It is often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. At the same time, repetition is the key to anything, as it helps “transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious.” Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours would agree. That said, walking to the garage, grabbing the hammer, then swinging it repeatedly towards one’s genitalia will bring pain. Every. Single. Time. Without fail. Trust me on this. But for some reason, we humans are an interesting species because we often get transfixed on the “This time is different” mantra. Man, life is too complicated. Anyways, for fantasy baseball, the huge sample size of stats allows us to ascertain a good lay of the landscape but there are always ebbs and flows, hot and cold streaks. In addition, one small tweak could alter the entire landscape. Martin Perez has had a FIP of at least 4.5 in each of the last six seasons but, in 2022, that number is at 2.44. He’s the 26th-best pitcher on the Razzball Player Rater to date. He’s been added in 34.1% of ESPN leagues over the past week and is coming off a complete-game shutout of the Houston Astros. I’ve been on this ride before and it’s rarely been pleasant, but I felt compelled to dig in further. Will I be falling for the Martin Perez in the tailpipe again?
Perez has been in the bigs since 2012. The career K/9 is 6.08 and FIP is 4.45. The swinging strike rate is 8.3%. He’s a soft-tossing lefty who has averaged around 92 mph on his fastball and has primarily relied on a cutter, sinker, and changeup.
In the first two starts of the season, he went four innings in both and allowed three earned runs in each contest. Since then, he’s gone at least six innings in six straight starts, not allowing an earned run in three of those contests and one earned run each in the other three. Things that make you go hmmmm. And the competition was stiff as he faced the Astros twice, the Red Sox, and the Phillies.
Is this just a hot streak or is there something substantial here?
The K/9 is only 6.93 while the walk rate is 2.19. The strikeout rate was 7.66 last season and has been in the high-6 to low-7 range over the last three seasons. The walk rate is a career-best, though, and he hasn’t allowed a home run yet in 49.1 innings. Looking at the BABIP, it’s .273, so he’s had some good fortune but nothing too dramatic.
The GB/FB is 1.79. Earlier in his career, that number was above 2 but, over the last three seasons, that number has been 1.34, 1.09, and 1.64. The line drive rate is a career-best 13% while the hard hit rate is 23.7%, the best mark since 2015.
Perusing the plate discipline numbers, the chase rate has increased 4% while the contact rates have dropped around 3 to 4%. The swinging strike rate is a career-best 9.9%. There have only been two seasons in which it was over 9%.
Now, the million dollar question is why?
The obvious answer is better control. The walks are down and he hasn’t been giving up meatballs. The Statcast data shows that the barrel rate is only 2.9%, a career-low. But is that the only reason for this hot streak? Because it doesn’t look to be completely luck-driven.
The pitch mix illuminates the answer. He’s throwing the fastball only 7.3% of the time. The career-average is 20.1% and last year was the prior low at 13.3%. The cutter usage has also decreased 8% from last season. The biggest change has been in the sinker usage, spiking up to 39.7%, an increase of 14.5% from last season.
The pitch has allowed him to neuter right-handed bats so far this season. Opposing righties are slashing .191/.254/.252 against him in 38.2 innings. Throughout his career, righties were slashing .292/.355/.455.
I kind of get some Framber Valdez vibes, although Valdez throws a tick harder, utilizes the sinker 10% more often, and has a curveball to complement instead of the changeup for Perez. That said, both won’t have exorbitant strikeout rates, but will keep the number of balls put into the seats to a minimum and limit hard contact. Valdez has a 1.9% barrel rate this season.
I want to throw Perez into the trash because I’ve been hurt so often before but I just can’t. If he continues to rely on the sinker and control the pitch, then he can be a viable fantasy pitcher. Not top 25-ish because the strikeout rate will be low. There are some decent pitchers that primarily utilize the sinker: JT Brubaker, Logan Webb, Framber Valdez, and Sean Manaea.