Can we commission a band that sounds like The Who to write a new song for the 2020 MLB and fantasy baseball season? It'll be called, "Pitching Wasteland." So original. I know. I'll be here all week.
Good luck finding pitching right now, especially pitching with a schedule you're actually able to predict. I have an option for you. It might require a hint of bullshit with the sales pitch, but I promise I've checked my Red Sox bias at the door.
THE PLAYER: Martin Perez, owned in just 5.0% of NFBC 12-team leagues, isn't just interesting because he's projected to start two games this week, although one of them is against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium followed by a road trip to Baltimore.
THE SITUATION: He's interesting because after a sluggish start to open the season, which wasn't as poor as the line suggested, Perez has thrown 16.1 innings with a 2.20 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He's never been much of a strikeout guy, but those haven't been bad either - 8.82 K/9. Perez faced the Rays twice, once on the road, and also faced the Mets at Citi Field.
THE BREAKDOWN: So, what's going on? Let's take a deeper look:
For two-strike command with a frontdoor cutter against a good lefty hitter, that's about as good as it gets. And the examples of Perez painting with his pitches, and mostly the cutter, aren't difficult to find.
Backdoor cutter on the edge of the zone for a called strike three? No problem.
How about again this time down in the zone at 90 MPH? No issue.
There are so many examples of good command by Perez his last three starts. You're probably saying, "Hey, those clips are cool, but I can find any pitcher doing that and he has a 12.5 BB%!" Fair, but when Perez misses, often they aren't bad misses, which is illustrated here:
Look at the heat maps: changeups down and to the glove side; cutters mostly to the arm side; sinkers kept down and in to righties and away from lefties; curveballs mostly bounecd and four-seamers, which you can see aren't thrown often, mostly up. This is a good plan being executed, and while Perez is issuing too many free passes, the trade off is trusting his command is going to yield favorable batted ball results. His meatball% is just 2.0%. So, when he makes mistakes, they're hardly ever right in the middle of the zone.
A prime example of command leading to weak contact and positive result:
At an average of 83.2 MPH, Perez ranks in the 95th percentile of average exit velocity and 89th percentile in hard hit percentage. Perez has given up just five batted balls 100+ MPH this season, and two came during his first start; compare that to Chris Paddack who has given up 24 such events.
Interestingly, Perez's whiff% is up to a career-high 24.0% and his zone contact% is down to 79.4%. Currently, Perez's cutter rates No. 4 in baseball in pitch value/100 pitches, and his changeup is a very respectable 22nd.
While the horizontal and vertical break of the lefty's stuff is almost identical across the board, it differs in one spot - his cutter. Perez basically has little to no horizontal break and less vertical movement, which means the pitch is acting and appearing more like a fastball, a fastball that has increased spin efficiency this season. So far, Perez's cutter has a .231 xwOBA and 78.3 MPH average exit velocity. SHOULD I FAAB? It's understandably difficult to trust a pitcher with a career 4.47 FIP, and one coming off a 5.12 ERA last season. Throw in he's pitching at Yankee Stadium this week, and that's not too inviting either.
However, Perez is throwing his quality changeup more, is limiting hard contact, is showing signs of excellent command, and his cutter is good enough to get him out of jams and keep the ball in the yard. He's worth a modest bid to see if his strong stretch continues. At the very least, you know he's going to be in the rotation and allowed to throw deep if healthy, which has more value than more this season.
Photos courtesy AP Image and videos courtesy Baseball Savant