Red Sox: Martin Perez proving why free-agent pitching strategy is working

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 13: Martin Perez #54 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game at Target Field on April 13, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 13: Martin Perez #54 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game at Target Field on April 13, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox bringing back Martin Perez looks like a genius move

Chaim Bloom had his work cut out for him to rebuild a Boston Red Sox rotation that was among the worst in baseball last season. While he did some tinkering with this starting staff, the flashy moves many anticipated never came.

We never should have expected the Red Sox to splurge on reigning Cy Young Trevor Bauer but there were several mid-tier starters who were repeatedly tied to this club in the rumor mill. Instead, Bloom went bargain hunting.

One shrewd move that may ultimately prove to be the key to their offseason strategy was the decision to bring back Martin Perez. Boston declined his club option after the lefty produced modest results during last year’s shortened season, only to re-sign him at a reduced rate. Perez is on the books for only $4.5 million this year with a $6 million club option for next season that is starting to look like it will be another tremendous bargain.

Perez is proving why the team was wise to stick with him. The southpaw provided his best appearance in a Red Sox uniform on Thursday night when he held a powerful Houston Astros lineup scoreless over 7 2/3 innings. Perez was a model of efficiency, needing only 82 pitches to retire 23 batters. He had a chance to record an elusive “Maddox” – a complete game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches – but the Red Sox cautiously removed him when he got into an eighth inning jam that Adam Ottavino quickly escaped.

The gem earned Perez his fourth win of the season. He now owns a 3.09 ERA that ranks 8th among qualified American League starting pitchers.

He’s not an overpowering pitcher and his 8.02 K/9 is rather subpar but he doesn’t walk many batters (2.78 BB/9) and rarely gives up home runs (0.62 HR/9). What Perez does it paint, hitting the corners with precise command. He’s not blowing the ball by everyone but he can turn any batter into a pair of shoes with his league-leading 20.3 called strike percentage.

It’s fitting that the pitcher on the losing end of Perez’s masterpiece was Jake Odorizzi, one of those mid-tier free-agent starters rumored to be of interest to the Red Sox last winter. Many fans were outraged that Bloom went the cheaper route to re-sign a projected No. 5 starter instead of paying a fairly reasonable price for the former All-Star Odarizzi, who signed with the Astros on a 2-year deal guaranteed for over $20 million with escalators that could make it worth up to $30 million.

Nobody should be questioning the decision now. Odorizzi lasted only three innings against the Red Sox, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks with a very inefficient 76 pitches. The right-hander is now 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA.

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Odorizzi isn’t the only bullet the Red Sox dodged in free agency. Jose Quintana was among the pitchers some projected to land in Boston and he’s been even worse than Odorizzi, going 0-3 with a 7.22 ERA for the Los Angeles Angeles. Corey Kluber’s no-hitter was a highlight for the New York Yankees but the former ace who made only eight starts over the previous two seasons predictably landed on the injured list with a shoulder injury that will sideline him for about two months. Masahiro Tanaka went back to Japan. Even our beloved Jon Lester has been underwhelming with his new club (0-2, 4.37 ERA), suggesting a reunion would have only tarnished the image of the fan-favorite pitcher.

Boston passed on all of them to re-sign Perez. They showed Nick Pivetta that he was viewed as more than mere rotation depth by handing him a spot to open the season and he’s come through with a 6-1 record to go along with 3.77 ERA. Many complained when the Red Sox “overpaid” for the “injury-prone” Garrett Richards. All he’s done is post a 3.75 ERA while making all 11 of his starts so far. Nathan Eovaldi‘s contract was deemed an albatross heading into the season but that narrative should change considering his 2.1 WAR is tied for second among AL starting pitchers, per FanGraphs.

The only member of this rotation who isn’t exceeding expectations is Eduardo Rodriguez, although it’s fair to point out that he did miss the entire 2020 season with a serious heart condition. Recent results have been concerning but there’s little reason to doubt that E-Rod will eventually get back on track.

Oh, by the way, that Chris Sale guy is throwing off a mound again and should return sometime this summer.

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The Red Sox have built a formidable rotation and they didn’t have to break the bank to do it. We’re still in the first half of the season and only time will tell if these moves will pan out in the end but at the moment, Bloom appears to be a genius for making wise decisions instead of the popular ones.