Oliver Perez Is Good Now. Seriously.

There have been a lot of surprising developments in baseball this year — the Pirates and Orioles are contenders, Carlos Ruiz is an MVP candidate, and Josh Reddick is among the Major League lead in home runs. Baseball is really good at constantly surprising us with things that you just couldn’t have predicted.

But, even by the unpredictable standards of MLB, there’s probably nothing more shocking than the ongoing career rebirth of Oliver Perez. Perez was last seen in the Majors in 2010 with the Mets, falling apart in year two of an ill-fated extension granted to him by Omar Minaya. In the first two years of that three year deal, he issued 100 walks in 110 innings pitched, and was so bad that he didn’t even get to stick around for the final year of the contract. Perez ended up spending 2011 in Double-A Harrisburg, the Nationals affiliate in the Eastern League, and he wasn’t even particularly good there.

Coming into the year, Perez was a 30-year-old washout who had essentially been laughed out of the big leagues and then struggled to get 22-year-olds out in a level two steps below the Majors. There was just no reason to think we’d ever see Oliver Perez in the Majors again.

So, when the Mariners signed him to a minor league contract back in January, no one really noticed. Perez received an invitation to spring training as part of the deal, but he was predictably awful in Peoria, giving up eight runs in four innings, and got shipped off to Tacoma to toil in the PCL. The Mariners had no interest in him as a starter, so he had to try and make it back to the big leagues as a left-handed reliever, a role he’d never really tried before. Even when the Mets shifted him to the bullpen in 2010, they used him more as a long reliever, and the goal was to get him sorted out so he could rejoin the rotation.

Getting used for short stints for the first time in his career, Perez has found new life. He credits his renewed efforts to the birth of his daughter over the winter and the health of his knee, which has allowed him to find his fastball again. In 2010, Perez’s average velocity was 88 mph; this year’s, it’s 93.8. For those who enjoy pictures, here’s Perez’s PITCHF/x plot from 2010, and then that same plot from 2012.

The fastball was 87-91, and he threw some that had cutter-like movement but weren’t particularly good. He also had to keep up his change-up to try and get the steady string of right-handed hitters out. Now, its 92-96, the change-up is gone, he’s re-invented himself as a fastball/slider reliever, and the results have been fantastic.

In 13 innings, Perez has thrown 207 pitches, and 149 (72%) of those have been strikes. To put that in perspective, only Koji Uehara (74%) has a higher rate of strike throwing this year, and the list of guys over 70% strikes include the likes of Cliff Lee and Bartolo Colon. Yes, it’s a tiny sample, but since Perez arrived in Seattle, he’s been pounding the zone like a hard-throwing relief version of Cliff Lee.

Velocity and command are a pretty nice combination, so no surprise, Perez is actually pitching well for Seattle. With a 7.1% BB% and 25.0% K%, Perez can still be effective even with his extreme fly ball tendencies, especially as a match-up left-hander. There just aren’t many lefty relievers in baseball throwing 95 with command.

Given Perez’s history, it’s certainly possible that he reverts back to his prior walk-the-world ways, as 13 innings is far too early to declare that this version of Perez is here to stay. But the velocity jump is real and we’ve seen pitchers make huge leaps in performance when shifting to the bullpen before, so this wouldn’t be the first radical transformation we’ve seen from a guy after making a move to the bullpen.

Is Oliver Perez the new Joe Nathan? Probably not. However, the fact that he’s reemerged as a quality reliever with a good fastball and the ability to throw strikes is amazing enough in and of itself. If Perez can stay healthy, he may yet have a second career as a left-handed reliever, and if he can keep this strike-throwing thing up, he may actually turn into one of the better left-on-left pitchers in baseball.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

56 Responses to “Oliver Perez Is Good Now. Seriously.”

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  1. Slats says:

    Mariners should trade Perez ASAP.

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    • James says:

      Oh, come on. What team would possibly give up anything for Perez?

