SweetSpot: Oliver Perez
As Mariano Rivera showed on Sunday, even the best closers suffer a blown save from time to time. While the two-run home run Adam Jones hit off Rivera resulted in Rivera's second blown save, the Yankees' closer is also allowing more than a hit per inning for the first season since his rookie year in 1995. While Mariano isn't quite the Mariano of years past, he's still pretty good and the New York Yankees are still comfortable with their late-inning bullpen duo of David Robertson and Rivera.
Elsewhere, however, many bullpen issues exist. While most teams would love to add a starting pitcher or a better bat at the trade deadline, the easiest area to acquire help is in the pen. Don't be disappointed or surprised if that's the only move your favorite team makes. Buyer beware though: Relief pitchers are notoriously volatile and trades for relief help can have immediate impact ... or dire consequences for the future.
The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were a positive trade deadline bullpen story. They traded Colby Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays and acquired starter Edwin Jackson plus relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski. A bullpen that had been a problem area suddenly had depth. When Jason Motte took over as closer in September, the pen got hot and helped carry the Cards to a World Series title.
The 2003 Marlins were another success story -- of sorts. They had a shaky closer in Braden Looper, so they traded for Ugueth Urbina, who posted a 1.41 ERA with six saves in 38.1 innings. They also signed Chad Fox in early August and he sported a 2.14 ERA in 25.1 innings down the stretch. The Marlins did go on to win the World Series, but Urbina cost them young first base prospect Adrian Gonzalez. Flags forever, though, right? Even in Miami.
But bullpen trades can also backfire. The Texas Rangers acquired Koji Uehara from the Baltimore Orioles to help their 2011 playoff run. After allowing five home runs in 18 innings, and then three more in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Uehara didn't even make the Rangers' World Series roster. Oh, and the price to get him: Chris Davis. (OK, maybe not Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell, but imagine the Rangers with Davis in their lineup right now.) Perhaps the most notorious relief deadline trade -- the Andersen/Bagwell deal actually happened in August -- occurred in 1997, when the Seattle Mariners acquired closer Heathcliff Slocumb (0-5 with a 5.79 ERA at the time of the trade) from the Boston Red Sox for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. The Mariners did win the division but lost in the first round of the playoffs. Do-over, please?
(And sometimes minor deals can take on larger ramifications the following season, such as the St. Louis Cardinals acquiring Edward Mujica last year or the Blue Jays getting Steve Delabar for Eric Thames.)
OK, all that said, here are 10 bullpen issues worth looking at between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
1. Do the Orioles stick with Jim Johnson as closer?
Two days after blowing his sixth save, Johnson followed Rivera's ninth inning with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth to record his MLB-leading 30th save. Of course, that "MLB-leading" part is misleading, as Johnson has those six blown saves and seven losses to go with a 3.92 ERA. Buck Showalter is obviously sticking with Johnson for now, but after losing just one game heading into the ninth inning last year, the Orioles already have lost seven. Some have called for Tommy Hunter to get a chance, but he has allowed seven home runs and a .511 slugging percentage to left-handed batters. Looks like the O's will live and die with Johnson.
2. Do the Tigers trade for Jonathan Papelbon?
Papelbon is the one top-tier closer who may be out there, but is he worth the prospect price tag and contract? I don't think so. He hasn't exactly been lights-out this year with four blown saves in 22 chances, despite good numbers otherwise. I understand the desire to believe Papelbon could be a difference-maker, but this could be the classic case of overstating the value of a closer. You know what Papelbon's save percentage is this year when entering with a one-run lead? Five for nine. Does that sound like a guy who is really any better of a bet than Joaquin Benoit or Drew Smyly?
3. Who makes the mistake of trading for Kevin Gregg?
Gregg blew his second save on Sunday but is 15-for-17 with a 1.78 ERA. The Cubs will trade him somewhere but Gregg looks like the classic example of the volatile reliever who probably won't help all that much. Is the veteran really a different pitcher from the guy who had a 4.12 ERA the past three seasons while averaging over five walks per nine innings? Maybe, but do you want to be the team to take the chance?
4. Should the Pirates trade for a reliever?
The Pittsburgh bullpen has been outstanding with a 2.91 ERA, second in the majors only to Atlanta's 2.72 mark. The Pirates, however, have also pitched the second-most relief innings. As good as Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson and company have been, the Pirates should look to add some depth here. They wouldn't have to give up a top prospect to acquire somebody like Seattle's Oliver Perez (1.39 ERA, 46 K's in 32.1 innings).
5. Who ends up as Arizona's closer?
The depth in their pen was supposed to be a strength for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but instead J.J. Putz and Heath Bell have both blown up closing games and David Hernandez, so dominant a year ago, has struggled as the eighth-inning guy (4.70 ERA, seven home runs). Josh Collmenter has been extremely valuable as a long man (4-1, 2.42 ERA). Fine, use him as a -- get this! -- multi-inning closer. Remember them?
