Warne Out: How Perez Used His Newfound Cutter to Dominate the Houston Astros

Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Every good idea is bound to be copied — even if it doesn’t seem that brilliant to begin with.

Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole walked the first two batters he faced on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins, then flirted with a no-hitter the rest of the night. Twins lefty Martin Perez went walk, single and fly ball to the base of the fence to start his night on Wednesday, then went on to spin eight shutout innings against a lineup he’s seen a lot of in recent years.


If that wasn’t impressive enough, it was an entirely right-handed lineup that Perez faced on Wednesday night, yet the lefty was undeterred, as he fanned seven batters, walked just two and scattered four hits to lower his season ERA to 3.41 on the season.

Sixty-six of the 100 pitches Perez threw went for strikes, as he started 19 of the 29 batters he faced with strike one.

Here’s what I saw

The turning point

Source: FanGraphs

Mitch Garver was hit by the third pitch he saw to open the third inning, and two pitches later trotted home on a home run from Jonathan Schoop that was an absolute monster mash.

Byron Buxton followed up with a single, stole second, moved to third on a grounder and scored on Jorge Polanco‘s infield single, and the Twins were in business with a 3-0 lead that held up the rest of the night due to Perez’s terrific pitching.

Perez was absolutely masterful

Outside of the beginning of the game, Perez never seemed to be in any sort of danger as he effectively mixed mid-90s heat with a handful of changeups and his trademark cutter. His fastball peaked at 96.3 mph, while the cutter touched as high as 95.7 — possibly a misclassification — with five of his seven swinging strikes.

May 1, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Martin Perez (33) delivers a pitch during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The cutter was especially good for Perez — and it’s a pitch he credited Jake Odorizzi with helping him learn.

“I asked him how he throws his cutter,” Perez said. “He showed me the grip and I started throwing because I didn’t need to do too much. I don’t need to move my hand too much, I just throw it like a fastball hard inside. It’s got a natural movement.”

Manager Rocco Baldelli spoke of the pitch, which was largely a slider that Perez shortened up.

“He truly has the ability to do different things with the baseball,” Baldelli said. “He can ride the fastball, he can sink the fastball and he can cut the fastball. He does them all well. It gives us the opportunity to attack hitters in different ways. And he’s taken to it really well. He’s still probably thinking about it a lot and learning things about himself. It’s impressive watching a guy make an adjustment like that. But the cutter, when he’s throwing it well and he’s commanding it the way he commanded it tonight, it is a weapon for him for sure.”

Perez also credit his agent Felix Olivo with the decision to scrap the slider for the cutter.

“I was talking a lot with my agent and he always said, ‘Yeah, it’ll be good for you and I always said ‘No. Why do I need it?’ I got a lot of ground balls and a lot of double plays and my changeup is a good pitch too. I don’t need to have another pitch.’ This year — new year, new team. I told him ‘I think you’re right so let’s try something different.’ It worked for me and I think it’s a good idea to start throwing cutters.”

Whatever the reason, Perez has used the pitch dominantly. Fangraphs lists pitches by their linear weights values, and Perez’s cutter has been worth 10.3 runs above average — far and away the best mark in the league.

Only Houston’s Wade Miley (6.1 runs) is even halfway to where Perez is.

How dominant has the pitch been in easier to understand terms?

Opposing batters are hitting just .100/.151/.120 against the pitch with a 47.4 percent groundball rate and a whiff rate of 14.4 percent.

That’s almost the perfect pitch.

Schoop hit one of the longest home runs in Target Field history

Schoop’s bomb off Astros starter Collin McHugh was the 1,500th in Target Field history, and reached the third deck in left field — traveling a reported 465 feet from home plate.

Schoop finished the night hitting .269/.313/.516 for the season — a 118 wRC+ which would be the second-best in his career after the 2017 season (122).

May 1, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins infielder Jonathan Schoop (16) hits a home run during the third inning against the Houston Astrosat Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
The top and bottom of the order carried the water for the Twins in this one

Eddie Rosario, C.J. Cron, Marwin Gonzalez and Mitch Garver hit 4-7 and combined to go 0 for 12 with two strikeouts and a walk, which the rest of the offense was 7 for 18. In addition to Schoop’s homer, the Twins got doubles from Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler and Polanco, and finished the night 3 for 8 with runners in scoring position and only three runners left on base.

May 1, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) slides into home plate to score a run on a hit by shortstop Jorge Polanco (not pictured) during the third inning against the Houston Astros at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Notes & Quotes

  • Before Thursday’s game, the Twins placed reliever Adalberto Mejia on the 10-day injured list with a strained left calf and purchased the contract of right-hander Mike Morin from Triple-A Rochester. Morin, who turns 28 on Friday, was born in Andover and has posted a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings with the Red Wings this season. Over that stretch, Morin posted 12 strikeouts with just three walks and a WHIP of 1.17.
  • The Twins are 30-33 all-time against the Astros, but have a chance to win the season series (3-3) for the first time since 2013 with a win on Thursday.
  • Polanco’s multi-hit game was his ninth of the season.
  • Baldelli on which part of Perez’s game was the most impressive in Wednesday’s win: “They all are. Everything he did tonight. You couldn’t hope to see anything more from him tonight.”
  • Baldelli on if he considered sending Perez back out for the ninth: “Just based on the circumstances and everything, I really didn’t think about it. I think he got us to a great spot in the game. He did everything absolutely everything that he could do out there to put us in position to win and I think for the ninth just where he was at in his start, just all the variables putting into play, it was just time to get the bullpen in there. When you have a guy that’s throwing the ball like that, he makes you really want to think about letting him continue doing what he’s doing but I think it was probably the right time.”
  • Perez on beating not only an all-righty Astros lineup, but one he’s seen a lot as a former AL West denizen: “I feel great. They got me pretty good in the last two years. Today I just came to the stadium, and when I woke up, I just said, ‘I need to stay focused and we need this game.’ I know the team needed me to do my job today. I did what I had to do and believed I would throw the pitch where I wanted it. Just hit the glove. And it was an amazing game.”
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