Martin Perez: Buy or Sell?
Martin Perez has been one of baseball’s best starters over the first month of the 2014 season. Combining a plus change-up with a low-90s sinker, Perez cruised to a 26-consecutive scoreless innings streak- including back-to-back complete game shutouts. Despite Tuesday’s outing against Oakland (he gave up eight earned runs in 4.2 innings), Perez has the stuff and makeup to be a mainstay in the Rangers rotation for the next decade. For the Rangers, the answer is obvious- they signed him to an extension during the off-season, locking him up through 2020. For fantasy owners, the answer is much less straightforward.
Watching Martin Perez pitch, it’s easy to see why he has been so effective. Entering Tuesday, Perez held a 1.42 ERA and a 60.8% ground ball rate and still has yet to give up a home run on the season- clear signs his sinker and change-up do their jobs. Perez has effectively traded punchouts (5.48 K/9) for ground-ball outs, a savvy strategy with elite defenders Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus behind him and an offense-favorable home park.
Fantasy owners, on the other hand, should interpret Perez’s 2014 success differently. On the short side at 6-feet tall, Perez doesn’t generate the necessary downward plane to get away with low-90s four seamers in the upper half of the strike zone. He’s at his best when he pounds the bottom of the zone with his sinker and change-up, mixing in his slider against lefties, and inducing weak contact. He’ll have games in which he strikes out eight or nine batters, but that won’t be the norm. Starters with average strikeout rates can easily provide value (think Jordan Zimmermann before this year’s K/9 jump), though other attributes (like command) need to be strong.
Tuesday’s outing against Oakland shows the other issue with Martin Perez. His Zone %, the number of pitches seen inside the strike zone, is one of the worst in baseball. He ranks 12th-best in O-Swing % among qualified starters, meaning he’s effective at getting batters to chase outside pitches. Perez has great stuff, but will struggle with his command. Watching video on four of his starts confirms this effect. He regularly misses his spots and often times he’s not close. Oakland waited him out and either hammered his fastball when he got behind in the count or took very opportunistic walks (he twice issued bases-loaded free passes).
There are a couple of key interpretations of these figures. First, expect his walk rate to increase. It will likely stay below three BB/9, but it will climb. Second, as batters lay off the very high number of pitches out of the zone, Perez instantly becomes less effective, which will contribute to the impending ERA normalization (though Tuesday’s start wiped out most of the nearly 2-run difference between his ERA and xFIP). As a result, Perez is a strong sell-high candidate.
How Do Fantasy Owners Sell Martin Perez?
In redraft leagues, Martin Perez was either drafted late as a flyer or added after he mowed down the Phillies in his first start. In other words, an owner on the receiving end of a Perez offer likely knows what the seller is doing. Perez has enough pedigree to convince a few owners his artificially low rates are sustainable, but what should owners realistically expect in return?
The answer of course depends on your league. In redraft leagues, aim high, especially for scuffling stars or under performing youngsters. I was discussing Perez with Mike Newman and Josh Donaldson was a name both of us considered. More likely though, a fantasy owner looking for infield help could easily turn Perez into Xander Bogaerts or Brad Miller. In the outfield, pick your poison- many stars are off to rough starts. Jason Heyward, Allen Craig, and Wil Myers are the first guys I’d target, but Alex Gordon and Matt Kemp would be fine consolation prizes.
Keeper and dynasty leagues are trickier. Perez is still very valuable on account of his age and stuff (Mike argued that Perez was great buy low option just this past off-season to great effect), and other owners are much less likely to cast off a valuable piece after a slow start. If you’re in win-now mode, target an established vet to put you over the top. Look for guys like Jayson Werth, last season’s 10th-most valuable outfielder, who are criminally underrated on account of their age. If you’re building for the future and have pitching to spare, consider guys like Kyle Seager, Leonys Martin, and Brandon Belt– they will contribute value matching the very high end of Perez’s potential.
It’s easy to convince yourself that any flyer-turned-stud player can keep up a torrid start. Sometimes the best play is to cash out and take your winnings to the bank. If you end up trading Martin Perez, let us know in the comments.
30 Apr 2014 / Ben Flajole / 3
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