Could Martin Perez Be 2019's Anibal Sanchez?
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsLet’s back up a little. Minnesota agreed to a one-year contract with Sánchez on Feb. 16 of last year, worth $2.5 million, with $500,000 guaranteed. Back then, that deal was a thinker. Why were the Twins chasing after a pitcher who appeared to be way past his prime? They weren’t getting the Cy Young candidate version of Sanchez who once led the AL in ERA and FIP (2.57 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 2013). They were getting a pitcher who had had an ERA of 5.67 in the three previous seasons combined and saw the velocity of his primary pitch, the Four Seamer, drop from 92.4 mph to 90.7 in the same span.
The main explanation given at the time was the coaching staff and Sánchez were willing to reinvent his pitch selection and make adjustments to his mechanics, as stated by the player himself in this Rhett Bollinger report last year. The club believed if he relied more on his varied offerings, he would miss more bats. And that made a lot of sense.
Even during 2017, perhaps his worst season, Sánchez's most effective pitches were extremely underused. His cutter, which struck out batters 33.3% of time and had a .235 BA, was used only 7.3% of time. During that same season, his sinker was used 23.4% of the time despite that pitch having a .311 batting average against and giving up a leading nine home runs.
His first impression couldn’t have been better. Sánchez's first outing with the Twins came Feb. 27 against the Red Sox. He pitched two perfect innings and struck out one batter. Four days later disaster struck, as he gave up six earned runs on five hits, in two innings of work against the Pirates. Nothing out of the ordinary, especially because we’re talking about spring training. There would have been plenty of time to figure things out. But plans changed.
On March 10, the Twins announced the signing of Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12 million contract. Two days later, Sánchez was released by Minnesota and four days after that, signed a minor league contract with the Braves. He went on to find redemption in Atlanta, by having his best season since 2013. He pitched 136 2/3 innings for the Braves, posting a fantastic 2.83 ERA and a 3.62 FIP. He struck out 8.9 batters per nine, which was slightly above his career average of 8.0 through 2017.
Coming back to his pitch selection, here is a breakdown of how different his pitch usage was in 2018 in comparison with the year before, per Baseball Savant:
2017 pitch usage
Four Seamer – 26.2% (.340 BA, 6 HR, 21 SO)
Sinker – 23.4% (.311 BA, 9 HR, 24 SO)
Split Finger – 18.1% (.239 BA, 4 HR, 34 SO)
Slider – 12.4% (.471 BA, 4 HR, 3 SO)
2018 pitch usage
Four Seamer – 33% (.262 BA, 5 HR, 22 SO)
Cutter – 20.2% (.206 BA, 5 HR, 34 SO)
Split Finger – 19% (.165 BA, 2 HR, 33 SO)
Curve – 9.3% (.379 BA, 1 HR, 6 SO)
So, Sánchez found success by relying more on pitches that had been proven effective previously, while also working on his mechanics.
Can Pérez be the new Sánchez?
Exactly like Sánchez last year, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure if Pérez is going to have a good season or not. It’s like the Twins are on the eve of a blind date right now. But one thing is certain: he has to make major changes.
Thanks to this beautifully written story by Dan Hayes, of The Athletic, we can see a glimpse into how the coaching staff is approaching Pérez to achieve such changes. Hayes writes that “the Twins asked the left-hander to make a moderately significant mechanical change in which he incorporates his hips more into his delivery”. That has already had a huge impact. Not once in his career has Pérez had a pitch that averaged more than 93.4 mph in a season (four seamer, 2016). This spring, he's touched 97 mph multiple times and has maintained an average of 95 mph in his fastball.
Hayes also writes that during his spring outings so far, Pérez abandoned the slider, by far his worst pitch last year (.467 batting average and .867 slugging against). In its place, he has adopted a cutter, which has been admired by everybody watching the games.
Going back to his best season in the majors, 2013, it’s easy to notice how drastically Pérez's pitch selection changed in comparison with 2018, arguably his worst in the majors.
2013 pitch usage
Four Seamer – 35.2% (.338 BA, 3 HR, 12 SO)
Changeup – 23.7% (.174 BA, 4 HR, 45 SO)
Sinker – 22.4% (.291 BA, 4 HR, 15 SO)
2018 pitch usage
Sinker – 50.6% (.291 BA, 4 HR, 33 SO)
Changeup – 17.5% (.348 BA, 3 HR, 12 SO)
Four Seamer – 16.4% (.400 BA, 3 HR, 2 SO)
Better quality fastballs with increased velocity could do the trick. If he could also manage to recover the changeup he had in 2013, things could get even better. That was his only season with a sub-4.00 ERA (3.62 in 124 1/3 innings of work).
Per Twins beat reporter By Do-Hyoung Park, Pérez is getting advice on his changeup from fellow countryman and Twins Hall of Famer Johan Santana. Park writes that the soon-to-be 28 year-old “is trying to emphasize attacking hitters inside with his fastball and utilizing his changeup.” And you can tell how comfortable Pérez is feeling with all theses changes by looking at this quote from him on that same story: “Before, I just used my arms. Now, I’m using all my body, and you guys can see the results. I don’t miss inside anymore”. His most recent outing wasn’t nearly as good as the previous three, but that’s part of spring baseball. He gave up five earned runs in four innings of work Thursday against the Pirates.
It’s wait and see time. Pérez being brought in meant valuable youngsters expecting their shot in the rotation were made to wait a bit longer. I’m talking about Adalberto Mejía and Fernando Romero, both moved up to the bullpen. So, there’s a lot at stake for Pérez here, and the front office appears to have foregone other free agents in order to give him an opportunity. If he manages to pull the Aníbal Sánchez this year and/or more, Minnesota will have hit jackpot.
- caninatl04 likes this