Martin Perez has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball this season. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking in terms of fantasy baseball — he’s ranked 20th among rookies in Roto points scored and 12th in CBS Sports points — or in real life terms, where he’s ranked fifth in ERA and innings. . and third in WAR, according to FanGraphs.com. Like it or not, he was phenomenal, really made a difference.
And I put him outside the top 60 on my starting pitching list. I don’t believe in Perez’s strong start to the season in any way, and so far it has made me look pretty bad. And I hear it from our audience. My favorite example of this is one Fantasy baseball today a listener who, every time he has a good start, sends me increasingly cropped versions of Perez’s photo, like this:
And the thing is… I have to eat it. As long as Perez continues to serve well and I keep insisting that he won’t, I’m criticizing myself. And there is no doubt that, at least until now, if you have taken my advice about Perez, you have missed the opportunity to create change. So, I guess it’s time to dive deeper and figure out what, if anything, I might be missing out on with Perez.
It was a real turnaround for Pérez, who is in his 10th season in the big leagues, and has never had such a good 14-start stretch as this time. In fact, he’s never been close to it before – prior to this season, the lowest ERA Perez has ever had in 14 games was 2.72, which was the case in parts of the 2018 and 2019 season. Perez was so bad last season that he was pulled from the Red Sox rotation in early August with a 4.77 ERA.
What changed? Well, Perez still doesn’t get many strikeouts, ranking only in the 35th percentile in strikeouts this season. He ranks seventh among all rookies in swing strikes (only 8.7%), and his 27.5% call plus swing strike (CSW) ranks 35th out of 59 players who have qualified. His shift has been a solid pitching but he doesn’t have any other pitchers with a smell rate of over 20%. And his 92.6 mph fastball is in the 24th percentile for speed.
In an age of increasing speed and whiffs, Perez is resisting at least that trend. So how does he do it?
The most obvious change Pérez has made has to do with his serve mix, as he returned to being the first sinker after limiting the use of this serve in recent years:
And that pitch has been very effective for him so far. Although he doesn’t have many blows with him, he has 26 of his 71 strikeouts with him, mostly from call varieties. It also has an expected wOBA of 0.287 with the field, giving it an average exit speed of just 89.8 mph and an average launch angle of 4 degrees.
In other words, the sinker sinks. His substitution (.299 xwOBA allowed) and cutter (.253) have also been amazing so far, and those three serves account for 85.4% of all Perez’s serves. Perez holds the ball and thus generates easy outs – his allowed barrel speed is only 3.1%, which is in the 93rd percentile so far.
In fact, he pitches just like Dallas Keuchel. Only two pitchers threw balls into the strike zone less often than Perez (35.1%). Despite this, it ranks seventh in the share of strikes (18.8%). He has great success on the edge (or just outside) of the zone, resulting in call strikes and weak contact. The fact that he avoids walks at a career-best 5.9% makes him all the more impressive.
Throw in all of that and the extended stats will pretty much back up what Perez is doing. His 3.13 xERA is not quite as good as his actual score, but still better than average and his 2.62 FIP is consistent with it; his 3.63 xFIP isn’t as rosy, but it’s still the best of Perez’s career, even after adjusting for a lower scoring record in 2022.
In other words, many of the tools we use to evaluate pitchers suggest that Perez has become a better pitcher. If he keeps pitching the same way as before and the batters keep approaching him the same way as before, Perez can keep hitting well. Probably no this is good, but good enough to make him a top 60 pitcher, of course.
My skepticism comes from several places. First, there is the simple fact that while it is possible to continue to suppress hard contact, as Perez does, it is really difficult to do so. Pitchers have some control over the quality of contact they make, but not as much as hitters, and it takes time for a pitcher’s true level of talent to show.
Pérez has been about average throughout his career in terms of acceptable contact quality (.367 wOBA career expected contact vs. 370), and given his usually well below strikeout and exit averages, this led to poor results. results. So far this season, he has combined excellent control with an expected wOBA of .338 on contact, the second best of his career. This new, heavier approach to the ground ball could make it sustainable, but it’s too early to tell for sure. I expect Perez to be more like the average contact quality pitcher he has been throughout his career.
But I admit that the main reason I don’t believe in Peres has less analytical support. It all comes down to the fact that I just don’t believe in Perez. Or rather, I don’t believe in pitchers with that profile. He pitches like the peak Keuchel or Kyle Hendrix, and while both of these guys have managed to be high-profile performers for years despite their unorthodox approach, the truth is that there’s a reason they’re the only two guys you can really point to. who have been successful with this approach.
From time to time you will see the likes of Kyle Gibson, Wade Miley or Markus Stroman – all of whom were in the top 20 by the ERA in the first half of last season – had a strong start streak thanks to great control and high ground ball speed, but this hard to do consistently.
The most consistent way to prevent runs over the board is to seat guys with a strikeout, which is why the best pitchers in baseball almost always hit the most batters. It’s very, very difficult to be consistently successful without getting a lot of outs because there’s a lot less chance of making a mistake. That’s why we so rarely see full seasons – let alone a few – of elite production from pitchers with a low strikeout.
Of course, there is a very long distance between “elite production” and Perez’s rating, and it is possible that he will continue to win and become your mandatory starting pitcher. However, I will remain skeptical of both Perez in particular and this pitcher archetype in general. I just hope he doesn’t make me look bad.