Glen Perkins: Tribute To A Twins Daily Hall Of Famer
Image courtesy of Denny Medley, USA TodayWhy do I say Perk is an easy choice for this hypothetical TD Hall of Fame? The biggest reason is obvious enough: his play. Our site launched in 2012, and during the first several years of its existence, he was easily one of the team's brightest stars.
Perkins first took over the closer role midway through that campaign, relieving us all of Matt Capps. From that point through the end of the 2015 season, the left-hander was one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball, a three-time All Star and a dominant force.
His best years coincided directly with the rise of our community. They also coincided directly with one of the darkest chapters in this franchise's modern history, which is a true shame. I do wonder how much differently Perkins might be viewed if more than a handful of his 120 career saves were actually meaningful.
But it's not just the performance Perkins delivered at his peak that makes him near-and-dear to this site. He is in so many ways a reflection of everything Twins Daily stands for: a celebration of Minnesota baseball; an embracing of deeper and more thoughtful analysis; a sometimes nerdy level of passion for the game.
This piece is my attempt to recognize Perkins for all of these things.
He's the definition of a homegrown talent. Perkins was born in Stillwater, just inside the Minnesota border, in 1983. He grew up and played prep ball there, then attended the University of Minnesota, where he starred for the Gophers. Taken by his hometown MLB team with the 22nd overall pick in 2004, Perkins became the eighth first-round pick out of the U of M, joining – among others – Paul Molitor.
How fitting that Molitor would eventually be the manager to send Perk out for his emotional curtain call in the season's second-to-last game.
Obviously our central focus here at Twins Daily is covering the Twins (daily) but we also make efforts to extend our lens to Minnesota hardball at large. Readers could find frequent coverage of the Gophers and St. Paul Saints this summer, and around draft time we always shine a light on the locals. Perkins covers the breadth of our scope.
When he donned those road jerseys with the "MINNESOTA" lettering across the front, it had quite a bit more meaning for Perkins than most.
After joining the pro ranks, Perkins rose quickly through the minors, making his first big-league appearance two years after being drafted. But in time it became apparent that he wasn't cut out as an MLB starter.
After working up to 150 innings in 2008, his arm didn't respond well. The following year he battled injuries while his fastball dipped below 90 and his K/9 sank to an untenable nadir. Late in the season, relations between he and the team reached a low point when Perkins filed a grievance against the Twins for optioning him to the minors instead of sending him on a rehab assignment off a DL stint, preventing him qualifying for Super 2 status (and thus, an arbitration raise).
It was a logical decision for the Twins, but one could understand the lefty's frustration. His budding career momentum had grinded to a halt before yielding any significant money. The next year he pitched terribly in Triple-A but came back up to the majors in August anyway, in a probable last shot with the organization.
Ron Gardenhire and the Twins saw something they liked as Perkins worked as a reliever in September, posting a 3.09 ERA and averaging a strikeout per inning. They brought him to New York for the playoffs.
In spring of 2011, he was reportedly close to not making the team before a late-March meeting with Gardenhire in which he told the skipper, “I want to pitch for the Twins. It’s where I grew up. Just give me a chance.”
They did, and boy was it a good call. Perkins blossomed as a setup man that year, pumping heat in the mid-90s, then took over the closer role in 2012. He would make three straight All Star teams in that capacity, and four years later he'd overtake Eddie Guardado for third on the franchise leaderboard in saves.
It's the kind of turnaround that should inspire every struggling young player in the game.
A Studious Mind
As you may or may not be aware, Perkins wrote the foreword for this year's edition of the Baseball Prospectus Annual. In it, he recounts the story of discovering BP in 2009, and thusly becoming aware of sabermetrics and modernized analysis. Suddenly, he was noticing the negative harbingers in a 12-win 2008 season – a sub par K-rate, a bloated fly ball ratio, a FIP north of 5.00.
A change in mindset, and reevaluating the factors of his game really worth focusing on, may have played a big role in driving his turnaround.
By the time he was blooming as an elite relief pitcher in 2013, Perkins was well versed in advanced stats. That May, he participated in a Q&A with David Laurila of FanGraphs where he drilled down into metrics like K/9, Z-Swing%, and HR/FB.
His assertion in that interview that FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is the most important pitching statistic probably wasn't shared by any of his peers in the majors, but was music to the ears of bloggers and analytical fans.
This commonality – a fervent curiosity about baseball, extending beyond its traditions and platitudes – helped many of us fans feel an inherent bond with the hurler, and he strengthened it with an engaging and accessible personality. Perk has always been pretty interactive on Twitter. He and his wife Alisha host an annual 5K supporting mental health. He notoriously bought a round of beers from the bullpen for Twins Daily readers at our first Touch Em All Pub Crawl. He has even gone to bat for the value of baseball writing not driven by access:
Perkins has done much to endear himself to Twins fans – and the hardcore sorts that patronize this site especially – so it's safe to say he wasn't the only one dealing with dust in his eyes as he sat in the dugout after that final appearance of the year.
One of Us
Here in Minnesota, the above term is thrown around often in sarcastic tones, teasing the absurd amount of pride we tend to express over athletes with local ties. But Perkins fulfills that descriptor in every sense.
Thanks, Perk, for being One of Us and representing Us so well.
- Cory Engelhardt, mikelink45, Sconnie and 7 others like this