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What should we really expect from Martin Perez?

Will a new pitching approach outweigh past performance?

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox
When was the last time the Twins had a lefty starter that threw 97 MPH?
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When it was announced on January 19th that the Twins were preparing to ink a deal with left-handed starter Martin Perez, many Minnesota fans questioned the move. It doesn’t take long to figure out why he wasn’t at the top of fans’ free agent wish list, as Perez sported a 6.22 ERA in 2018-19 with the Rangers. Along with his poor prior season, Perez hasn’t produced a WHIP below 1.4 since 2014, and his K/9 hasn’t topped 6.1 his entire career.

Fast forward to the present, where the hype around the 27-year old is real. Perez gave up just up two runs in his first nine innings of spring training this year while striking out seven, but the real upswing in his stock has come from his evolving pitch arsenal and work with the Twins staff.

In his last start Perez was stretched out a bit and did not produce the same results, giving up five earned runs on six hits against the Nationals. The former Ranger also struck out just three batters and gave up two free passes in is longest appearance of spring training.

So what version of Perez should we actually expect in 2019, and how much will his renewed pitching philosophy and increased velocity mean to his results? As Twins fans already know, Perez hasn’t had a lot of success in his career, with a lifetime ERA of 4.63. However, he did show some promise in his early years, finishing sixth in AL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2013. Perez posted a 3.62 ERA in 124.1 innings in that season with a career-high ERA+ of 114.

MLB: Texas Rangers at San Francisco Giants
Perez and his fun-colored gloves had success early in his Rangers career.
Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

That season was Perez’s peak in velocity, as his fastball averaged nearly 94 miles per hour (whereas last year he averaged just a bit above 92.5 MPH). While batters had decent success against his heater that season, his changeup was top notch. Opposing batters hit just .174 (with a .219 wOBA) against the pitch in that season with a 39% whiff rate. Last year Perez’s change was smacked around the park, as batters slugged .561 when he threw it and recorded a .425 wOBA. Ideally, Perez’s uptick in velocity this season will help him regain the effectiveness that his changeup once possessed.

Another adjustment to Perez’s arsenal that the Twins are scraping his slider and replacing it with a 90-91 MPH cutter. Batter have ripped Perez’s slider in the last two seasons, with a .564 wOBA against it in 2018 and a .390 wOBA in 2017. Perez had a lot of success with the slider in previous seasons, as opposing batters had not produced a wOBA on the pitch above .304 prior to 2017. It’s hard to say how effective the cutter will be right off of the bat, but if the Twins coaching staff can help him make adjustments to the pitch it could be a solid secondary offering, especially against lefties.

Although Perez hit rock bottom last year with a 6.22 ERA in 85.1 innings pitched, he was an innings eater in the previous two seasons. The Venezuelan left-hander tossed 198.2 innings (4.39 ERA) in 2016 and 185.0 innings (4.82 ERA) in 2017. Though the ERA numbers weren’t great, Perez provided decent back-end of the rotation seasons, and could certainly do so again in 2019.

Perez was easily a buy-low target by the Twins in the offseason and it seems likely that he will improve on his 2018 campaign, with the real question being how much. If Perez can return to his 2016-17 form, he will be a decent #5 for the Twins and provide steady innings that have been hard for the Twins to find in recent seasons. Plagued with injuries in 2018, I think it is likely that Perez can produce similar number this season if healthy.

It will look like the Twins got a steal if they get anything more form Perez, which only time will tell. It’s tough to foresee a big jump in performance for the 27-year old based on his career inability to miss bats and be consistent, though there are quite a few unknowns in play. Perez has never thrown as hard as he is throwing this spring, and I’d imagine that his pitch arsenal (as well as how often he throws each pitch) will look significantly different in 2019.

New Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson is another big variable in the equation. It will be interesting to see how Johnson’s philosophy that focuses on increased velocity will play out during a 162-game MLB season, but his results in college ranks speak for themselves. Johnson was able to mold college arms into MLB prospects, helping 30 college pitchers get their name called in the ametur draft. Johnson’s teams saw an uptick in strikeouts as well, as Arkansas (where he coached last year) made a trip to the College World Series.

With many variables in play for Martin Perez and his 2019 season, it is tough to tell how much the former Ranger will bounce back. But with Perez’s uptick in velocity along with the new coaching staff’s adjustments to his arsenal, it’s hard to guess that Perez will improve in 2019. How much he improves will be interesting to track, especially when he stretched out to full-length starts once the season begins.

With a one-year, four-million dollar contract, Perez is a low-risk move with a potentially higher reward for Falvine. The Twins also have a second-year option of Perez, worth 7.5 million. Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes mentioned on their podcast that a good measure of Perez’s success this season will be if the Twins decide to pick up that option, which is a sentiment that I happen to agree with. If Perez is worth 7.5 million next season, it means that he has solidified himself as a solid back-end starter, something the Twins could certainly use. It will also signify the success of the Twins new pitching philosophy and coaches, who are poised to make a big impact on a staff that didn’t change that much from the 2018 bunch. Whatever ends up happening with Martin Perez, his performance this season will be one of the many interesting storylines for Twins fans to follow.

Prediction Time: I think Perez will become a usable starter for the Twins and post an ERA around 4.10, hopefully throwing around 140 innings. I don’t think he will be able to stay healthy the entire season, but if he can give the Twins those kind of numbers, he will be well worth the four millions dollars the Twins are paying him in 2019.

Let me know how you think Perez will perform in the comments section below!