It hasn't been that long since a lot of Twins fans had written Glen Perkins off as a nice story that just wasn't going to work out. Hometown kid goes to the hometown university and gets drafted by the hometown team in the first round. Goes onto fame and fortune. Everyone wins. Fuzzy feelings and butterflies abound. Get Hollywood on the phone.
Except that in Perkins' case, he had a 4.81 ERA through his first 303 Major League innings and was coming off of a pair of 5.00+ ERA seasons. He lost a lot of zip on his fastball, wasn't missing bats and was giving up hard contact when he was healthy enough to stay on the field, which was a rarity in its own right.
Given that he was 27 by the time all of this history was already in the books, it didn't seem likely that just two years later we'd all be thrilled to have Perkins locked into a three-year extension with an option for a fourth year. It didn't seem plausible for Perkins to morph into one of the best pitchers in recent Twins history, but that's just what's happened. And it's not only that. Over the past two seasons, Perkins has morphed into one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Period.
As fans, we're down about the Twins as a collective unit right now, and with good reason. The past two seasons have been hard to watch, and while there's hope now in the form of an enviable farm system, 2013's forecast is pretty bleak as well. I think it's important not to let that negativity completely overshadow the positive elements of this team, though. I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of excessive negativity, but I couldn't help marveling last night as I sought out something positive to focus on for today's post.
Over at FanGraphs, I was looking through stats and thought to myself exactly what benchmarks we like to see in terms of relief pitching. The stereotypical dominant arms whiffs a batter per inning or more, walks fewer than one-third of that amount, and keeps an ERA under 3.00.
There are only ten relievers in baseball over the past two seasons who match that criteria (11 if you use FIP, for which Octavio Dotel will thank you), but there's a pretty glaring distinction at the bottom of that list. Casey Janssen, while being a terrific reliever, generated swinging strikes a full three percent less than anyone else on the list. When I think of dominant late-inning arms, I think of overmatched hitters swinging through fastballs and chasing sliders that drop off the table.
So, I set the swinging strike rate to be greater than 12 percent, and the list dropped to nine:
That's a pretty selective list right there, but I couldn't help thinking about one other key element we think of when blueprinting dominant late-inning arms: Velocity. Granted, velocity is often overrated. However, just for the fun of it, I set the average fastball velocity on those leaderboards to be greater than 94 mph. The list shrunk even further in a heartbeat:
Obviously this is somewhat arbitrary. By fine-tuning the stats to match Perk's strengths, it's probably possible to have him as the sole reliever alongside Craig Kimbrel, which is a misrepresentation of the rest of the league's talent. Still, that's a pretty basic group of requirements spanning a two-year period, and the only names beside our beloved Perk are Kimbrel, Jason Motte and that Jonathan Papelbon guy.
In terms of striking batters out, missing bats, limiting walks and preventing runs from scoring, Glen Perkins has vaulted himself to the ranks of the elite across Major League Baseball since Opening Day 2011. As it stands, he doesn't get the love that some of the game's truly great closers do. If he keeps on doing what he's done over his past 132 innings though, I don't think it's going to be long before Perkins' name becomes synonymous with the other elite relievers around the league.
The hometown kid already has his first big contract and a now loyal fanbase. Here's hoping that this great story is only getting started, though. Joe Nathan left some pretty big shoes for the next Twins closer to fill. So far, so good, Perk. Hopefully an All-Star bid is on the agenda in the next year or two as well.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com, MLB.com and RotoAuthority.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve