With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at starting pitcher Martin Perez.
That came out of nowhere, didn’t it?
I was, for the longest time, on the Martin Perez bandwagon. He was on the prospect lists forever, showing up on the Baseball America top 100 lists in five different years, and if you graphed his placement on there by year you’d get a parabola, which, you know, isn’t ideal. Prospect fatigue is real, and for Rangers fans, Martin Perez was an early example of that.
But he looked like the real deal in 2013 — a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts, 6th place in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.* And he started the 2014 season...well, kind of like he started the 2022 season, with a 1.42 ERA after five starts, including a three game stretch where he had two complete game shutouts and an eight inning scoreless outing. It looked like the Martin Perez we were waiting for had arrived.
* Perez was tied with Cody Allen for sixth, behind Wil Myers, Jose Iglesias, Chris Archer, Dan Straily and J.B. Shuck. David Lough was eighth. That was an interesting ROY class.
Then three awful starts. Then Tommy John surgery, part of the 2014 cavalcade of injuries. When Perez returned to the mound in 2015, he was rusty at first — including an eight run, one inning outing against the New York Yankees in a 21-5 loss — but over the final two months of the season, he had a 3.38 ERA and a 3.28 FIP in eleven starts, including an August 20 outing against the San Francisco Giants where he took a no hitter into the ninth.
He looked like a guy who would be a key piece of the rotation for years to come.
That, of course, didn’t happen. We know what happened. A couple of middling seasons. The broken elbow suffered falling off a fence, followed by the disastrous 2018 campaign. The Rangers declining their 2019 option on him, resulting in him spending a year with the Twins and then two with the Red Sox, none of which were all that good.
When, right after the lockout ended, the Rangers announced they had signed Martin Perez to a one year deal, the response from fans was...I was going to say “underwhelming,” but that doesn’t quite fit. “Annoyed” might be a better word, bordering on “hostile.” At the time I figured, okay, that’s someone who can give you some innings while being a tad above replacement level, but he’s a #5 guy, and they’ll sign someone else or trade for someone else to go with Jon Gray, right?
Yeah, no. They didn’t. And we all know how that worked out. The Rangers’ 2022 rotation was bad.
But! But! It wasn’t because of Martin Perez!
Because Martin Perez was awesome. The Martin Perez we were hoping to see almost a decade ago arrived in Arlington in 2022.
Let’s go back and review his numbers for the year. Perez had a 5.0 bWAR, which was fifth in the American League among pitchers. Perez had a 3.8 fWAR, which was eighth in the American League among pitchers. Perez had a 2.89 ERA on the year, which was 8th in the American League. The 5.0 bWAR is tied with 2010 C.J. Wilson and 2000 Kenny Rogers for 18th in Rangers history.*
* The top three pitcher bWARS in Rangers history? 2019 Mike Minor (8.0) and 2019 Lance Lynn and 1974 Fergie Jenkins (both 7.7).
We all remember the incredible May Perez had, when he allowed three earned runs in 6 six starts, but this isn’t a matter of one great month and a bunch of mediocrity. Perez had a 2.68 ERA in the first half, with a 3.16 ERA in the second half. And he finished the season strong, putting up a 2.89 ERA over his final six starts of the year.
Was there some good fortune involved here? Of course. Perez had a 3.59 xERA on the year, which obviously isn’t as good as the 2.89 ERA he put up. It still, though, put him in the same category as guys like Logan Webb, Shane Bieber, Yu Darvish and Robbie Ray.
Perez threw six different pitches in 2022, per Statcast, though for the most part he was a three pitch pitcher, throwing his sinker 35.2% of the time, his changeup 27.6% of the time, and his cutter — which he picked up in 2019 with the Twins — 24.3% of hte time. He had a four seamer, a curveball and a slider he mixed in, though rarely. One of his biggest changes from previous years was cutting back significantly on his curveball usage — a pitch he hasn’t had success with — as well as his four seamer usage, while increasing how often he threw his sinker.
Looking at the Statcast data, the reason for his success in 2022 seems to be relatively straightforward — he located his pitches, particularly the sinker and change, extremely well. Both pitches were consistently located down and on the edge of the zone armside. His cutter heat map doesn’t have one dark red spot where it was consistently thrown like the change and sinker have, but he was generally able to locate it on both sides of the plate quite well.
One thing that jumped out at me in looking at Perez is how his pitch usage varied based on the handedness of the hitter. Perez pumped sinkers in to lefty hitters, throwing them 52.8% of the time, while using his cutter as his primary secondary and throwing almost as many four seamers as changeups, both of which were around 10%. Against righthanded hitters, though, he went sinker and changeup about 30% of the time apiece, with the cutter a quarter of the time. Changeups and cutters are often more effective against opposite hand hitters, so this sort of mix isn’t exactly surprising, but I did think it was notable how sinker-heavy he was when he had the platoon advantage, and how he essentially pitched backwards against righties.
Perez is, of course, back on a one year deal after accepting the qualifying offer. I am not expecting a repeat of 2022, but if he can maintain the improved command he showed last year, Perez should continue to be an above-average starting pitcher. I think that is a reasonable bet for 2023.