During the recap yesterday, I started going off on a tangent about Rafael Perez. However, after a few paragraphs that dove into different aspects of his game, I opted to edit it out and stick only to things that had an impact on the final score in general instead of going pitch by pitch. But since I edited it out, I needed somewhere else to put it, and this would be the place. Be forwarned, what follows encompasses a lot of numbers. However, I’m also including some pictures with lots of colors and stuff in the event that that’s more your thing as well. Do enjoy.
Last season, the Indians had an issue with the whole “closer” role. We started out with Joe Borowski, he of the 83 MPH fastball. Then we tried others like Masa Kobayashi before settling in with Jensen Lewis. And while he didn’t exactly strive in the ninth inning, Rafael Perez wound up being one of the best set-up men in the game. In 76 innings pitched, Perez fanned 56 batters. He finished the season with an ERA of 3.54, but this can be skewed by a few bad outings coupled with the lack of total innings pitched. However, his peripheral numbers were excellent including a WHIP of 1.18, OBA of .234 and a HR/9 of 0.94.
Well, if you have watched any of the last few games that featured Mr. Perez, you have undoubtedly seen a different player. He has yet to record a strikeout. Left-handed batters (typically his specialty) are hitting .250 against him, with righties hitting .455. Last season, neither side hit more than .243 against him. He’s tossed five innings, has already allowed a home run and has walked six batters. The early percentages are not pretty: 18.00 ERA, 2.60 WHIP, .368 OBA.
So what’s wrong with our would-be stud set-up man?
To analyze this, I started by looking into a few of his appearances so far this season.
On April 8th, Perez saw an inning of work against the Texas Rangers. He walked a batter, but the only run that would score would be on a solo home run by Nelson Cruz. He threw 22 pitches, which is very high for an inning of work – especially for Perez. Eleven of those pitches were sliders. The average velocity for his pitches:
Four-seam fastballs (6 pitches): 89 MPH
Change-up (1): 84 MPH
Slider (11): 83 MPH
Two-seam fastball (4): 89 MPH
His walk to Davis is questionable, as two of the called balls were very borderline pitches and frankly I think Perez got the raw end of the deal. However, the home run pitch to Cruz was a different story. On a 3-2 count, Cruz smacked a Perez fastball to very deep left field. For a look at the pitch he hit, check out the blue dot on the chart below.
You’ll notice that said blue dot is almost directly in the middle of the chart, signaling next to zero movement either vertically or horizontally. And when the pitch is in the middle of the plate, with no movement, a fastball that travels 89 miles per hour is going to get smashed by nearly every big league player.
But all in all, it was a mistake to Cruz that if he could get back, would have been a solid outing. The slider was his dominant pitch in both effectiveness and shear number.
Let’s move on to the 10th of April. Perez tossed an inning and one-third against the Blue Jays and picked up the loss after three hits, a walk and five earned runs. He only threw 13 pitches, which is actually less than average for the time frame. Same exercise as before…
Four-seam fastball (8): 88 MPH
Change-up (2): 87 MPH
Slider (3): 86 MPH
If you’re starting to spot a problem, you get a WFNY gold star. On average, ones four-seam fastball should travel at a considerably higher speed than his (or her, ladies…) change-up. With Perez’s average four-seam fastball touching 90 at its highest level, but settling in around 88 most of the time, a change-up that is only one mile per hour slower is not going to be effective. Now factor in that he threw only three sliders while focusing more on the “fast” ball.
After getting Adam Lind to ground out to end the seventh inning, things looked promising. At least until the 8th inning started with a Scott Rolen single. Then Kevin Millar got on base and both men were advanced via bunt. With first base open, Michael Barrett was intentionally walked. Marco Scutaro hit a 1-0 single and an unfortunate play by Shin-Soo Choo led to a second run. The dagger was the Alex Rios double that was hit on an 0-1 fastball that was located on the chart below.
Another fastball, though with a little more movement than the one to Cruz. Rios, however, is a great hitter and took the ball that wound up being a bit in off of the plate and pulled it right down the third base line. A 90 MPH, belt-high inside fastball, exit stage left.
During Tuesday’s melt down, Perez opted to not throw the change-up at all – perhaps because it is simply a slower version of his fastball. The bulk of his work was via said 90 MPH cheddar again, featuring more slider than the previous outing.
Four-seam fastball (13): 90 MPH
Slider (8): 84 MPH
Cut fastball (2): 90 MPH
The seventh inning went well, though Perez issued a walk to Covelli Crisp. If you saw the game, the walk was very questionable as many of Perez pitches would have been called strikes on a different night. But while he got out of the inning, the slider was obviously not locating. Of his eight sliders on the night, only three of them were for strikes. Three. His “out” pitch only recorded three strikes.
Now compare this to a few of his randomly picked appearances from last season.
August 6th, 2008. The Tribe lost to the Rays thanks to a complete collapse by Masa Kobayashi. But Perez wasn’t too bad. In fact, he was excellent. In two innings of work, Perez struck out four batters, walked none, and allowed zero hits.
Four-seam fastball (8): 89 MPH
Slider (19): 83 MPH
Curve ball (1): 81 MPH
More than half of his pitches, however, were his bread and butter slider. Of his fastballs, seven were strikes. Of his Sliders, 15 were strikes. That one curve ball? A strike. Some were looking but there were a lot of missed bats. Check out the chart below – almost every pitch had movement either vertically, horizontally or both.
That cluster up and to the right is a slew of strikes that were swung on and missed. The slider was definitely working against the Rays.
August 17th, against the Angels. Again, a lot of missed bats on a day when 12 of 14 overall pitches went for strikes. Eleven of the 14 pitches were sliders.
This game featured even more movement on this pitches. Even the fastballs were moving a little bit. But while they were moving, batters were getting fooled. This year, we’ve seen a different Perez. Batters don’t appear to be swinging at his slider, and his fastball simply has lacked movement overall.
So what have we learned?
The games through 2009 that I didn’t mention above? April 6th: Eight pitches, four fastballs (all strikes), four sliders (one strike). However, on the pitches that were hit, they wound up right in the meat of the plate – again with little movement. His slider was off several inches. The fastball was right down the pike, with just a little raise on it.
Essentially, Perez’s slider must start finding the plate – or at least start appearing like its finding the plate before it tails in on righties and away from lefties. Why? Because his fastball has been slapped all over the field through his first five games, and it is not fast enough to make Perez a fastball/changeup pitcher.
And as we laid out above, when your fastball is only topping out at 90 MPH, the slider has to be working if you’re going to be effective. Last season, we saw a Perez that was either making batters miss or he was inducing ground balls. Even in his best appearance of the season in 2009, he induced two fly outs and a line out.
If it is a mechanical issue with his slider, I would hope that Carl Willis would be able to work this out. If it’s an endurance issue as he did throw a career high number of innings last season, we could be in for some trouble. He’s never going to be touching a consistent 95 MPH with his heater, so the slider simply has to be corrected if our bullpen – which was supposed to be our strength heading in to 2009 – is going to feature a key left-hander.
Of course, we can always just blame it all on the World Baseball Classic…
(Pitch F/X data courtesy of Brooks Baseball)