’ bullpen in 2010 but pitched his first full season in 2011. Now, he’s the Tribe’s set-up guy extraordinaire. The right-hander throws a four-seam fastball at 91+ mph, a two-seamer at 93+ mph, and a slider at a tick below 80 mph. He strikes out nearly 11 batters every nine innings, and rarely gives up the long ball.

Pestano’s appeared in 38 of Cleveland’s 85 games, throwing 36 total innings. He’s given up 22 hits, 15 walks, and 7 runs (including two home runs). Right-handed hitters have posted a measley .109/.197/.172 line against Pestano. Lefties have fared better, but still not great: .234/.338/.344. His 23″holds” lead the majors at the break and he hasn’t allowed a single inherited runner to score.

Okay, so he’s a good bullpen arm. Most good teams have good bullpen arms. What makes Pestano more of an Impact Index player than other really good set-up guys?

At the All-Star Break, Pestano has the third highest Win Probability Added among all qualified relief pitchers. The only relievers with a higher WPA at the break are Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Rays closer Fernando Rodney. That means that Pestano has had more opportunities to move his team toward victory in the later innings — and succeeded in those opportunities — than every Proven Closer other than Johnson and Rodney. More than Chris Perez. More than Craig Kimbrel. More than Joe Nathan.

Oh, and he likes metal rock and has other strong opinions on Twitter.

The Best Hitter in a Pinch

It’s been an unexpectedly fun ride for Mets fans so far this season and it’s not all about R.A. Dickey and David Wright. Johan Santana pitched the franchise’s first no-hitter. Ruben Tejada’s play at short has helped heal the wounds from Jose Reyes’ departure. And Scott Hairston has been money off the bench.

Hairston’s playing on his fourth team in nine seasons, including two stints with the San Diego Padres. He also logged time with the Diamondbacks and A’s. He’s always been good enough to have a major-league job, but not good enough to make much of an impact or stick around too long with one team. But he’s having that impact on the Mets this season.

In 24 pinch-hit plate appearances, Hairston’s drawn three walks, hit a single, a double and two home runs. But whether as a pinch hitter or as a platoon outfielder, Hairston’s strength is his ability to mash left-handed pitchers. This season, he’s mashed lefties to the tune of .295/.333/.619. That’s nine home runs and seven doubles in 105 at-bats against lefties, leading to a weighted on-base average against lefties (which takes into account league and park factors) of .401.

While the Mets, in general, have struggled against left-handed pitchers this season, Hairston has been a revelation. A great off-season pick-up for a team not expected to do much this season, but that finds itself in the thick of things in the National League East.

Vinnie Pestano and Scott Hairston: winners of our first half Impact Index Awards.