Martin Perez: Bad Fastball, Awesome Sinker

You can look at parts of Martin Perez’ profile and find yourself salivating over the upside. At the same time, there are parts of his profile that can make you question whether he’s a major sell-high candidate. Ranked around the 100-mark entering the season, Perez seems closer to proving doubters wrong but hasn’t yet validated believers.

To wit: Perez isn’t striking many batters out, but he’s not walking many, either; He’s improved his ground ball rate, but he’s also been gifted a 0.0 percent HR/FB mark; and he has a 1.86 ERA, one that’s surely helped owners early, and it’s backed by a healthy 2.42 FIP and 3.20 xFIP, but ZIPS and Steamer don’t like him any better than a 4.38 and 4.68 ERA, respectively, for the rest of the season.

The good-and-bad profile gets even tougher to figure out when you dive in deeper.

To illustrate how tough it is to get a handle on Perez at present, I’m just going to throw a few numbers and ranks out there (ranks are sort descending, so ranking first in Contact allowed would be bad but ranking first in O-Swing would be good):

Statistic 2014 Value 2014 Rank (of 109) Career
LD% 20.80% 44 20.80%
O-Swing 33.50% 21 29.6
Z-Swing 61.60% 58 64.8
Swing 44.70% 70 45.8
O-Contact 65.00% 41 64.4
Z-Contact 93.90% 9 89.1
Contact 80.90% 39 80.5
Zone 40.00% 106 46.2

I really just included the line drive rate to indicate that despite the high ground ball mark, some solid contact is still being made, about in line with his career mark so far.

It’s the plate discipline profile that’s far more interesting, however, as, like with everything else, Perez is doing some things well and others…not so well.

Primarily, Perez is doing a terrific job inducing swings on pitches outside of the zone. Unfortunately, he’s throwing way too many pitches out of the zone, ranking almost dead last in zone percentage. That’s a dangerous line to toe and one that makes his current 6.7 percent walk rate seem precarious. You can forgive the high out-of-zone approach given that the O-Swing is so high, except that batters are making contact on those out-of-zone swings at a well above-average rate. Batters are 9-for-54 putting pitches outside of the zone in play, which is fine, but they’ve also whiffed “just” 38 times on 121 swings out there (a good rate but maybe not enough to justify throwing it out of the zone so frequently).

As a comparison, Jordan Zimmermann, who has similar O-Swing and O-Contact marks, has allowed hitters to go 5-for-34 on pitches out of the zone but has also managed to get 23 whiffs on just 58 swings. Perez compares favorably to an Eric Stults or Wade Miley when it comes to whiffs out of the zone, but Perez is also wasting far more pitches than two of those three comps (per BaseballSavant):

Perez, Martin_527048

Pitcher > 1ft from center Pitches % Vert Wasted
Stults 96 339 28.32%
Perez 96 400 24.00%
Zimmermann 73 331 22.05%
Miley 88 478 18.41%

Perez misses a great deal of pitches that aren’t even close, in horizontal terms. It’s not surprising to see that Stults has a similar low-strikeout mark despite a good O-Swing mark, given that he’s missing wide even more frequently than Perez.

Do you know why this is frustrating? Because of the top-50 qualified pitchers in terms of O-Swing rate, Perez ranks 36th in strikeout rate. Generally, pitchers getting that many swings out of the zone are getting strikeouts. The average swinging strike rate for that group of pitchers is 10.56 percent, well above Perez’ 8.3 percent. The result is that, despite the strong O-Swing rate, Perez isn’t even a strong candidate for a strikeout rate surge because, again, he’s not getting swings and misses and he doesn’t throw the ball in the zone much.

At the heart of the lack of whiffs could be a weak fastball. Per Brooks Baseball, Perez has thrown his four-seamer 126 times this year, coaxing just a 4.26 percent whiff rate, which is anaemic. His velocity is down from 93.9 MPH to 93, which wouldn’t be that concerning early in the year except that his velocity has also declined with each start.
perez veloAs troublesome as the heater is, his primary offering has been excellent (like I said, this is a very good-and-bad profile we’re dealing with).

His sinker, which he throws more often, has been at the root of his ground ball surge – it gets ground balls on 63.2 percent of balls in play, even better than the 49.5 percent league average on sinkers – and its 17.4 percent whiff rate is better than the league average for sinkers, too. The sinker’s been a very good pitch for him, and he may actually want to lean on it more, considering nobody is missing his four-seamer. He can’t really seem to control the four-seamer all that well, either, missing “bad” horizontally 33 times already this year.

