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Thinking about Oliver Perez

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Thoughts on Oliver Perez

   We had a contest winner a few weeks ago select Oliver Perez as a subject for a prospect retro. We've covered his background in previous posts, a Young Pitcher Symposium in 2005 and a "is there hope for Perez" piece in '06.  Let's catch up with him.

Perez was signed by the Padres out of Mexico in 1999. He posted a 5.08 ERA with a 37/16 K/BB in 28 innings in the Arizona Rookie League that year. I didn't write about short-season prospects much back then, but his K/IP was impressive enough that a similar pitcher nowadays would probably be on my radar as a Grade C type.

In 2000 he split the season between Yucatan in the Mexican League (4.36 ERA with a 37/17 K/BB in 43 innings) and Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League (4.07 ERA, 27/9 K/BB in 24 innings). He wasn't in my '01 book, but drew some attention from scouts due to a 90 MPH fastball and a promising breaking ball. Statwise his K/IP continued to stand out, and I'd give a similar guy now a C+ most likely pending higher-level data.

In '01, Perez pitched at Fort Wayne (3.46 ERA, 98/43 K/BB in 101 innings, 84 hits allowed) and Lake Elsinore (2.72 ERA, 62/25 K/BB in 53 innings, 45 hits allowed). I put him in the 2002 book, noting his 90 MPH fastball, developing breaking stuff, and strong K/IP marks, writing that I was "rather optimistic about his chances to be a decent pitcher" provided he didn't get hurt. He got a Grade C+.

Perez gained velocity in 2002 and ended up spending most of the season in the majors, posting a 3.50 ERA with a 94/48 K/BB in 90 innings with 71 hits allowed. He's been up-and-down ever since.

Picking up where the old posts left off, after a difficult 2006 season, Perez rebounded with a 15-10, 3.56 season in '07 with the Mets, then a decent 10-7, 4.22 campaign in '08, though the later season was marred somewhat by a National League leading 105 walks. Last year he was back to being terrible again, posting a 6.82 ERA in 14 starts with a 62/58 K/BB in 66 innings, but a knee injury was at least partially responsible for that. Perez's velocity was down slightly last year compared to 2007 and 2008, but the knee problem likely impacted that.

His original comparable pitchers list from 2005 is interesting to revisit. Remember he was coming off a 2004 season that saw him go 12-10, 2.98 with 239 strikeouts and 81 walks in 196 innings at age 23.

Pete Falcone
Sandy Koufax (!)
Rube Bressler
Steve Trout
Vinegar Bend Mizell
John Henry Johnson
Balor Moore
Mark Langston
Ken Holtzman
Billy Pierce
Jim Merritt
Juan Nieves
Mickey McDermott

That's an interesting list, with Koufax the Hall-of-Fame outlier but several impressive power lefties also showing up...along with injury/command busts like Falcone, Moore, and Nieves.

The current Sim Score list (through age 27) is a lot different: Bobby Witt, Randy Wolf, Randy Lerch, Ryan Dempster, Mike Moore, Joel Pineiro, Jason Jennings, Darryl Kile, Mark Langston, Alex Kellner.  Basically a group of talented but erratic pitchers, just like Perez.

What should we expect for 2010? I have no idea. Projection systems give the following results:
Bill James      4.73, 170/100 K/BB in 173 innings, 8.84 K/9, 4.98 FIP
CHONE         4.96, 118/71 K/BB in 127 innings, 8.36 K/9, 4.90 FIP
Marcel            4.50, 103/63 K/BB in 112 innings, 8.28 K/9, 4.81 FIP
ZIPS               4.93, 132/87 K/BB in 144 innings, 8.35 K/9, 5.01 FIP

All pretty similar. But I think that's deceptive. The projections all focus on the "midpoint," if you will, if possible outcomes for Perez, and given his track record that is understandable. However, a healthy Perez is fully capable of doing a lot better than that. He could easily post a 3.50 ERA (or even a 3.00) again with better command and a 9.00+ K/9.  He could also get knocked out of the league.