6. Which contending team should be most worried about its bullpen?
Well, the Los Angeles Dodgers did just actually trade for Carlos Marmol (although they sent him to the minors). I'd be a little worried about the Indians. The pen is 16-8 so far but with a 4.22 ERA that ranks 26th in the majors and has especially struggled against left-handed hitters (.781 OPS allowed). Perez would be a good fit here or maybe Matt Thornton of the Chicago White Sox.
7. Who is the best reliever who may be available?
Glen Perkins just made his first All-Star team and deservedly so with a 1.93 ERA and .159 average allowed. Perkins is signed to a very team-friendly deal through 2016 ($3.75 million in 2014 and 2015 with a $4.5 million team option in 2016), so he won't come cheap. I doubt the Twins trade him, but if they do, he's the guy I'd want if you're looking for a closer.
8. Which contending teams feel best about their bullpens?
I'd say the Cardinals and Rangers. The Rangers just got Joakim Soria back to an already deep pen and the Cardinals have the great 1-2 duo of Trevor Rosenthal and Mujica, who have combined for 94 strikeouts and 11 walks in 79.1 innings, and the third-best overall bullpen ERA in the majors.
9. What about the Red Sox?
If the Tigers have bullpen issues, then don't the Red Sox? They have a higher ERA, higher batting average and higher slugging percentage allowed than the Tigers. Buster Olney mentioned the possibility of Papelbon going back to Boston during the Sunday night game, although the price is extremely high right now. What do you think, Red Sox Nation?
10. Does Rivera pitch one more time in the postseason?
I'm going with no. But it won't be his fault the Yankees miss the playoffs for just the second time in his 19-year career.
But this tournament isn't for fans who so willingly dismiss it. It's not even so much for fans in the United States, who are more focused on their professional teams or the impending NCAA basketball tournament. Earlier in the day, MLB reported that one-third of all television sets in Japan had watched the first-round games involving the Japanese team. I'm sure its dramatic comeback win over Taiwan on Friday morning rated even higher. Fans in Puerto Rico cheered on their team to a victory over Spain. Fans in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic care intensely about how their teams fare.
And Chase Field in Phoenix was nearly full for Friday's Mexico-U.S. game -- with maybe half that crowd rooting for Mexico. Those fans certainly cared that Mexico pulled off the huge 5-2 upset victory, essentially avoiding elimination after Thursday's heartbreaking ninth-inning loss to Italy. The players on the Mexican team certainly cared.
The Mexico lineup is pretty weak outside of Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Jorge Cantu hit fifth and he spent all of last year in Triple-A. Karim Garcia is still around and he hasn't played in the majors since 2004. But R.A. Dickey's knuckleball wasn't effective, a leadoff bloop single led to two runs in the first inning and Gonzalez torched a 73 mph knuckler to center field for a two-run homer in the third.
- Pool D is really interesting now. It could all come down to run differential to see which two teams advance to the second round. If we assume the U.S. beats Italy on Saturday, and the U.S. and Mexico both beat Canada, then Italy, the U.S. and Mexico all finish 2-1. But Italy mercy-ruled Canada in a 14-4 victory, putting pressure on the U.S. lineup to do some damage in its next two games. The eighth inning could prove a key for the U.S., as Tim Collins and Steve Cishek worked out of a second-and-third, nobody-out jam.
- After Dickey's performance, fans will be crying that Verlander or Kershaw or David Price aren't here. First off, Dickey wanted to be here and those guys didn't. Second, Dickey earned his invite as much as those guys would have, coming off his National League Cy Young Award. He just didn't have a good night. That's what happens in a tournament, not much different than what happens in the postseason: Anything can happen.
- Joe Torre’s lineup left a little to be desired. He hit Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips 1-2, because they're fast and they hit at the top of the order for their regular teams. He hit Eric Hosmer sixth, pushing Giancarlo Stanton -- who only led the NL in slugging percentage -- all the way down to seventh, and Adam Jones, he of the 32 home runs last year, batting eighth. Stanton and Jones are better hitters than Rollins, Phillips and Hosmer. Torre might have been playing the hot hand with Hosmer, who had hit .391 in spring training with the Royals, and maybe he wanted to spread out his three left-handed hitters (switch-hitter Rollins, Joe Mauer and Hosmer). Still, a little more creativity would have had something like David Wright, Mauer, Ryan Braun, Stanton, Jones, Rollins, Phillips, Hosmer and catcher J.P. Arencibia.
- Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz had two key at-bats for Mexico. In the first inning, he delivered a sacrifice fly that was also deep enough to move Ramiro Pena to third, and Pena scored on Gonzalez's sac fly. In the fifth, after Eduardo Arredondo slapped an Ichiro-like double down the left-field line off Twins closer Glen Perkins and was bunted to third, Cruz delivered another sac fly.