Perez, Martin_527048 (1)

The end result of all of this is somewhat unclear. Perez has one of the most effective sinkers going at present but one of the least effective four-seamers, though he seems to be realizing this, firing 50 sinkers in his last outing, a complete game shutout. If that’s a change that’s going to last, Perez seems as much a “buy-high” as a sell-high. If he’s going to revert to splitting four-seamers and sinkers evenly, like he did against Houston on April 13 – he had just two strikeouts against the league’s most strikeout-prone team – then it’s less clear.

In particular, he’s thrown the fastball on 28 percent of first pitches with 11 balls to 14 strikes (and four balls in play), compared to leading with the sinker 34 percent of the time for 12 balls to 19 strikes (and five balls in play).

Perez is slated to pitch on Wednesday against Oakland, a team that doesn’t strike out much in the early going and has also had some success against sinkers. It will be an interesting test for Perez and provide us with a little more information as to how he plans to attack moving forward – if he’s going to keep leaning on the fastball, especially early, there’s reason for concern. If it’s the pitch mix we saw in his last turn out, there’s little reason to sell-high.

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Blake Murphy is a news editor at The Score, and is a freelance sportswriter covering baseball, basketball, hockey and more. Think Bo Jackson, without the being good at every sport part. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

9 Responses to “Martin Perez: Bad Fastball, Awesome Sinker”

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  1. Paul C. says:

    In spring training he talked about using a cutter this season here and there ( Anyone know if he has been throwing the cutter at all, or if it’s been a useful pitch?

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      Doesn’t look as if he’s used it much at all, according to ours, PitchFX and Brooks.

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      • Randy Kroger says:

        First, I wouldn’t be surprised, if the cutter is not cutting a whole lot and getting classified as a two-seamer(sinker).

        Second, I think that a lot of Perez’s ability to induce swings out of the zone could be sustainable. The key to good change-ups and sinkers is deception as much as movement. Perez’s sinker and change up look exactly like a fastball until the last minute when they tail/fall.

        Unlike a curveball, these pitches are closer to the velocity of a fastball. For a curve ball, a batter either has time to recognize the pitch is out of the zone and lay off it or they don’t recognize it and whiff by a mile.

        For sinkers and change-ups, it is very hard to recognize the pitch at all (good ones). Hitters will swing at them any time that they look like they are in the zone, but then they tail out of the zone. The movement is not enough to miss the bat completely so it results in weak contact.

        In conclusion, hitters swing at less curveballs out of the zone, but whiff more often when they do. Also, hitters will swing at more sinkers that are out-of-the-zone, but make poorer contact when they do. Pitchers like Perez can throw a lot more balls outside of the zone without getting walks. Hitters will get a ball in play before he can walk them and their contact will likely be poor. He will also get to less pitcher’s counts, which will also hurt his k-rates because he wont use his swing and miss pitches as much.

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  2. Dave says:

    How is one able to distinguish between sinkers and regular fastballs on the pitchfx data shown on fangraphs for Perez, because all of the fastballs are grouped together for him?
    As you mentioned, Perez has been increasing his usage of his sinkerball. So I don’t understand what is so surprising or concerning about the fact that his average fastball velocity has been declining during this time. The velocity chart you show bundles all fastballs in together in the velocity calculations and so it would seem logical that throwing more sinkers would result in a lower average velocity on the fastball overall. I am not worried about the velocity, as this is a guy who threw over 97mph last year as a LHP, which is in the upper echelon.

    I do want to mention that during his first and last starts, Perez’s strikeout rate was actually pretty good with 15 K’s in 14.2 innings (or 9.5 K/9). So I am not sure what exactly he was doing different during these starts versus the other two. Moreover, while it doesn’t differentiate between types of fastballs, the pitchfx stats for Perez actually show that his fastball has been a plus pitch this year, being worth 1.54 runs above average per 100 pitchers. His curveball has also improved from being worth negative runs to an even value. Most importantly, his changeup has remained his best pitch and continues to be one of the better changeups in the league as far as runs above average. I am not saying he is close to Felix Hernandez or anything, but Felix has similar velocity and has been throwing his sinker 50% of the time according to fangraphs and has been relying on this pitch and his changeup, as his slider has been below average and curve has been about average according to the pitch values data for Felix. I guess my point in all this is that I think Perez has the arsenal and tools to continue to succeed, especially because he has continued to show improvement and refinement in his game.

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      I used BrooksBaseball to distinguish between fastballs and sinkers for whole-season data. I believe our data calls his sinker a two-seamer, differentiating it from his four-seamer, if that helps at all.

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  3. Swfcdan says:

    Start him on wednesday in a 10 teamer?

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  4. Dave says:

    So do the velocity charts that you show in the article only include velocity data from his four seamer and exclude his sinkerball?

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  5. arthurpete says:

    It would be great if we could get a follow up on this since yesterday’s impressive performance. The pitch type/velo data isnt up yet but it looks like he kept the majority of contact on the ground (18GB v 7 FB).

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