After a relatively quiet week, news broke on Friday afternoon that the D-backs had agreed to terms with LHP Oliver Perez, presumably as a bullpen piece. My first reaction was that this was a terrible move. After a little more research, it seems that it’s merely a very bad move.
Don’t get me wrong, Oliver Perez is a pretty good pitcher. And a two-year, $4.25M deal is not bad. But I have two very big reservations about this deal, and both have a lot to do with the fact that the bullpen already has too many quality candidates.
The first reservation is simple: this move will bump a younger pitcher from the bullpen. And as I wrote at length a few months ago, younger relief pitchers can be better than veterans in two ways: they’re cheaper, but they can also be sent down to the minors. Relievers aren’t position players, who can work on kinks in practice. They aren’t starters, who can iron things out in side sessions. Relievers use their bullets in games, and if something is wrong, it’s extremely difficult to find a chance to fix it. Sure, there’s the DL. But Oliver Perez can’t be sent to Reno to fix something, if necessary. When David Hernandez was finally sent down to AAA, he was a revelation in his return. That kind of flexibility is to be treasured, not thrown away for reasonably-priced but marginal-at-best upgrades.
The second reservation is that this signing was clearly made to have a second lefty in the bullpen. The team made the decision to keep Joe Thatcher — that’s fine, even if that decision was made, in part, to avoid eating crow for the Ian Kennedy trade. But of the other top 8 candidates for bullpen spots (of which only 6 were likely to be picked), none were southpaws. It seems that Santos Rodriguez and Ryan Rowland-Smith didn’t show enough this spring to keep them in the running for a bullpen slot. Feeling compelled to go outside the organization is completely reasonable. But compare the 2013 stats of these two pitchers:
I don’t even need to tell you which pitcher is Perez to make this point: he was not used as a matchups guy last season. In fact, he wasn’t even steered toward LHH much; about 40% of hitters bat lefty, and that’s the ratio we’re looking at here. But ok, fine; Perez wasn’t really signed to be the LOOGY of the staff, that’s Thatcher’s job, for better or worse. But I think that bending over backwards to sign a lefty has at least something to do with how the pitcher is to be deployed (in an inning when two LHH are due up, for example), so it makes sense to wonder if Perez is cut out for that job.
I don’t think he is. In 2012, Perez actually had a reverse platoon split; LHH managed a .276 BA and .302 wOBA (weighted on base average, which accounts for all ways in which hitters create runs). RHH hit just .200 against Perez that year, with a .244 wOBA. That’s very good. And that’s the point here: Perez is a fine bullpen arm, and the D-backs did get him below market. But he was signed to be a lefties guy, and that’s just not who he is.
To make matters worse: Will Harris was in the running for one of the two final bullpen spots, but the Perez signing means Harris will almost definitely start in AAA. And Harris is Player A in the table above. We have no idea if Harris can repeat that kind of performance (maybe he was kept away from difficult LHH), but it looked to me like Harris was the guy to come in if two LHH were due up. Now Perez will take that role, and I’m not sure Perez will be better at it.
In a vacuum, the Perez signing is good. But he doesn’t really fit this team. And with so many veterans in the bullpen again, the D-backs might get strangled to death mid-season if a number of those veterans struggle, because they can’t be sent down and they won’t be replaced.
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan has the skinny on the D-backs’ recent reassignments. Not many surprises. In no scenario would Jake Barrett, Matt Stites or Eury De la Rosa have made the Opening Day bullpen, with several other pitchers (like Harris and Marcos Mateo) on the bubble. It looks like the backup catcher race is narrowed to Blake Lalli, Tuffy Gosewisch and Henry Blanco, though, with Bobby Wilson reassigned. And I was actually surprised by Zeke Spruill being optioned to AAA Reno. I really thought he was a very good candidate to be one of the two exhibition-only guys to go to Australia. But there was a surprise inclusion for one of those two spots, too. Check out McLennan’s piece from last week on the previous roster cuts.
- It was a banner week for excellent Nick Piecoro notebooks (like most weeks), and I learned a lot from last Wednesday’s, about Bo Schultz in particular. On Friday, Piecoro raised the possibility that Perez might be a replacement for Thatcher, rather than an additional LHP arm. If Thatcher will struggle like he did at the end of 2013, that would be a good thing. In Saturday’s notebook, Piecoro expanded on that, and had some great news about Cody Ross sliding into a base without a problem. There are also notes about Archie Bradley and Miguel Montero.
- Archie Bradley will be pitching the exhibition game in Australia — I’m not sure how to feel about that. I thought it would be Delgado. But I will say that as a marketing move, it’s pretty brilliant. He can do it without being put on the 40-man, and if he turns out to be the ace that the D-backs hope he will be, there could be tens of thousands of Australians who have a lasting connection to the team by virtue of feeling connected to Bradley. But I have to disagree with Thomas Lynch of Venom Strikes that this means it’s more likely that Bradley will start for the D-backs at the outset of the (American) regular season — Corbin and Cahill are lined up to pitch two of those first three games (either 1 and 2, or 2 and 3), and Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy will also be ready for games 2 and 3, unless something strange happens. The likely scenario is Bronson Arroyo for game 1 against the Giants, but we’ll see. Delgado will also be lined up perfectly to start that game, unless he’s converted to relief before then.
- At Beyond the Box Score, Chris Teeter took a first step toward determining just how helpful infield shifting can be. This is a hard nut to crack, but if really smart teams are doing it, I’d rather assume it’s smart until I find out it’s not, instead of the other way around. One way or another, this is something the D-backs should probably consider more — especially with Martin Prado starting in the infield every day.
- No expanded instant replay for the Australia games, apparently. Ok then. Don’t care too much about replays, as long as the actual plays happen.
- At ESPN, Jim Bowden (Insider-subscription) included Chris Owings among ten players that scouts are raving about. Our very own Jeff Wiser got eyeballs on Owings recently, and was also impressed.
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