- Pitchers are allowed a maximum of 65 pitches in first-round games, but Yovani Gallardo was on a 50-pitch limit for Mexico. He looked sharp, allowing two hits and striking out four in 3.1 innings, but that meant Mexico had to rely on its bullpen, a day after using four relievers in that 6-5 loss to Italy. Royals righty Luis Mendoza escaped a jam in the fifth after walking the first two batters, striking out Arencibia on a nice 0-2 slider and then retiring Rollins and Phillips on ground balls. Oliver Perez got a key out in the sixth and Oscar Villareal pitched a scoreless seventh. The U.S. scored once off Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas in the eighth, and Giants closer Sergio Romo closed it out.
- The Giants were undoubtedly nervous seeing Romo come in. They had apparently requested that Romo not appear in consecutive games, and manager Bruce Bochy has always been very cautious with his use of Romo. He threw 26 pitches Thursday, but this was a must-win game for Mexico. Saving him for Saturday's game against Canada doesn't make any sense if you lose this game. A reliever can't appear three consecutive days, so Romo is unavailable now for Canada.
- Ryan Vogelsong starts for the U.S. against Italy, and while the Italian team is mostly comprised of U.S.-born players -- including several major leaguers -- they will start an actual pitcher from Italy: Luca Panerati, a left-hander who was in the Reds' system from 2008-11, never advancing past Class A. Last year, he pitched in the Italian Baseball League. Now he gets to face a team of the best players in the world. This is what the World Baseball Classic is all about.
I didn't search for long before finding this season: Rick Wilkins in 1993. A third-year catcher in '93, Wilkins had hit well enough after a promotion from the minors in '92 to win the job for '93. Even the most optimistic of Cubs fans couldn't have expected his season: .303/.376/.561, with 30 home runs in 446 at-bats. The next season, he hit .227 with seven homers; then he fell to .203 with seven homers and the Cubs shipped him out of town. Here's what's interesting: Even though Wilkins was hitting .191, the Cubs acquired Luis Gonzalez in that deal. The same Gonzalez who would eventually find his way to Arizona, where he would hit 57 home runs in 2001.
OK, back to Wilkins, Baseball-Reference WAR rates his '93 season as the best in Cubs history by a catcher. You know, a funny thing happened from 1992 to 1993. Yes, there were two expansion teams. But that alone doesn't explain the jump in offense: Run scoring went from 4.12 per game to 4.60, with the major league batting average increasing from .256 to .265 and the slugging percentage from .377 to .403. Lively ball? Everybody started using steroids at once? Wilkins was part of the offensive explosion.
There's Jack Armstrong, who started the All-Star Game in 1990 in his first full season in the majors but wasn't even in the Reds' playoff rotation by the end of the season, but I'm going with Pete Schourek. The Reds won the NL Central title in 1995 and Schourek was a big reason why, going 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA and finishing second in the Cy Young vote to a guy named Maddux. Two years earlier, Schourek had gone 5-12 with a 5.96 ERA for the Mets. Schourek's season wasn't a complete fluke, as he had a 160/45 strikeout/walk ratio and a .271 average on balls in play that, while low, wasn't ridiculous or anything. He was a good pitcher, at least for that one season. He was never really completely healthy after that (three elbow surgeries) and pitched through 2001, but usually ineffectively.
Bill Hall is still floating around the majors (barely), essentially because he had a great season back in 2006. As Milwaukee's shortstop that year he hit .270 with 35 home runs -- the only shortstops in the past 50 years to hit more home runs in a season are Alex Rodriguez, Rico Petrocelli and Rich Aurilia. It proved to be a fluke season as Hall combined for 29 home runs the next two seasons and drifted into journeyman status, going from Milwaukee to Seattle to Boston to Houston to San Francisco and to Baltimore in 2012 (for seven games).
Here are Oliver Perez's ERAs from 2002 through 2010: 3.50, 5.47, 2.98, 5.85, 6.55, 3.56, 4.22, 6.82, 6.82. One of those is most unlike the others. While Perez had a couple decent seasons with the Mets, his 2004 season with the Pirates stands out like that patch of white on Rasheed Wallace's hair. He went 12-10 with that 2.98 ERA, striking out 239 batters in 196 innings. It was his age-22 season, and the Pirates believed they had a staff ace in the making. Instead, Perez was never able to harness his control in Pittsburgh. He re-emerged in the Mariners' bullpen last year, and since he's still just 31 might have a long career as a lefty reliever.
St. Louis Cardinals
How about Fernando Tatis? In 1999, Tatis hit .298 with 34 home runs, 107 RBIs, 104 runs, and .404 OBP. Not a bad season for a 24-year-old third baseman. That April, he accomplished one of the most amazing feats in major league history, hitting two grand slams in one inning (both off Chan Ho Park). He battled various ailments, spent 2004 and 2005 out of the majors, and while he returned for a couple decent seasons as a utility guy with the Mets in 2009 and 2010, that 1999 season remains his big shining moment.