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      • Slats says:

        Ned Colleti and the Dodgers.

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      • JS7 says:


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      • Snowblind says:

        Perez has got to be worth a spare AAA utility man or something, right? The M’s need more depth, they have their next wave of Great Hope For The Franchise coming up, and the minors are looking pretty bare once the next year or two’s worth of callups like Franklin, Walker/Hultzen/Paxton, Zunino, etc. come up.

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  2. Bryce Harper says:

    Clown joke bro.


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  3. Howard Lincoln & Chuck Armstrong says:

    We don’t want a winning team – we just want money.

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  4. Bryz says:

    Last time (and only other time) he averaged 93 MPH with his fastball? 2004 with the Pirates, when he had a 2.98 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 196 innings. Also had a career best 10.97 K/9 and 3.72 BB/9 that year as well.

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  5. bhelmuth says:

    Countdown to 50 game suspension?

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  6. Drew says:

    You start.

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  7. Justin says:

    Thirteen innings. If this idea was brought up by someone in a bullpen report comments, Dave Cameron would be replying with “but it’s only 13 innings”

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    • Snowblind says:

      No such thing as small sample size when it’s The Great And Powerful Oz.

      Remember how Michael Pineda should have been kept down in AAA, before the start of his year in Seattle, for service time reasons and “to work on a secondary pitch”? You know, that year Pineda became an All-Star and was good enough to merit a trade for a top Yankee prospect?


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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Velocity stabilizes insanely quickly. You can’t fluke your way into throwing 96. If we were analyzing Perez from a results based perspective, than obviously the sample would be too small. Considering that we’re noting a six MPH change in fastball velocity, this has more to do with scouting than statistics, and you don’t need anywhere near the sample to note a massive fundamental change through scouting that you do through performance.

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      • chuckb says:

        Isn’t it fair to say that the strike-throwing may be a product of small sample size but the velocity increase is not?

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      • Paul says:

        On the other hand, isn’t it fair to say that when observing an outlier like Perez, if you’ve seen him labor for years to throw strikes to the pitcher, then see him for 13 innings throw strikes to righthanded hitters in the AL, perhaps that enough. Or maybe it’s voodoo and it will wear off.

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      • Matthias says:

        Perez has thrown 150 strikes in 210 pitches over 57 batters. If you want to use pitchf/x instead of umpires, he’s at about 124 strikes out of 210.

        If Perez were truly a 50% pitchf/x strike thrower as the 2007-2011 seasons suggested, then his likelihood of hitting the strike zone at least 59% of the time is only 0.4% – suggesting that perhaps he’s no longer at 50% true ability.

        The binomial distribution tends to short suit variance in baseball stats, but that is still a lot of evidence that he’s changed something.

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  8. Pinstripe Wizard says:

    Perez has always been tough on lefties, even as a starter. With the bullpen velocity increase making him tougher to hit, you would assume he would be even tougher on lefties. He’s always had that pretty good slider as a strikeout pitch, so I could honestly see him working well as a left handed specialist. Plus, you could extend him a couple of innings if you needed to rest the bullpen. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he could be a valuable piece for someone in the bullpen.

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  9. Rick says:

    It’s 13 IP. And he’s pitching out of the bullpen, not starting. And he walked over 5 per 9 in Triple-A. And allowed better than 1 HR/9.

    I realize all of this is speculative, and I recognize all of the caveats you’ve built in … but this is just kind of silly.

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    • Walk rate was higher in AAA, so was his K rate, and his velocity has been there all season.

      While his results might be a bit flukish so far, and he could suddenly go Dan Cortes any second, there’s still something to be said for the year to year improvements.

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  10. LTG says:

    In fairness to Dave, it is surprising the Perez is even good enough for ‘luck’ to matter, if it is ‘luck’ that is making the difference.

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  11. ThundaPC says:

    Certainly Oliver Perez needs to show that he can sustain what he’s been doing over the remainder of the season, but what he’s doing is definitely real from what I’ve seen.

