Back in my former life, I worked as a writer/editor at Baseball America. And in 2005, I was responsible for ranking the top 10 prospects in the Mets' organization for a November issue.
The Mets' farm system was pretty underwhelming at the time, and there was one prospect who no one could seem to figure out: Yusmeiro Petit.
See, if you looked at a stat sheet, Petit was as dominant as any pitcher in the minors, striking out 200 batters in 139 1/3 innings across three levels in 2004. But if you talked to scouts, they always said: "I don't know how he does it."
And if you watched Petit come within one out of a perfect game on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, you probably thought to yourself at some point: "I don't know how he's doing this."
Similar to his repertoire in 2005, Petit's fastball topped out at about 88 mph on Friday night. That's fast enough to get the flux capacitor to work, but usually not anywhere close to a velocity that will strike fear in the opposition. He has a respectable slider and changeup, but nothing that is going to buckle any hitter's knees.
You hear scouts talk a lot about "profiles," and Petit's profile is that of the classic tweener: the right-hander who isn't particularly tall and who doesn't throw particularly hard, but who commands his fastball well enough to dominate minor league hitters. Only once in a generation does that pitcher turns into Greg Maddux, but he usually turns into, well, Yusmeiro Petit.
The D-backs were clearly fooled by the 28-year-old on Friday, as he was right around the zone with everything, needing just 95 pitches to get through nine innings while striking out seven. Those in the Mets' organization who used to believe Petit could become a dominant pitcher probably once dreamed of nights like this.
Of course, Petit never got the chance to prove himself in New York, as right after I ranked him right behind Lastings Milledge (remember him?) as the No. 2 prospect in the Mets' system in that 2005 issue, he was the centerpiece of the trade with the Marlins that brought Carlos Delgado to Flushing. (Fun fact: Philip Humber, who threw the most unlikely perfect game in history in 2012, was No. 5 on that prospect list.)
Turned out the Mets were wise to sell high on Petit, as his stuff was an illusion after all. Whatever it was that worked on hitters in the minors -- one scout theorized that his gut allowed him to hide the ball better -- did not work in the majors. Since that trade, Petit bounced around from the Marlins to the D-backs to the Mariners and then to the Giants, with a stop in the Mexican league in 2011 before he got to San Francisco. He had a 5.37 ERA in 251 1/3 major league innings before tonight.
Most likely, Friday will probably be the high point of Petit's career. But he is in the midst of a very good year. He now has a 2.05 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, with 30 strikeouts and four walks, which doesn't look out of place next to his 2004 stat line. So maybe he has figured something out, or maybe his gut is fooling batters again. Who knows.
But if this turns out to be just a small-sample-size blip, he'll always have this near-perfect game, and those years he spent befuddling evaluators across MLB.
Here’s a little more background on just how unlikely Petit’s near perfect game was:
Just a reminder that the Giants DFA's Petit on July 28 to make room for Guillermo Moscoso.
— Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders) September 7, 2013
I saw Petit pitch this spring in Scottsdale. He gave up 8 runs and got 5 outs against a Royals lineup with two legitimate regulars.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) September 7, 2013