The stakes have risen in the Dominican League’s semi-final round-robin tournament between the Aguilas Cibaeñas, Escogido Leones, Licey Tigres and Cibao Gigantes. Several veteran major leaguers have entered the fray, led by Miguel Tejada, who hit two doubles in his debut with the Aguilas.
The Aguilas also reinforced their outfield with newly signed Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss, whom Aguilas manager Felix Fermin is hoping will bring the left-handed power the team has lacked all season, as well as Edwin Encarnacion, who played the past five regular-season games, but has only seen action in one of the first four round-robin games. Starting pitcher Fausto Carmona has also joined the Aguilas for the postseason.
Tejada’s two doubles led to a 6-0 win against Licey to keep pace with Escogido, which reinforced its rotation by welcoming Francisco Liriano and shored up the bullpen with Fernando Rodney, who saved the game in his Leones debut. Led by Pedro Florimon, Fernando Tatis, Julio Lugo and Andy Dirks, the Leones are batting a collective .350 through the first three games of the semifinal round robin.
Ugueto steals home, helping Caribes earn playoff berth
Luis Ugueto stole home in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Lara Cardinals, sending the Anzoategui Caribes into the postseason to join the Aragua Tigres, La Guaira Tiburones, Zulia Aguilas and Magallanes Navegantes in the five-team round robin. Ugueto last played in the major leagues in 2003 with the Seattle Mariners, and was predominantly used a pinch-runner all season. But his late-inning feat gave the Caribes their second consecutive postseason berth.
Elsewhere in Venezuela, Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve completed an impressive regular season for Magallanes, finishing among the league’s leaders in batting average (.339), at-bats (242), runs scored (32), hits (82), doubles (18), total bases (110) and RBIs (35), making him one of the leading candidates for MVP along with teammate Jesus Flores and La Guaira’s Gregor Blanco.
Among the pitchers, Zulia’s Austin Bibens-Dirkx led the league in victories with a 7-3 mark with an ERA of 2.19, and Renyel Pinto finished at 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 73 in 77.2 innings pitched. Magallanes’ Eric Junge led the league in ERA with a 1.53, putting together a 4-1 mark in 10 starts.
Madera, Canizares lead hitters in the Mexican League
Former Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles farmhand Sandy Madera was crowned the batting champion in the Mexican Pacific League after batting .366 in 49 games with the Los Mochis Cañeros to edge out Navojoa Mayos outfielder Kraig Binick in the last three days of play.
Madera’s impressive offensive year did not help Los Mochis as the Cañeros missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker against the Navojoa Mayos, who had won their particular regular-season series. The Mazatlan Venados, who had made the playoffs each of the past 11 seasons, were the other team eliminated from semifinal play, which begins on Jan. 1 with Navojoa facing Culiacan, Hermosillo at Mexicali and Guasave at Ciudad Obregon. Former Cuban national team player Barbaro Canizares, Obregon's first baseman, finished as the regular season home run king with 20 in 65 games.
In another MPL note, several veteran free agent pitchers finished the regular season with respectable showings as they seek spring training invitations. Former New York Mets pitcher Oliver Perez has 23 relief appearances with the Culiacan Tomateros and had an ERA of 0.63 in 14 1/3 innings pitched. Former Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers prospect Francisco Campos, now 38, led the MPL in strikeouts with 74 over 82 innings while putting together an 8-2 record for Culiacan.
Feliciano leads Mayaguez’s charge into the playoffs
Jesus Feliciano was one home run shy from the hitting for the cycle, leading the Mayaguez Indios to a 6-4 win against the Carolina Gigantes on Friday and clinching the second of the three playoffs spots in the Puerto Rican league.
The defending champion Caguas Criollos had clinched a berth last week while Carolina’s loss to Mayaguez placed it in a tough spot of having to sweep its last three games to edge the Ponce Leones for the final playoff berth.
Feliciano, a free agent who spent part of eight seasons with the New York Mets, has teamed up with Milwaukee Brewers prospect Martin Maldonado and former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Randy Ruiz to lead the charge for Mayaguez, which is looking for its first title since the 2009-10 season.
Meanwhile, the fledgling Puerto Rican league received a bit of good news this week as news spread about the possible return of the San Juan Senadores, who did not play this season after negotiations with the City of San Juan for the lease of San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium were unsuccessful.
These are the veterans not on teams’ 40-man rosters who have used up all six of their contract renewals with their original organization or whose one-year contracts have run out. As Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reported on Friday, there are more than 530 minor-league free agents, but now there's over 600 available.
Admittedly, most of these guys are going to wind up still beating the bushes after getting no more than a spring-training invite. Their value is usually in the depth they can provide a team -- a well-run organization makes sure it has big league-ready depth available at Triple-A, because everyone will have to deal with injuries at one point or another.