    Given his reputation and even his minor league numbers this season, I was surprised how good he looked right out of the gate. He was hitting his spots and when he missed he wasn’t missing by much. Even him settling in as a decent reliever would be a victory for Oliver Perez given what he’s gone through. This has been an interesting development.

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  12. Shloimy says:

    still no value

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  13. Alex says:

    Yeah.. he’s had good 13-inning stints before. Let’s see how his control holds up over 50-innings as a reliever first, before he can be proclaimed “good” again.

    The article should be more aptly titled: “Oliver Perez has the Potential to be Good Again. Seriously.”

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Please show me the 13 inning stints where his fastball averaged 94 MPH.

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      • Alex says:

        That isn’t the point that everyone is making.

        It doesn’t matter if his fastball is 94 or 90 if his control regresses to where it has historically been.

        Take Daniel Cabrera for instance; in 2004, his FIP and xFIP were above 5, while his fastball sat at 95. The next season, his fastball was a full 2+ MPH slower, and yet, his BB/9 fell and his FIP and xFIP were just a tick above 4.

        Sure, Perez is throwing harder, but it means nothing if he cannot maintain his control, and 13 innings isn’t a large enough sample to say he’s back.

        The fastball velocity is an encouraging sign, yes, and such is why the title should be about how Perez has the potential to be good again.

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      • Justin says:

        If he has one classic ollie outing (1IP 3BB) his BB/9 jumps to 4.5. When one inning can impact it that much your sample size is too small.

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      • noseeum says:

        @Alex, the point of a headline is to get to you to read a story. A good headline often pushes the envelope.

        In this case, the headline is meant to cause a reaction, “Oliver Perez is good? Gimme a break! I better read this.”

        Seems to have served its purpose quite well.

        Now for a general nitpick of may fangraphs comments. Look, we are all here. We all read fangraphs. The vast majority of us know a thing or two about sample sizes. And Dave Cameron does as well. He’s writing to an audience where he can safely assume we know these things. There’s no reason for 10 people on every one of these posts to prove their SABR bona fides by talking about sample sizes and critiquing a post that’s pointing out a trend to watch.

        If Fangraphs listened to you guys, the daily articles would be “A bunch of stuff is happening in baseball, but we can’t comment on it until sample sizes get larger, so just sit here and do nothing for three months. We’ll be back when the data set grows. Or maybe they’d right about who was good last year, since now we can tell. Sounds like some great content!

        Dave is using an attribute that stabilizes quickly, velocity, to point out something interesting that most of us have missed. Namely, a guy that was a washed up has been has managed to get himself back into the major leagues and is showing signs he may be able to stick around. He’s showing enough positive skills for us to take note and watch what happens for the rest of the season.

        This is exactly the kind of writing I want from Fangraphs. If Dave waited until the season was over, this article would be worthless.

        I’ll be keeping an eye on Perez now, and I hadn’t thought about him in a couple of years. Thanks, Dave.

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      • Paul says:

        Completely with noseeum. If you’re a regular FG reader you know this is a small sample without it being stated. And you also know that SSS is a fact of life. So as noseeum said, we make due with what we see or any other reliable information we can gather.

        I’m grateful for a gifted writer like Dave who can tell stories like this without making them fantasies, which is what we routinely see out of the mainstream media.

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  14. vivalajeter says:

    I remember reading about his knee issue early in the season after he signed the contract with the Mets, and he never seemed to recover. It’s surprising to me that it took so long for him to get healthy. How does that happen out of the blue, after years of knee troubles? Glucosamine?

    I’m interested to see how he performs after his first bad outing. He’s always seemed like a headcase who can pitch well for a while, but at the first sign of trouble he completely loses it. Whether it’s a walk on a borderline pitch, an error in the field, or a blooper, when things turn south he falls apart.

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    • Grady Sizemore says:

      Can you hook me up with this treatment you speak of?

