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Ryan Perry’s Implosion

Here at FanGraphs, we describe a relief outing as a “meltdown” if it results in a -0.06 WPA or worse. By that definition, Ryan Perry‘s -.819 WPA performance in the 8th inning of last night’s Tigers-Mariners game was certainly a meltdown. Perry entered with the score 4-1, and when he left the Mariners had a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish.

Perry only recorded one out in the inning, and he allowed five hits, including a home run, and allowed four earned runs. According to Pitch F/X data, nothing looked off with Perry’s stuff. He was simply the victim of poor location and some hard hit baseballs.

The inning started with an incredibly patient at bat from Franklin Gutierrez. The stellar center fielder took five straight pitches on or around the outside corner before singling on a belt high fastball right down the middle.

After striking out Milton Bradley, Perry was set to face a string of right handed batters in Mike Sweeney, Jose Lopez, and if necessary Rob Johnson and Josh Wilson. Given that only Sweeney had an above average ZiPS RoS projection entering the game and the other three hitters had projected wOBAs below .305, the stage appeared to be set for Perry to work his way around a leadoff single.

Of course, that’s not what happened. The first pitch to Mike Sweeney was a slider that didn’t do much and stayed right in the middle of the strike zone. Sweeney crushed it for his 6th home run of the season. The Tigers still held the lead at that point, at 4-3. With one out already recorded and three weak, same-handed hitters coming up, Perry was set up for success.

Instead, the Mariners quickly began another rally. Jose Lopez singled on another miss over the heart of the plate. Still, at this point the Tigers’ win probability was at 28.9%, and still the matchups were very favorable to Perry. Rob Johnson battled against Perry, bringing the count to full, and hitting another belt-high fastball – this time, closer to the inside corner, although pitch 4 missed badly and was fouled off.

Johnson’s double moved Jose Lopez to third base. The Tigers still held the lead, but the Mariners’ win probability was finally bumped over 50% to 53.4%. It was improbably that Perry and the Tigers would get out of the jam, but odds were good that they would limit the damage to only one run and keep the game at least tied. Such dreams were smashed when shortstop Josh Wilson singled on another ball down the middle. This pitch was down below the strike zone, but Wilson still managed to line it to left field for what would turn out to be the game-winning RBIs.

Perry has good stuff – his fastball averages over 95 MPH and he also uses a slider and a changeup (sparingly). Even at 95+, though, location is key against major league hitters. Ryan Perry repeatedly missed down the middle of the strike zone on Wednesday night, and as a result Mariners hitters – including a weak string of right handers – hammered him for line drive hit after line drive hit.

This has to be one of the more painful losses of the Tigers season, as they had a 94.1% chance of winning at one point and an 88.3% chance of winning when Perry’s inning began. At least they’re squarely in contention, only one game back of Minnesota. And at least they have Justin Verlander.