But a handful of these guys will get big-league deals, and more will be pursued every bit as aggressively as major league free agents. Even if they’re signed to non-roster deals, more than a few can anticipate winning jobs in spring training and getting added to the 40-man roster before Opening Day.
Starting with the outfielders available, more than a few guys with serious big-league experience are available: Scott Podsednik, Fred Lewis, Jay Gibbons, Ryan Langerhans and Reggie Willits, for example. Lewis could still prove a useful fourth outfielder in a platoon role; he clearly struggled getting fewer at-bats as a player on Dusty Baker’s bench with the Reds.
There are also some former highly-touted prospects in the mix, notably Felix Pie and Lastings Milledge. Like Lewis, Pie flopped in a part-time role, but come the opening of camps next spring, he makes for a nifty stealth alternative for teams looking for a regular center fielder, especially considering he’ll be just 27 years old. Milledge failed to go nuts at the plate in a full season with Triple-A Charlotte (.295/.364/.441), but he’s also heading into his age-27 season -- as a bargain pickup, he might surprise, but if he doesn’t the very small expense is easy enough for most teams to absorb.
Beyond the outfielders, other names worth noting at a few positions:
Catcher: From among the more catch-and-throw types, Rob Johnson, Dusty Brown and Dusty Ryan, and Cole Armstrong (guys who bat lefty are always a little interesting); for bat-first/only types, Max Ramirez and Jake Fox are out there. The guy who might be especially interesting to check out is Mark Wagner, back from a hamate bone injury and perhaps finally ready to live up to the hype he once got in the Red Sox system.
Infield corners: Jorge Cantu and Kevin Kouzmanoff are the veterans with some success on their track records, while Andy LaRoche, Brandon Wood and Jeff Clement might represent the best of the former blue chippers who’ve faded like an old pair of Levi’s. I’m interested in seeing where the always-fragile Nick Johnson lands.
Middle infield: If you’re wondering if this pool of talent holds lots of alternatives for teams unwilling to chase the big-names shortstops on the market, the answer’s no. Chin-lung Hu might be worth a look if you think all of the weirdness of the last two years is behind him -- between injuries, an attempt to convert to switch-hitting, and a case of the yips on throwing, clearly there’s a lot that has gone wrong. At the keystone, veterans such as Felipe Lopez, Bill Hall and Kevin Frandsen are available.
Starting pitchers: Armando Galarraga might be a nice guy for a team with a big outfield and distant fences to take a chance on; going to Phoenix from Detroit wasn’t going to be a good fit. Laugh if you like, but somebody’s going to take a look at Oliver Perez now that his contract’s a thing of the past. Extreme strike-throwers like Matt Torra and Will Inman are available; while they’re not great bets for extended success, but at the back end of big-league rotations all sorts of people can get a look.
Relievers: Jason Bulger and Shane Lindsay both cook with gas, while for ex-famous veteran types you’ve got names like Robinson Tejeda, Vinnie Chulk and Lance Cormier to choose from. I’m curious to see where Sam Deduno winds up, given a career minor-league strikeout rate of 9.6 K/9. For lefties, you’re no doubt already familiar with Hideki Okajima and Dennys Reyes, but I’d be more interested in seeing where the Giants’ Alex Hinshaw and his swing-and-miss stuff winds up; also a healed-up Donald Veal.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
1. ESPN contributor and former GM Jim Bowden makes his Baseball Today debut, discussing many topics, including the frailty of closers, Evan Longoria leading off and how the Buster Posey collision should have been avoided. That answer might surprise you!
2. Mark discusses a landmark Memorial Day around the big leagues, and whether weather might adjust statistics from here on out.
3. It's Power Rankings day, and let's just say one of us regrets jumping on the Cleveland Indians bandwagon. I should have known better! We list our top 10 and bottom five.
4. How is a pair of pants like Oliver Perez? I concede this is an odd one, but hang with us and you'll understand.
5. The Tuesday night schedule is full of young hurlers with bright futures, but we also discuss the ESPN battle in St. Louis. Are you taking Ryan Vogelsong or Chris Carpenter. Think about it ...
Plus: Excellent emails, brothers hitting home runs, how the umpires added to the Twins' discontent, today's birthdays, the Royals change closers and Bartolo Colon just keeps on keepin' on. All this and more in a packed Baseball Today podcast for Tuesday!
That $12 million was (and is) going to have to be paid to Perez whether he pitched to a single batter in 2011. It's the very definition of a sunk cost, a cost that has already been incurred and, importantly, cannot be recovered and should not influence future decisions. The question is only whether Perez can help the Mets this year. Alderson made the judgment -- a wise decision, by all accounts -- that Perez was washed up, so he cut bait. More teams should follow that example.