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      • Wait Til Next Year says:

        PLEASE! Somebody hook Grady up with this treatment! Does it work for bad backs as well?

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    • It’s surprising to me that it took so long for him to get healthy. How does that happen out of the blue, after years of knee troubles? Glucosamine?

      It might not be completely healthy at all, just the damage and pain minimized by not throwing as many innings per outing.

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      • Paul says:

        Not to mention that, while I’m not claiming this as fact, guys with major maturity issues should probably not be expected to follow their treatment regimen with the consistency and effort necessary to overcome major injuries. And to give him the benefit of the doubt, pain management is a very individual thing, and rehab can really affect people including athletes mentally. Perhaps the birth of his child gave him some extra motivation to push through it. Sometimes every thing just comes together…

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  15. Matty Brown says:

    I read your piece for espn earlier today and that was the first time I even realized Perez was still in baseball.

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    • Choo says:

      Honestly, after watching Perez pitch for the M’s at spring training, I was convinced that would be the LAST time I ever realized Perez was still in baseball.

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  16. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Oliver Perez once won a fantasy title for me. I picked him up in April of Free agency and he won 20+ games. So I have a soft spot in my baseball heart for him and wish him the best.

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  17. Toonces says:

    Perez was my favorite player on that 04 Pirate team. Let’s not forget, either, that Perez once shared a starting rotation with Ryan Vogelsong, and he was even further out of baseball than Ollie was the last few years. I’ll be rooting for him to find a place somewhere in the league

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  18. Nick says:

    It reminds me of Andrew miller for Boston.

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  19. B N says:

    “there’s probably nothing more shocking than the ongoing career rebirth of Oliver Perez”

    I’m confused why it’s surprising that Oliver Perez is good again. He almost LITERALLY did the exact same thing in the 2004-2007 seasons:

    Year ERA
    2004 2.98
    2005 5.87
    2006 6.55
    2007 3.56

    Perez, sucking for a couple years then pulling out a good season? Wow, I can’t believe it… except that it’s the story of his whole career!

    In 03 his ERA was 5.47, following up a year with an ERA of 3.50. So basically it was Good year, 1 Bad year, Good year, 2 Bad years, 2 Good years, 3 Bad years, this year. Should we start acting surprised that he might have another good year?

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    • noseeum says:

      @B N, I’m not sure if I should even respond to this. Perhaps you’re trolling. I sure hope so.

      You’re using ERA to quantify “good season”? ’02 and ’03 were his age 20 and 21 seasons (age at start of season). Neither of them were full seasons. In ’02 he pitched 90 innings, and in ’03 he pitched 126.2. Who cares what he did in those seasons?

      ’04 was his first full season, and he was awesome. That was pretty much his only good season. Even ’07 and ’08, he was nothing more than league average with 2.2 and 1.3 WAR respectively. His 2.2 WAR in ’07 tied him for 61st in the league with Paul Byrd and Chad Gaudin.

      He did, however, still have a lively fastball, and showed flashes of brilliance, somehow fooling the Mets into putting $36 million in his pocket. The Mets released him when he lost the fastball. A guy pitching 95 with no control, you work with. A guy pitching 89 with no control who’s approaching 30 you release, even when you owe him $12 million.

      Velocity usually does not come back when you’re on the wrong side of 30. In 13 innings this year, he’s 1/3rd of the way to matching his entire season’s WAR in 2008. So yes. This is a surprise.

      Unless you can show me some comment you made on a Mariners board when they signed him this year stating, “Hey, this is a good signing. I think Perez’s problem can be attributed entirely to his knee injury. If that’s healed he could be great out of the pen,” you can color me skeptical.

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      • B N says:

        The issue is that you seem to conflate “not expected” with “surprising.” In probablistic terms, his performance certainly made a rebound not expected (low mean performance).

        However, given that he’s a guy whose entire pitching history was characterized by high variability (high variance), I’d hardly call it “surprising.”

