Yesterday was the first day that those eligible for free agency this off season were able to file, and among the 65 players who did so was Oliver Perez. MetsBlog.com writes that Ollie will initially seek upwards of $50MM over five years, “while eventually settling on a three– or four-year deal later in the off-season”.
Perez has now logged just a shade under 1000 innings in his major league career that began in 2002 with the Padres. He rose to fame in 2004 as the 22-year old future lefty ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 12-10, posting an ERA of 2.98 with 239 Ks over 196 innings. Four full seasons later, we’re still yet to see another year quite like that out of him. The popular opinion of Perez seems to be that he’s an erratic, yet at times dominant young pitcher with loads of potential that just hasn’t been tapped.
Over the past two plus years since he became a Met, I’ve cheered for Ollie. And quite frankly, I’m hoping that I won’t have to ever again. Why? Because he’s not good. He’s not good enough to warrant his reputation, and he’s certainly not good enough to receive such a large contract – even at three or four years.
It appears that there’s still a lot of people out there who think that Perez will be able to duplicate his 2004 season once again with the proper instruction. And it’s never going to happen. We have four full seasons worth of information to work with here that shows why.
For one, in that 2004 season, Ollie struck out an incredible 11.5 batters per nine innings. That’s impressive for a closer. For a starter who logged close to 200 innings, that’s incredible. But he followed that up with disastrous 2005 and 2006 as a Pirate, seeing his strikeouts per nine plummet to 7.9 and 6.5 respectively. And although he’s gotten those numbers back into “good” territory since he was traded in July of 2006 to New York, it’s still quite a ways away from 11.5. On top of that, Perez’ walks per nine innings haven’t been better than it was in ’04 either, peaking (in a bad way) in 2005 with 5.7 free passes per game.
But that’s not all. The Hardball Times keeps a stat called FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). In the simplest terms, FIP is what that particular pitcher’s ERA would be if the defense behind him was the same as that for every other pitcher. Taking it a step further, Hardball also uses something called xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching), which calculates what the FIP of each pitcher would be if his HR-allowed were more in line with his flyball rates (It’s generally believed that if a significant percentage of the flyballs given up by the pitcher are going over the fence, it’s either due to a small ballpark or just plain bad luck). For those of you who believe that this stuff is just fancy mumbo-jumbo, just know that it’s a very useful tool to be able to predict the future ERA of pitchers.
Anyhow, if you look at these stats for Oliver Perez (chart on right), you’ll notice something. Since 2005, Perez’ ERA has ranged widely from a low of 3.56 to a high of 6.63. What about FIP? It’s a much smaller range, from 4.36 to 6.19. And it’s even tighter for xFIP – 4.65 to 6.10.
So what does this tell us? For one, Oliver Perez is a below average starter whose ERA should be in the high-4s or even low 5s. And he’s not really that inconsistent on a year to year basis. Aside from that 2006 tenure with the Pirates (which lasted for 15 games), there are no real outliers. His xFIP has been predictable. What has varied is his level of luck and the quality of the defense that’s been behind him. Put an average defensive team behind Oliver Perez and all those guys he’s walking are going to score.
Sure, whereever Ollie ends up, he’ll probably still rack up the strikeouts. But he’ll also keep walking 4+ guys per game. And while he’s been able to keep his actual ERA well below the FIP and xFIP over the past two seasons, it’s a decent bet that this can’t continue. Yes, he’s still young as he won’t turn 27 until June. But we’ve seen him for almost 1000 innings now and he hasn’t changed.
Now do you want to spend $10MM a year on this guy?