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Who Or What Bit Oliver Perez?

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here comes a strike! probably
here comes a strike! probably

I wonder how many Seattle Mariners fans know anything about Oliver Perez's history. I wonder how many Mariners fans realize Perez is on the team, and of those, I wonder how many Mariners fans are aware of how Perez has pitched. He didn't debut with Seattle until they were already 29-39 and sitting in last place, and he debuted in Arizona. He debuted in middle relief, which isn't a visible role.

When Perez entered his first game with the Mariners, the Mariners were losing 7-1. In his second game, the Mariners were losing 14-10. Third game, 8-5. Fourth game, 5-0. In his fifth game, the Mariners were tied with the Red Sox 2-2, and Perez held the Red Sox scoreless. In Perez's sixth game, last night, he relieved Felix Hernandez when the Mariners were down 4-0, and he came out when the Mariners were down 4-1.

I think it would've been easy for Perez to escape or avoid your attention. He's mostly pitched in relief in non-critical situations, and he's faced just 34 batters. He's thrown just 122 pitches. Two starts ago, Felix threw 128 pitches. Perez has been mostly invisible, just quietly going about his business, but I don't think he should be invisible anymore. He's been doing something which is very much not what Oliver Perez is supposed to do.

Strikes. Oliver Perez has thrown strikes. Lots of 'em. Absolutely, the sample size is small, what with the 34 batters and the 122 pitches. Nobody should conclude anything based on 122 pitches, other than the fact that a guy has thrown 122 pitches. But over 122 pitches, one would expect Oliver Perez to throw, I don't know, 73 strikes. 70-75 strikes. He's thrown 94 strikes. He's thrown 77 percent strikes.

Remember when Cliff Lee was a Mariner? Cliff Lee was a Mariner, and I can prove it unless someone's going to own up to photoshopping the poster on my wall. When Cliff Lee was a Mariner, he pitched as if he were allergic to balls. Everything was a strike. He didn't throw strikes as if his life depended on it, because I think under that much pressure even Roy Halladay or Jesus might crumble, but Lee threw strikes like he was pitching to Reggie Willits, or you. Cliff Lee threw 73 percent strikes. Unbelievable command. Oliver Perez has thrown 77 percent strikes. Or somebody or something has thrown 77 percent strikes while occupying Oliver Perez's human body.

34 plate appearances. 26 first-pitch strikes. Perez has already worked into 21 0-and-2 counts, out of 34 plate appearances. Lucas Luetge has worked into 15 0-and-2 counts, out of 86 plate appearances. Brandon League has worked into 23 0-and-2 counts, out of 156 plate appearances. Actually, let's go back to Luetge. I think Luetge has pitched like one would've expected Oliver Perez to pitch. Strikeouts, sure, but too many balls, too much location inconsistency. Lucas Luetge has pitched like Oliver Perez, and Oliver Perez has pitched like Cliff Lee with non-negotiable dinner reservations.

Maybe Oliver Perez was completely off your radar. I wouldn't blame you, but to truly grasp how remarkable this has been, you have to consider what Perez was with the Mets. Perez signed a big contract with New York as a talented but obviously inconsistent starting pitcher, and he turned into an absolute wreck. His mechanics went south, his velocity went south, his popularity went south, and he was released in March 2011 to the same sort of jubilation we'd express if the Mariners cut Chone Figgins. Maybe a better example would be the jubilation we felt when the Mariners traded Carlos Silva. Oliver Perez was terrible, and Mets fans couldn't have been happier to be rid of him, even with money left on his contract.

Perez threw 112 innings between 2009-2010, which were his most recent major-league innings. He had 100 walks, 99 strikeouts, and a strike rate of 57 percent. His fastball dipped into the 80s. He had been among the wildest and least effective pitchers in major-league baseball until he was no longer in major-league baseball, and he seemed lost and unfixable. Some people were arrogant enough to think they could get Perez straightened out, but it wasn't going to happen. It never happens.

Perez, Mexican winterball, 2010

  • 33 innings, 23 walks, 26 strikeouts

Perez, Mexican winterball, 2011

  • 14.1 innings, 8 walks, 19 strikeouts

It really was as simple as one of the Mariners' executives saying "hey, look at those stats." Divish:

"One day Jeff said to me, ‘Have you seen what Oliver Perez is doing in Mexico?’ " Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He brought in the numbers, and they were pretty impressive. I know some people down there; we made a call and (Jeff) kept on top of it."

The Mariners sent West Coast scout Butch Baccala to see Perez. Baccala made good reports, so the Mariners offered Perez a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training as a reliever.

The Mariners didn't really know what they were getting into at first. They couldn't have. But the numbers were there, and Perez's velocity was back after having committed to relief. Perez had made himself interesting again in the way we always wish bad players would, but in the way bad players never do.

The funny thing about Perez in Tacoma is that he still threw just 62 percent strikes. There were plenty of strikeouts, and the stuff was there, but Perez was still wild. Some guys are just wild. Then Perez was promoted, having threatened to opt out of his contract, and he hasn't been wild since. Here's Perez's pitch location chart, from Texas Leaguers:


Let's compare that against Perez in 2010:


Strikes. Pitches in and around the strike zone. Oliver Perez so far has been just the damnedest thing.

It's 34 plate appearances, 8.2 innings, and 122 pitches. The statistician in me says to expect regression, probably heavy regression, such that a while from now we're not talking about Oliver Perez as an unbelievable out-of-nowhere strike-thrower. Maybe we're not talking about Oliver Perez at all. But Perez has already done more than I or others expected, so who's to say? Maybe he really has found something, maybe he really has been straightened out. Even if he hasn't, Oliver Perez has thrown 94 strikes out of 122 pitches. That is a God damn miracle.

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