Red Sox fill back of rotation with left-handed pitcher Martin Perez
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox have signed left-handed pitcher Martin Perez to fill the fifth spot at the back of their starting rotation.
While their rivals in the Bronx handed out a record-breaking contract for an ace starting pitcher, the Boston Red Sox countered with a cost-effective option to fill the back of their rotation.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Red Sox have signed left-hander Martin Perez to a 1-year, $6 million deal with a 2021 club option for $6.25 million.
The reaction from fans was across social media was a resounding yawn. Perez isn’t exactly the type of splash that anyone is going to get excited about. However, he does fit the mold for what the Red Sox needed – a pitcher to fill their open spot at the back of the rotation who won’t cost much money.
The Red Sox appeared to be in a holding pattern as they aimed to trim their budget before diving into free agency. Rumors have swirled about some of their expensive veterans potentially being on the move. We’re still waiting to see if any of those blockbuster deals come to fruition but the Red Sox are done waiting to fill out their roster.
With the signing of Perez and free agent infielder Jose Peraza, Boston has spent $9 million toward their 2020 payroll in the last couple of days. Either they are confident that they can move salary in a trade or Boston’s brass doesn’t care as much as they let on about dipping under the luxury tax, so long as they keep spending to a reasonable level. These free agent signings move Boston’s payroll in the wrong direction but they aren’t exactly breaking the bank.
Perez is coming off of an underwhelming season in which he posted a 5.12 ERA. While that’s certainly unappealing, it’s an improvement over Rick Porcello (5.52 ERA), whose spot in the rotation Perez will be claiming.
His track record isn’t much more encouraging but there may be some untapped potential in the 28-year old.
One reason for optimism is an increase in strikeout rate. His 7.3 K/9 placed him near the bottom of the league but it’s easily a career high and a noticeable leap from his career 5.8 K/9.
The uptick in strikeouts can partially be attributed to the addition of a new pitch in his arsenal. Perez abandoned his ineffective slider in favor of a cutter that he threw on 30.8 percent of his pitches last season, per Statcast. That’s a higher percentage than any of his other pitches and it was clearly his best. Perez held opposing hitters to a .214 batting average with his cutter and his 23.1 K% was the highest strikeout rate he generated with any pitch.
Perez has become less reliant on a four-seam fastball that he’s never been able to utilize effectively. He allowed a whopping .370 average and .740 SLG when throwing the four-seamer last season. That’s actually an improvement over the previous year (.400 BAA) and follows the pattern he’s shown throughout his career. His four-seam fastball doesn’t generate swings-and-misses and Perez struggles to put hitters away with it.
Building on the promising production from his cutter while continuing to phase out the four-seamer should lead to better results on the mound. Of course, if he intends to stick in the rotation, Perez will need more than one pitch to navigate multiple trips through opposing lineups.
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Perez throws a decent changeup that was his second-best pitch last year when he held opposing batters to a .272 average and .392 SLG with it. His 21.6 K% with the changeup was the second-highest in his repertoire and the 33.2 Whiff% was his best.
He throws a sinker that’s a bit of a stinker (.302 BAA last season) but it’s better than his four-seam fastball. Hitters hammered his four-seamer with an average exit velocity of 90.4 mph last season but that dipped to 86.5 with his sinker.
The wild card will be how Perez harnesses his curveball. It was an awful pitch for him last year when he allowed a .345 average and .655 SLG. Perez allowed a staggering .913 SLG with his curve the previous year. He’s had success in the past with his curve but he rarely throws it anymore. Perez will need a third reliable pitch to compliment his cutter and change. If he can regain the feel for his curve that he showcased in 2017 (.230 BAA, .446 SLG), it could be the key to Perez having a bounce-back season.
It shouldn’t take much to turn Perez into an adequate pitcher. Lacking All-Star upside doesn’t mean Perez is a bad free agent signing. That’s not what the Red Sox were in the market for. Boston already has top of the rotation talent. What they needed was a fifth starter who can eat some innings and avoid getting shelled every fifth day. Perez is capable of that.
It may not be an exciting move but signing Perez may prove to be a wise decision under Boston’s current financial circumstances.