Texas Rangers Player Profile: Martin Perez was not a fluke
Martin Perez came out of nowhere in 2022 for the Texas Rangers and became their most valuable pitcher based upon WAR (5.0), FIP (3.26), and ERA+ (136). You don’t need to nitpick stats to show why Martin Perez was by far the best option out of the rotation for the Rangers.
After signing with the team for just one year and $4 million, the Texas Rangers had hoped to get some decent starts every 5th day from a backend guy. After all, Perez had a career ERA of 4.71 up to that point and hadn’t had an ERA below 4.50 since 2016.
What they instead got was the rare, first All-Star Game appearance past age 30 and a career-high in ERA (2.89), WHIP (1.25), and K% (20.9). He continued his run for the remainder of the season and the Texas Rangers offered him a qualifying offer of $19.6 million and lock down the third spot of the rotation.
Martin Perez changed his identity as a pitcher to reach this point for the Texas Rangers
From 2012-2018, Martin Perez relied heavily on the sinker ball making it his primary pitch for every season excluding 2013. He went as far as throwing that pitch 50.6% of the time in 2018, and despite his poor results on the mound throughout that time he continued to lean upon it. 2018 was his worst season posting a 6.22 ERA and posting a career high in HR/9 at 1.7.
Unfortunately his season was cut short as he was battling right elbow injuries and never really recovered. He was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers and would be picked up by the Twins in January.
That offseason, Perez developed a cutter and made it his primary pitch throwing it 30.8% of the time and really dialing back on the sinker essentially cutting its usage in half using it 24.8% of the time.
His cutter was a below league average pitch with little horizontal movement and vertical movement 3% worse than league average. But it was a start, Perez improved his ERA by 1.1 runs and upped his K% from 13.1% to 18.3%.
In 2020, Perez signed with the Red Sox and made another adjustment to his pitch mix, moving his sinker down to the third tier and making his changeup his second pitch. In the span of two seasons, the sinker has been moved from the clear favorite pitch at 50.8% all the way down to the third favorite at 17.7% with the four-seam fastball closing in fast.
Perez took another step forward pitching an ERA to the tune of 4.50 and changed his identity as pitcher become more prone to fly balls than his previous seasons, straying away from the ground balls. It seemed like the less sinker we see the better off Perez was when he pitched.
Were Martin Perez and his sinker on track for an ugly divorce?
No, in fact the opposite. In pitching, beyond throwing strikes and getting outs, the name of the game is keeping the ball on the ground. Especially in the three true outcome era we are all living in. The ball can’t get over the fence if it’s rolling through the infield.
In 2021, Perez lessened the usage of his cutter by 2.1% while still making it his primary pitch and lo and behold, the sinker was on it’s way back up with a 25.3% usage and the changeup just behind. On the surface, Perez regressed but his ratios and overall skills improved. He improved his GB%, K% and BB%. He kept the ball on the ground more, got more strikeouts and walked less guys at the same time.
The Texas Rangers appeared to have noticed this change and took a flier on the 10-year veteran. What a great deal it was for them. The contract was paid in full and then some.
What made Martin Perez so successful in 2022?
Perez and his sinker found their spark once again that they had lost in 2019. His sinker went back to being his primary pitch, with his changeup at two, and cutter as a close third. He became a three-pitch pitcher, essentially eliminating his curve and four-seam throwing them less than 10% of the time.
This mix made him the most effective of his career by far. His GB% shot up to 51.4% good for 5th in the league and his HR/9 (0.5) was 3rd best. As I said before, name of the game is keeping the ball on the ground. The culprit for his sudden increase in groundball rate was his cutter with produced a ground ball 52.2% of the time which far outclasses the league average for cutter GB% at 41.7%.
His sinker also became a staple of Perez’s outings using it 10% more than the rest of the MLB. It was equally as effective as the cutter with both horizontal and vertical movement above league average. And finally his changeup was the cherry on top with an O-Swing% in the 86th percentile of all changeups and 92nd percentile of strikeouts.
Some may see Martin Perez’s 2022 for the Texas Rangers as a flash in the pan season and he is due for regression to his old ways. I disagree. There is difference in a random decrease in ERA due to heavy BABIP luck and a decrease in ERA due to skills developed through pitches and location. Perez was excellent with commanding where he wanted his pitches based upon his 92nd percentile Barrel%. On top of that, Martin Perez had the 10th highest BABIP against compared to all qualified pitchers and none of the nine ahead of him had a lower ERA.
Perez is ready prove some people wrong once again this year. He’s a groundball machine and that sinker, cutter, and changeup combo isn’t going anywhere.