A sidenote: Adam Rubin has a nice list of some other absurd New York contracts that the club has been forced to swallow in years past. (You Mets fans might want to avoid looking at that list).
We can close the door on the Perez era in New York, but what to make of his tenure in the Big Apple? Let's start here:
despite garnering a somewhat poor reputation ("He's not a team player!" -- whatever that means), Perez said all the right things upon his release today:
"When they told me, I almost knew what they were going to tell me," Perez said inside the clubhouse at the team's spring training complex after shaking hands with teammates. "It's one of those times you don't feel great, but I don't want to quit."
Perez indicated he believed he got a fair shot from the Mets' new regime.
"I think they gave me an opportunity," he said. "They were fair with me when I came here. 'We're going to give you an opportunity to be a starter.' I didn't do anything great. They moved me to the bullpen trying to be a lefty specialist. And the last game, that was a real horrible job."
For some time now, Perez has been an enigma, and that's only magnified by the unique pressures of playing in New York. He's a conundrum, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce. Perez has shown signs of brilliance, and he has shown signs that the strike zone is only a vague concept to him.
As a 22 year-old with the Pirates in 2004, Perez looked like a star on the rise. He posted a 12-10 record with a 2.98 ERA in 30 starts (196 innings); his ERA+ was 145 and he was a 4.5 WAR player. Importantly, Perez led the league in K/9 percentage (remember that). There isn't a team in the league that wouldn't want a player who could put up that line.
The next two seasons were ... well, they were just bad, but the Mets acquired Perez at the 2006 trade deadline (along with Roberto Hernandez, in exchange for Xavier Nady). Perez's first full season in New York, 2007, gave many hope that the left-hander was ready to emerge as a 25 year-old. Ollie went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA and a 121 ERA+. After a so-so 2008, and despite serious warning signs (Perez led the league in walks issued), Minaya signed Perez to a lucrative three-year, $36 million deal, hoping that Perez would be able to get a handle on his much-documented control problems.
Yeah, that didn't happen. Over the first two years of that contract, Perez was nothing short of awful. He went 3-9 with a 6.81 ERA and his control cratered, walking nearly 8 batters per nine innings. Combine that with the fact that Perez has never again approached strikeout numbers like he had shown as a 22 year-old wunderkind, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Perez will likely catch on somewhere; you can't get rid of a left-handed pitcher that easily. If he can't figure out some way to get a ball in the vicinity of the strike zone, however, we might have seen the last of him in the big leagues.
Chad Dotson writes Redleg Nation, a blog about the Cincinnati Reds. Follow him on Twitter.
Actually, yeah. You can. He's behaving selfishly and foolishly. Welcome to the club. But you can also blame the owners for allowing such a thing into the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The CBA was fairly negotiated, and occasionally the players will take advantage of its various provisions. So what should the Mets do now, with Perez and his contract that owes him another $12 million in 2011? Howie Rose thinks they might have to just release him:
It’s clear that his own teammates are fed up with him and his overtly selfish ways, so the Mets may have no choice but to eat the remainder of his contract, and simply move on. They have to pay him anyway, and once a player begins to affect the well-being of his own clubhouse, it’s really time to cut the cord. The odds against his ever again becoming a serviceable big league pitcher are prohibitive, so it really serves no purpose to keep him around just to save face.
What the owners really need to do is revisit this provision of the CBA during the next round of negotiations. It is rather astounding that they ever agreed to a system which prevents them from exhausting every conceivable method of rehabilitating a struggling player. This is not about getting out from under an onerous contract. It’s about having the right to find any way possible to get at least a fraction of their money’s worth, whether the petulant, overpaid player likes it or not.
Look, whatever the Mets do, it's not likely that Perez will ever pitch effectively again. He hasn't pitched effectively since the second half of the 2008 season, and even then he was walking four or five batters per nine innings. But it's hard to see how he'll pitch effectively if he doesn't either 1) discover that he's injured, and get healthy, or 2) pitch a ton of innings and work his way out of this thing. And neither of those things will happen as long as he's buried in the back of the Mets' bullpen.
Everybody knows this. Nobody can do anything about it. Which leaves everybody hoping for some sort of miracle.
Good luck with that.
(Hat tip: BTF's Newsstand)
- [Hisanori] Takahashi seems to be a good choice for several reasons, not the least of which is that he has been effective. Coming into Saturday, he had a 3-1 record and a 2.74 earned run average. And the Mets could exchange him with Perez and not have to make a roster move.
The two leading minor league candidates are Pat Misch and R. A. Dickey. Misch played Saturday for Class AAA Buffalo and threw 91 pitches, which almost certainly eliminates him for consideration because he would have to come back on short rest. Dickey throws a knuckleball, and it may not be practical to ask catchers Rod Barajas or Henry Blanco to catch a knuckleball pitcher without recent practice.
If the Mets can get through the next few games without using Takahashi in long relief -- an inning Saturday or Sunday would not be a problem -- he will be in a good position to start.
