Martin Perez and the Power of Patience

The most overused cliches in our vernacular are often overused for good reason. And the one which usually surfaces far too often in fantasy baseball columns throughout the year is “good things come to those who wait.” Unfortunately for you, the reader, you’re going to have to deal with another one–except unlike most of them, I’m going to talk about a player who won’t turn 23 years old until after the 2014 season opens.

Martin Perez has been no stranger to the spotlight in his professional career, as the hype train started early on the Venezuelan left-hander. His performance at short season Spokane, in the college-heavy Northwest League, got the blood flowing in prospect evaluators. But his 2009 season which saw him not only dominate in full season ball, but reach Double-A at 18 years and 4 months, thrust him into upper echelon of prospects. Kevin Goldstein at BP ranked Perez at #15 overall prior to the 2010 season and Baseball America had him at #17. This would end up being the height of his prospect stardom, as the his performance in the upper minors left a lot to be desired.

He struggled mightily at Double-A in 2010, to the tune of a 5.96 ERA and 1.68 WHIP–walking more than a batter every other inning. But he was just 19 years old throughout the whole season. Then in 2011, he seemed to have Double-A solved and then ran into a buzzsaw at Triple-A. But he was just 20 years old during that season. He followed that with another poor season at Triple-A in 2012, in which he walked 56 batters and struck out only 69 in 127 innings at the level. Then Perez accumulated a 5.45 ERA in a brief taste of the big leagues toward the end of the season. But he was just 21 years old during that season.

Heading into 2013, expectations were low, and they got even lower when Perez had his left forearm fractured by a batted ball in Spring Training after throwing only three innings. He was a forgotten man head in March, and carried an Average Draft Position of 614th overall. That’s endgame AL-only territory there. And as we know now, the people who either selected him at that endgame price or picked him up off the waiver wire once he started to get going have been happy about it.

Perez had a one-start trip to the big leagues on May 27, but wasn’t up for good until June 22–brought on by a four-start stretch at Triple-A where he gave up three runs in 24 innings. And even that might not have done it if not for injuries to Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando. That won’t be the case again in 2014. Since June 22, Perez has a 3.26 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a 2.37 BB/9 rate–a far cry from the rates in the high-3’s that he had put up since the 2009 season.

Amusingly, from the scouting side, the reports barely changed on Perez–at least as far as his headline stuff was concerned. He was still a lefty who consistently sat with plus velocity and a dynamic change-up (one which I’d seen written up as a potential 7 pitch on multiple occasions). The curve would also flash at least above-average, and for good measure, he added a two-seamer which he would use to keep the ball on the ground in his tough pitching environments of the upper minors.

Those reports have borne out at the major league level. Per Brooks Baseball, Perez has averaged 93.9 MPH on his four-seam fastball this season–which is significant velocity from the left-side. In fact, it’s in the top-10 in the majors among southpaws who have thrown 500 fastballs this season. But the change has been the main attraction here, as Perez has thrown it nearly one quarter of the time with fantastic results (.182 average against, .291 slugging against).

Of late, Perez has been on fire. In his last seven starts, he’s been quality in all of them, averaging more than seven innings per outing and racking up six wins. Of course, for those of you not into the whole brevity thing, those wins have come with a 2.54 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings. That strikeout rate during this stretch has increased from 13.8 percent (in his first eight starts) to 17.7 percent. The change-up has been right in the middle of that jump, as he had the fourth highest change-up whiff rate in August among pitchers who threw at least 50 of them–behind only Stephen Strasburg, Jarrod Parker and Jake Peavy.

Going forward, Perez remains a sneaky target in dynasty leagues, despite the solid run that he’s been on–and there are two big reasons for that. The first is that his low strikeout rate on the season belies his stuff and is not a proper indicator of what to expect going forward. He may never be a guy who strikes out a batter per inning, but there’s a huge difference between a pitcher who can get you 175 punch outs instead of 140. The second (and this is very underrated in long-term leagues) is that as a change-up heavy pitcher, and not someone who relies heavily on a breaking ball, Perez is slightly less of an injury risk going forward than an average hurler. With the way big names continue to succumb to ligament tears, that’s not something to ignore.

It may not be next year, but I still see Perez as a solid #3 starter both in real-life and fantasy. With his ability to throw strikes and go deep into games, even in Arlington, I like him to be a guy who can contribute in all four categories. And this may be your last off-season to acquire him at any sort of reasonable price.

Follow me on Twitter at @dynastyguru.

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The Dynasty Guru

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