Oliver Perez: Pitcher You Want

Some time ago, in talking about the upcoming trade deadline, Dave offered Jesse Crain as a potential alternative to the potentially expensive Jonathan Papelbon. Relievers are always in demand around midseason, and Crain was proving himself to be a hell of a weapon. Shortly thereafter, Crain went and landed on the disabled list, and while his value wasn’t completely obliterated, it was dealt a blow and Crain is right now in the rehab process. He’s not the target he was, and he’s going to have to prove himself if he is to get moved.

I’m here now not to offer another alternative to Papelbon, but to just highlight a good reliever who’s available. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Oliver Perez has been pitching really well, and though he’s probably not reliable closer material, Perez throws hard with his left arm, and the things that used to plague him seem to be history. Perez is a lefty reliever on a bad team in his contract year, and if he gets traded — and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t — his new team should end up pleased as punch, whatever the hell that means.

It was last year that Perez re-emerged, stunningly, gaining velocity and throwing strikes out of the Mariners bullpen. But it wasn’t that Perez was amazing; it was that it was amazing that Perez was anywhere and pitching somewhat effectively. He was sort of like last year’s version of this year’s Scott Kazmir, in that he was forgotten until he came back and flashed big-league ability. Perez put himself on track to extend his career. But this season, Perez has stepped it up. This season, Oliver Perez is legitimately good.

For one thing, he’s still throwing in the low- to mid-90s. He’s among the league leaders in first-pitch-strike percentage. He’s among the league leaders in zone percentage. It’s almost inconceivable that Perez would develop into a reliable strike-thrower, but here we are, and this is our universe. A few years ago, Perez threw strikes like he thought strikes were balls. Now he has the same strike rate as CC Sabathia. This is a sport that we try to predict.

It goes beyond that, though. Perez threw strikes in 2012, and he was only all right. Now he’s improved his ability to miss bats. In all, 303 pitchers have faced at least 100 batters in each of the last two seasons. From 2012-2013, here are the five biggest drops in contact rate allowed:

  1. Casey Fien, -11.0 percentage points
  2. Oliver Perez, -10.1
  3. Manny Parra, -9.3
  4. Luke Hochevar, -7.6
  5. Cody Allen, -7.4

Perez has been allowing the same rate of contact as Ernesto Frieri, Craig Kimbrel, and All-Star reliever Steve Delabar. He’s not altogether far away from Aroldis Chapman. He’s beating Yu Darvish. As an obvious consequence, Perez’s strikeouts have shot way up, as he’s already more than doubled last year’s total in just 6.1 more innings.

Because Perez is a lefty with a slider he likes, it’s hardly surprising he’s had good success against lefties. He’s struck out a third of them, throwing 69% strikes and limiting other damage. If you watch Oliver Perez, you come away thinking “that guy should dominate left-handed hitters,” and that’s pretty much what he does. He follows the same patterns you’d expect, throwing a bunch of sliders down and away.

But here’s the really shocking part. Perez’s strikeout rate against righties is better than his rate against lefties. As a matter of fact, here are the top strikeout rates against right-handed hitters for left-handed pitchers, with a 50-PA minimum:

  1. Oliver Perez, 37.7%
  2. Glen Perkins, 37.1%
  3. Aroldis Chapman, 36.3%
  4. Alex Torres, 35.0%
  5. Andrew Miller, 32.9%

Perez has walked three righties intentionally. Of the remaining 77, he’s whiffed 29, giving him basically the same strikeout rate against righties as Crain and Trevor Rosenthal. His contact rate is 72%; his strike rate is 65%. That’s a bunch of numbers, all to say: though Oliver Perez doesn’t look like a righty-killer, and though he doesn’t have the profile of a righty-killer, he’s been something of a righty-killer, throwing with his left arm.

Armed with a straighter fastball, a sinking fastball, and a slider, Perez has pitched well against both lefties and righties alike, and as much as we’re dealing with limited samples, it’s hard to completely fake Perez’s accomplishments. He seems to have figured out a way to turn a sweeping slider into a weapon against opposite-handed bats, and this .gif is a working demonstration:

PerezNapoliSlider.gif.opt

And, for the hell of it, here’s the heat:

PerezNapoliFastball.gif.opt

Because of his style, Perez ends up allowing a lot of fly balls. He’s one of the game’s more extreme fly-ball pitchers, and fly-ball pitchers allow home runs, and Perez probably isn’t going to be a closer for this reason. He likes to throw his fastball up, and those pitches can get punished. There are costs and benefits to Perez’s pitching approach. But after coming back to the majors a year ago, now Perez is back to being highly successful, such that he should be in demand at the deadline as contenders look to boost the backs of their bullpens.

Almost every contender wants better relief. Almost every contender likes the idea of more left-handed relief. Every team in baseball likes the idea of a lefty reliever who can pitch to righty hitters. Perez is there, readily available, and because he’s Oliver Perez and not Jonathan Papelbon, he’s not going to cost an arm and a leg and the rest of a real talented young body too. Perez, probably, is affordable, and probably underrated on account of his name. He might scare some teams off, teams that don’t trust him to be what he apparently is.

If your team is playing for something, it’s probably making calls about available relievers. Perez is an available reliever, and he’s a better reliever than you probably thought. This here is a weapon, and one wins the World Series by force.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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