But of course it's the Mets, so Takahashi pitched three innings Sunday after Jonathan Niese aggravated an old (and serious) hamstring problem in the third inning. Which apparently leaves the Mets looking at Dickey, or perhaps reliever Raul Valdes.
I hesitate to say it just doesn't matter, because: 1) the Mets aren't officially dead yet; and 2) if they do come back to life (in the postseason chase), they'll need almost every win they can possibly get. I don't believe in punting games in May as long as there's a shred of hope for September.
But we're approaching Miracle Territory now.
Hey, I like Ike and I get Carter. Bay and Jose and Frenchy might actually start hitting, one of these months. I believe the Mets will finish the season in the upper half of the National League, scoring-wise. But you can't win 90 games without three or four reliably effective starting pitchers. Right now the Mets have two, with little real hope for more.
Obviously, the Mets’ signing of Oliver Perez has not worked out. But it should be kept in mind that the other pitcher the Mets were weighing at the time was Derek Lowe. The Mets refused to give more than a three-year offer for Lowe, who instead signed with Atlanta for four years at $60 million. The Mets heard familiar refrains about being cheap and ending up with at three years at $36 million because of that.
But since becoming a Brave, Lowe has shown signs of decline with his 37th birthday approaching in June. He has a good record with Atlanta at 18-11. But his ERA in his 38 Braves starts is 4.73, and opponents have hit .298 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .444 slugging percentage.
I'm not sure if, "Gee, the other guy we wanted has been almost as bad" is a great defense. Isn't the right answer to not spend a huge amount of money on either of them?
In his four years with the Dodgers, Lowe's ERA was 3.59, with a 2.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In those 38 starts for Atlanta, that 4.73 ERA is accompanied by a 1.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's still keeping the ball down -- his home-run rate has been virtually the same with the Braves as it was with the Dodgers -- but his walks are up and his strikeouts are down, and the result is an innings-eater with a high ERA.
Maybe he'll turn it around, but we're 217 innings into his tenure. And of course there are a lot more innings to come, with Lowe under contract (for big dough) through 2012.
So, yeah: the Mets were probably right about Derek Lowe. But they were probably wrong about Oliver Perez, who led the National League in walks the season before he got his current deal, and is well on his way to leading the league in walks this season. Maybe the right answer is to save your money for sure things.
- Oliver Perez became the latest Mets injury casualty Wednesday when the team announced he will undergo season-ending surgery on his right knee. An MRI revealed that Perez has "patella tendon tendinosis," the Mets said in a statement.
It's unclear how significant a role his injury played in Perez's poor performance this season.
"I would say his knee issue probably had an effect on maybe his conditioning," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Even though you try to do different things, a lot of times pitchers have to get out and hit this ground and get turned over and those types of things instead of doing things in the gym. ... Now, I can't say how much of an effect or how long it has hampered him to perform to the expectations we had for him."
* Witt enjoyed sort of an amazing career, when you really look at it. He did eventually tame his fastball to a point, and among pitchers with at least 500 career innings, his 5.02 walks per nine innings is just 12th worst. What's more, he pitched until he was 37 and won 142 games in the majors. Sure, he also lost 157. But for a guy who could well have just given up after his first few seasons, Witt enjoyed one fine career.
Oliver Perez isn't the only pitcher this season with big-time control problems, as Rich Hill (6.24 walks per nine innings) and Dontrelle Willis (7.5) also come immediately to mind. Those three had me wondering if there's been anything special about this season ... and as usual, there's not. I mean, we've seen already that Perez is special. But since 2000, 14 different pitchers -- including Perez and Kazuo Ishii, twice each -- have pitched at least 50 innings in a season and walked more than six batters per nine innings.
Sometimes they can even get away with it. In 2004, Victor Zambrano walked 6.46 per nine innings and still went 11-7 with a 4.37 ERA. In 2002, Ishii walked 6.19 per nine innings and still went 14-10 with a 4.27 ERA ... and the next year he walked 6.18 per nine and posted a 3.86 ERA!
It never works for long, though. Ishii last pitched in the majors in 2005, and Zambrano won only eight games in the majors after his big-walk season. It's just not the way game works.
Perez and Hill might not be unique. But if they don't stop throwing so many pitches so obviously outside the strike zone, they'll soon be non-unique in the non-major leagues.
- When it looked like he was going to implode, he just held it together...
Does he make mistakes out over it? Absolutely. But when he makes those mistakes, they swing at 'em...
He's inviting swings. The reason he gives up so many walks is because they tend to take him a lot. They take him a lot because of his history. But tonight, by working that inside part of the plate, he was able to get more swings at vital times, when he needed it.
... His timing of his delivery was much more consistent than before he left. So was there some progress? Absolutely ... Did he still walk seven? Sure he did. But that's part of the mindset of the offense. The offense goes up there, let's wait him out. He doesn't get borderline swings that a control pitcher might get.
