The Minnesota Twins added another arm to a crowded stable of back-end starters on Saturday evening with the signing of former Texas Rangers lefty Martin Perez.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic was the first to report the agreement:
#MNTwins in agreement with LHP Martin Pérez on one-year contract, source tells The Athletic. Deal includes club option for second season.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 19, 2019
…while Jon Heyman of Fancred had the terms first:
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 19, 2019
The team has not yet confirmed the signing — or the corresponding move to make room on the 40-man roster for Perez.
Twins general manager Thad Levine is no doubt familiar with Perez from their time together with the Rangers. The soon-to-be 28-year-old lefty — April 4 birthday — has age and a few other things on his side.
He’s also coming off a year where he posted a 6.22 ERA which was backed by a 5.72 FIP — suggesting he was not only bad, but deservedly so.
Let’s focus on some things that could make this deal work for the Twins. Since he’s only heading into his age-28 season, there’s still time for him to hit his stride. Kyle Gibson’s true breakout season came last year at age 30, and it’s not unfair to say Perez has an even stronger pedigree than Gibson.
In fact, there are some similarities between the two. Gibson was a first-round pick and Perez was a July 2 signing in 2007, but both moved up the ranks and became well-regarded prospects along the way. In fact, Perez reached as high as No. 15 on the Baseball Prospectus top-101 list, No. 29 on MLB.com’s global list and No. 17 on Baseball America’s list.
Now with that said, all of those accolades are nearly a decade ago.
But there’s still clearly arm talent present with Perez, who like previous iterations of Gibson lacks ideal command and strikeouts but instead relies on a groundball-heavy approach.
Perez was better in the minors at striking hitters out, but still not particularly elite (7.7 K/9) and was still on the hook for a lot of walks (3.5 BB/9) which resulted in an ugly WHIP (1.44).
He’s never really had that breakout year the Rangers had been waiting for — his career-high fWAR in a single season is 2.1 in 2016 and the next year as well — and as a result, they declined his modest $7.5 million option for next season.
But even the solid seasons for Perez look like they’re cut out of 1991 — the year he was born — as he’s typically in the high 5s and low 6s for strikeouts per nine innings, usually in the low-to-mid-3s for walks per nine and in the 50 percent range for groundball rate.
If that sounds familiar, here’s why — this is a left-handed Mike Pelfrey.
Now back to the arm talent thing for just a second: he’s still just 28 and thus has some upside — unlike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia when they were signed — and for a lefty he’s exhibited pretty good velocity. In 2017 he averaged 93.1 mph on his fastball, and for his career he’s at 92.6.
He’s also had good numbers on his changeup in the past.
Opposing batters have hit just .243/.291/.385 on the pitch with a swinging-strike rate of 15.6 percent over his career — 10 percent is kind of the beginning of average for a lot of pitches, though it’s higher for guys with big strikeout numbers — and that, paired with a sinker that has induced a groundball rate of 60.4 percent should be the makings of at least an interesting arm, right?
That wasn’t the case last year; the bottom completely fell out.
The swinging-strike rate on Perez’s changeup fell to 12 percent, and while he picked up a few more whiffs on his slider, the results were still absolute carnage.
Here are his OPS marks allowed on each of his pitches:
- Sinker – .726
- Changeup – 1.011
- Four-seamer – 1.234
- Curveball – 1.133
- Slider – 1.592
It’s almost impressive he managed to throw nearly 100 big-league innings with numbers like that. It seems possible he may have been tipping pitches, but to this extent? Unlikely.
It’s worth wondering if the Twins might use him in an unusual role. Out of the bullpen might make sense; he’s been clocked as high as 98 mph on his sinker and four-seamer in the past, and even after dealing with some arm issues in recent years, he’s still managed to touch 96-97 over the last two seasons. Dialing him back to an inning or two at a time to get him on track, then Carlos Carrasco-ing him might not be the worst idea, especially since the risk is a modest $3.5 million.
For those unaware, Carrasco went from highly-touted starting pitcher prospect to flameout to reliever and back to the rotation after he got his career in line, and the results since have been really good. And Carrasco at age 26 still posted a 6.75 ERA in the big leagues with the Indians in 46.2 innings with 5.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.76.
Those numbers are awfully familiar/similar to Perez’s from last year.
Could the Carrsaco plan — or even being used as The Opener — make sense for Perez?
Maybe, but based on what we see on the surface it’s hard to see a compelling argument for it, at least as things are now.
Perez hasn’t really shown a times-through-the-order penalty over his career. Usually this would be considered good!
Here, it is not:
- .291/.361/.431 – first time through
- .282/.338/.438 – second time through
- .285/.349/.439 – third time through
In deeper terms, that’s wOBAs against of .345/.336/.341 in order — or not exactly compelling surface-level numbers to suggest he’d be better used as or with The Opener.
Still, it has to be considered that the revamped pitching coaching staff, as well as the continued immersion of pitching guru Josh Kalk in decisions the team makes, has to give this at least a slight chance of working out.
It’s hard to look too much into the splits to see hope for Perez, but we’ll give it a try:
- April – 9.67 ERA, 13-12 K/BB in 22.1 IP, 1.132 OPS against
- July – 3.47 ERA, 17-9 K/BB in 23.1 IP, .844 OPS against
- August – 7.20 ERA, 13-7 K/BB in 25 IP, .897 OPS against
- September – 3.68 ERA, 9-8 K/BB, .656 OPS against
That last month is a little interesting, but basically the rates are still shaky and it was a mix-and-match between working out of the bullpen and making one start in his second-to-last appearance of the season.
As a reliever, Perez posted a sparkling 2.45 ERA over 11 innings with seven strikeouts and four unintentional walks and a 1.27 WHIP. Maybe there’s something there that would bear out over the long(er) haul, but it’s hard to know for sure what the Twins told Perez about his role when he signed.
Let’s look over at Brooks Baseball to see if anything changed for Perez in September, when he worked almost exclusively as a reliever.
For one, it came with a velocity spike:
He also saw some of the whiff rates on his pitches take a step forward, including most notably his slider:
This all might mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, as it’s possible the Twins want him as a low-risk house of cards in the No. 5 spot for someone like Fernando Romero or Stephen Gonsalves to push aside six weeks into the season, but it’s at least worth taking a deep dive to see if there’s something in there.
Now with that said, this move — especially the cost — shouldn’t prevent the Twins from frying bigger fish. That includes Dallas Keuchel on the high end, Gio Gonzalez in the middle and maybe even Wade Miley on the lower end.
This is a fine signing if it’s cut from the mold of Anibal Sanchez — whose presence didn’t prevent them from signing Lance Lynn — but if it’s just this for pitchers added in the rotation this winter, it’s completely understandable if Twins fans aren’t OK with that.
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