        If I had a guess an ERA curve for him based on a normal distribution this year, I’d have centered him around close to an ERA of 6 with a StdDev around 1.5. With that kind of assumed distribution, I would completely unsurprised to see him end up with a season ERA of 4 or of 8 (though the latter would be slightly more surprising because the ability to demote pitchers creates a truncated distribution on this tail).

        Would I have expected an ERA of close to 2.5, which he has now? Of course not. It would be QUITE surprising if he maintained that for a whole season (especially given his FIP is closer to 4 and his ERA historically tracks his FIP well). But would I be surprised if he had an ERA a shade under 4 for the season? Not in the slightest.

        Especially when you consider that moving from a starter to a reliever generally gives you a 0.25-0.5 ERA boost, that would be close to the 1 standard deviation range and well within the 2 standard deviation range.

        I guess it depends on what you call “surprise” but if guy does something that’s between the 1-2 StdDev confidence interval, it seems disingenuous to start adding on things like “seriously.” do your titles. Once something gets beyond the p = 0.9 level, then I’m surprised (see Bautista’s breakout year). Maybe some other people are shocked to see something exceed p=0.7 or p=0.8 (shrug). Pitchers have high season-to-season variance and Oliver Perez has shown a higher season-to-season variance than the average pitcher.

        So why then should I be surprised?

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      • B N says:

        Additionally: “You’re using ERA to quantify “good season”?”

        Are you intending we should use FIP (which is less predictive of future performance once you have 3 seasons of data?). Or is WAR a better judge of performance (despite its obvious issues of entangling quality with durability)? Plus, over the course of his career, he’s outperformed his FIP but not his xFIP (sorry for the confusion in the prior post, I omitted the x in xFIP by accident). All of those things make FIP and FIP-based WAR a pretty bad measure for this sort of analysis, I’d say.

        While runs against (RA) is probably a better metric, ERA seems fine to measure long-term performance. FIP or xFIP is superior for small samples, but for larger samples RA or ERA is a more appropriate measure.

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      • B N says:


        His xFIP is close to 4 and his ERA has tracked his xFIP over his career.

        His FIP is closer to 2.5 and his FIP has been about 0.2 greater than his ERA over his career.

        Basically, his FIP has given him less credit for inducing weak contact over his career (good stuff) and is currently giving him too much credit for keeping his HR down this year (good luck). All told, FIP is a weird stat that really only makes sense for medium sample sizes (at small samples, it gives too much credit for controlling HR while at large samples it gives too little credit for controlling HR and BABIP).

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      • noseeum says:

        Dude, Perez’s expected ERA for 2012 was 0. And that’s because his expected IP for 2012 was 0. He was done, never to be seen in the majors again.

        Besides that, of course I conflate “surprising” and “unexpected”. They’re the same thing. Hence the conflation. In fact, look up the definition of surprising, and it’s peppered with unexpected. So I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about here.

        You should be surprised that:
        1. Oliver Perez is pitching in the major leagues
        2. Oliver Perez is pitching SUCCESSFULLY in the major leagues

        Unless you can point to some prognosticating on your part before the season, I’m going to assume you agree this result is unexpected. And being the native English speaker I am, I am going to conflate unexpected with surprising.

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  20. Wilj says:

    Interesting article. Not sure I agree with the Carlos Ruiz is an MVP candidate assertion. Should he be? Yes, but how many players on last place teams become the MVP? Even if they climb out of the cellar Im not sure he would get serious MVP consideration unless they make the PO’s.

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    • B N says:

      I LOVE Carlos Ruiz… but he’s not an MVP candidate. He’s long been under-appreciated, now there’s kind of a rebound effect. But other guys in the league (McCutchen, Wright) are the obvious choices so far. If I had to vote today, McCutchen would get the nod without too much extra thought.

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  21. steveh603 says:

    The guy walked 19 guys in 31 AAA innings but now he has command? Truly terrible stuff.

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