When Perez got sent down -- or DL'd, or whatever -- in April, it was because he'd walked 21 batters in 22 innings. During his rehab (or whatever) stint, he embarrassed some Class A hitters, and also started twice against Triple-A teams ... and against those more experienced hitters, he issued nine walks in nine innings.
Wednesday night, he issued seven walks in five innings.
Just to sum up: This season, Perez has thrown 36 innings above the Double-A level. In those 36 innings, he has walked 37 batters. I'm all for giving a guy with a solid history a bit of rope, but it always strikes me as odd when a player fails miserably, is exiled to correct a particular flaw, doesn't correct the flaw ... and is un-exiled anyway.
I know the Mets are desperate. They're flailing in the standings, they've got one starter who's been better than average, and of course they've got that huge payroll that includes Oliver Perez's $12 million salary. You can almost, almost understand why the Mets have tossed him back into the rotation. And for one night at least, it "worked."
But while the Mets might feel like they didn't have much of a choice, the rest of us do. In his five innings last night, Perez threw 55 strikes and 53 balls. If he keeps doing that, the batters are going to continue to "take him a lot" and he won't get those "borderline swings." And he'll lose. His performance last night was not something to celebrate. His performance last night was a big red sign with flashing lights and blaring Klaxons.
- Rob, do you think the Mets should try and get Perez to go to Triple-A and work some stuff out? He has been real bad so far, and the difference in teams is probably only a couple wins again this year so keeping him up to get pounded doesn't make a lot of sense. Although, he could be terribly unlucky so far this year with a BABiP of .354 vs. a career .296. He seems to be striking people out a fair amount, but walking way too many. Would Jonathon Niese or Freddy Garcia be a better option? Lots of variables in a decision like this. Wondering what your thoughts are.
Also, you're right: Perez hasn't been real lucky. Then again, I suspect that pitchers who are consistently way behind in the count will give up a somewhat higher batting average on balls in play because they're so often forced to throw a batting-practice fastball. The real issue is Perez's control, as he's walked 15 batters in 19 innings.
Is this really something to be terribly worried about, though? Should he really be down to one shot?
This is Perez's third (presumably) full season with the Mets. Below are his worst stretches with the club, control-wise. The first two are from 2007, the next two from 2008, and the last one is this wonderful season:
When the Mets signed Perez last winter for three years and $36 million, this is the pitcher they were getting. They were getting a pitcher who walks hitters, and goes through stretches where he walks a lot of hitters. Is it really possible that they did not know this? Exactly one year ago, Perez issued 17 walks in 17 innings over the course of four starts. This is what he does.
Sometimes, anyway. Is he going to pitch well in his next start? Nobody can know. In his first post-4/30 start last year, he walked only two batters but gave up three home runs and lost to the Dodgers, 5-1. In his next start he walked four Reds in six innings (but won), and 12 days later he walked eight Rockies in five innings.
He is what he is. The Mets are paying him $12 million and the organization isn't exactly loaded with starting pitchers who can give the big club six good innings every time out. So unless you can find something physically wrong with Perez, you keep throwing him out there and hoping for the best. If you wanted him in February, you have to still want him in April and May.
- Despite the heartbreak of the past two seasons -- both of which ended with them just missing the playoffs -- the Mets have not changed a whit. They remain a high-risk, high-reward team that is prone to giving away games it should win.
If the Mets miss the National League playoffs by one game, as they have in each of the past two seasons, they can point to games such as Tuesday night's 6-4 loss to St. Louis as the reason. The defeat provided another example of sloppiness trumping talent.
If Castillo, Murphy and Perez all pan out, the Mets can win the NL East. That is the baseball equivalent of hitting the lottery. It's nice to dream about, but rarely happens.
How does one make the leap from one game out of first place to hitting the lottery, exactly? The Mets didn't need to hit the lottery last season; they just needed to flip a coin and get heads instead of tails. Same thing in 2007. The Mets could have won two division titles almost exactly as easily as they lost two. I'm all for sophisticated, nuanced analysis. But in this case the most simplistic analysis does quite nicely: The only thing separating the Mets from the Phillies for two years running was luck.
That's no knock against the Phillies, who were better in both seasons than I thought they'd be. That's just baseball.
And about the Mets: Yes, they've got some issues. Castillo's probably a broken-down wreck, Murphy's miscast as an every-day left fielder, and Perez is never going to pitch as well as his contract suggests he should. But everyone has issues. The Yankees have an anonymous center fielder and a $160 million man who can't throw strikes. The Red Sox have Nick Green playing shortstop. And the Phillies' best starting pitcher (so far, anyway) has a 5.03 ERA.
So instead of talking about the lottery, let's talk about the odds ... and I still say the odds favor the Mets, slightly.
(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)