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One thing you can say for sure about Chris Perez: he is a font of personality.
On a team mostly comprised of quiet, mild-mannered players, Chris Perez stands out with his fiery energy, the occasional oddly charming rage blackout, and of course his notorious hair.
For the curious, Perez's attention to his mane long predates his time with the Indians. Thursday night I spoke to Cardinals OF John Jay (who played on the University of Miami baseball team with Perez) during a radio interview , and asked him about Perez's famous locks. Jay says he was rocking his signature 'do back then as well, but added that Perez did comply with the team's ritual initiation practices for freshmen and had his head shaved along with the rest of the group.
Aside from his hair though, the other reason Perez stands out? Well, he's a pretty darn good closer too. He had the second best ERA (1.71) in the AL for closers who logged 60+ innings, and blew just one one-run save situation all season. He can hit 98 mph on a radar gun and generally throws a fastball around 95. Then there's the fact that he doesn't rattle easily on the mound, which is perhaps the most important intangible for a closer.
Perez is obviously of huge importance to the Tribe bullpen because he plays one of the most critical roles in it and because he plays it well. But he's also important because he's the unspoken leader of the group, another role he excels in despite being just 25 years old. On a young team, it's important to have someone willing to take charge who has the motivation and right personality to do it as well as the talent to back up his authority. Perez is that person for the Indians bullpen, making him the owner of the two most important roles among relievers: closer and group leader.
That Perez can handle the leadership role with both responsibility and panache is almost indisputable. The thing we'll have to wait and see on? How well he does this season in his other role: closer.
Watching Perez this Spring, he doesn't' appear to have lost anything in terms of mechanics, strategy, or execution. His ERA as of Saturday was 1.08. It's unlikely he'll be taking any steps backward this season. But will he be able to get even better? We haven't seen enough this Spring to make that kind of call, but the potential is certainly there.
Admittedly, it feels a bit greedy to ask for more from one of the team's best players, whose 2010 performance was unquestionably nothing to sneeze at. But that's the thing about baseball: it's usually the guys who don't absolutely HAVE to get better who always end up having the drive and talent to do just that.