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If you believe the Giants should not bother to upgrade any parts of their 40-man roster in 2020, then this post isn’t for you. This post is for those wondering just how the Giants could make some minor additions here and there that would upgrade the talent, not break the bank, and not tie up a huge percentage of payroll years from now.
Let’s start with the rotation, because that’s easily the worst part of the team.
You might say it’s the bullpen — because what good is starting pitching or an offense if the team can’t hold a lead? — but consider that with Shaun Anderson, Tyler Rogers, Wandy Peralta, Tony Watson, Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave, and Sam Selman already in the mix and Trevor Gott himself signalling that the team always has a shot at finding a gem on the waiver wire, the bullpen might not look great when compared to last season, but it’s not completely devoid of talent.
Can the Giants really count on 34-year old Johnny Cueto to be an effective 160+ inning guy facing the likes of the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Braves? Can Jeff Samardzija survive another full season with a sub-8 K/9 and outperform his FIP by a full run again? That’s a lot to ask, and analytics-wise they both have a lot of red flags.
As much as I like Tyler Beede, he’s still developing. Logan Webb, too. Conner Menez and Andy Suarez might ultimately be dueling Ty Blachs in terms of their role on the roster (spot starter/long reliever), and I have my doubts about Dereck Rodriguez surviving Spring Training. The Giants claimed Tyler Anderson in part to stave off this rotation apocalypse and he definitely has the potential to be Hydrox Madison Bumgarner, but the actual rotation depth isn’t thin, it’s nonexistent.
”We’re looking at pitching depth and flexibility,” Zaidi said. “We’ve got a relatively young pitching group on our 40-man roster at this point. So we’d certainly be open to adding more veterans and more innings. We’re going to be open to anything and see what the market yields.”
Therefore, I submit to you left-handed pitcher Martín Pérez, formerly of the Twins.
He’s pitched fewer than 1,000 innings in his 8-year major league career and turns 29 just after Opening Day. He’s also coming off two confusing seasons: a 76 ERA+ in 2018, 90 ERA+ in 2019. He started 29 games and pitched 165.2 innings for Minnesota last year and it would appear the only reason why they cut him was to giving him a raise:
[...] Twins have some interest in bringing left-hander Martin Perez back in 2020, although clearly at a lower rate than the $7.5MM club option the team declined earlier this month. Speculatively speaking, it’d be interesting to see what the hard-throwing Perez could do in short relief stints, and the Twins don’t have much on the roster in terms of left-handed relief options beyond closer Taylor Rogers. Perez averaged 94.1 mph on his fastball as a starter in 2019 and would presumably see that velocity trend upward with a move to the bullpen.
I know what you’re gonna say: Bryan, you idiot, he doesn’t sound good at all!
Except, I think he kinda-sorta actually maybe could be pretty good next year, and especially if Oracle Park becomes his home stadium.
What got me thinking about Pérez in the first place was this post on the Rays’ SB Nation site, D Rays Bay: “Is Ryan Yarborough the new model for pitchers?” The premise here is that Yarborough’s talent for inducing soft contact has helped him excel (2.7 fWAR in 2019) despite a subpar skill set (84-88 mph with a cutter and sinker) and that maybe pitchers who are good at limiting hard contact especially in a mystery ball era have a distinct opportunity to succeed.
The average exit velocity against Yarborough in 2019 was 84.1 mph. His hard hit rate was 26.2%. Both of those were the best in baseball in 2019. Fifth place in both categories?
Okay, so, I spoiled the answer with the article headline, but yeah. It’s Martín Pérez.
If you set the Statcast minimum to 400 batted ball events, Martín Pérez’s contact against numbers really stand out.
85.4 mph exit velocity — top 4% of MLB
29.7% Hard Hit rate — top 7% of MLB
.304 xwOBA — 45th in MLB (of 154)
.386 xSLG — 28th in MLB (better than Paxton, Greinke, Yarbrough, Soroka)
Zaidi also mentioned in his comments about the roster goals this offseason that
“We’re still in a mode where we want to compete next year,” Zaidi said. “We want to play meaningful baseball as deep into the season as we can, which was our stated goal in 2019.”
But, yeah, I get it. The Giants stink. But what if they could add the Hydrox version of Madison Bumgarner and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Hyun-Jin Ryu version of Hyun-Jin Ryu in the same offseason and all for the cost of one of these name brand players?
Oh, wait. I’m not pulling a Ryu comp out of nowhere. He’s 3rd on the average exit velocity leaderboard (85.3 mph) and 10th on the hard hit rate board (30.8%). Here’s a quick and dirty comp:
Pérez is younger (29 vs. 33)
Throws harder (94 mph fastball vs. 91 mph)
More durable (435.2 IP vs. 391.2 IP over the last three seasons)
Cheaper ($4 million in 2019 vs. $17.9 million)
2.3 fWAR Steamer projection vs. 2.9 fWAR
Here’s where Pérez falls down, though (2019 numbers):
1st time through order: .231/.295/.366
2nd time through order: .329/.384/.524
3rd time through order: .272/.345/.429
Pitches 1-25: .250/.327/.375
Pitches 26-50: .301/.360/.485
Pitches 51-75: .301/.374/.497
Pitches 76-100: .269/.325/.389
Pitches 101+: 0-for-6 with 2 strikeouts
Yeah, that’ll do it. Makes sense why the Twins would want to convert him into a reliever. This is also a guy who’s had a 4.95 ERA / 4.75 FIP over the last four seasons and the worst K/9 (5.75) in baseball since 2016. He has been exactly as valuable (6.4 fWAR) as Jhoulys Chacin and Julio Teheran and only more valuable (again — minimum 600 IP) than Andrew Cashner and Mike Fiers.
So, he has been an elite pitcher for rebuilding squads (first the Rangers then the Twins), which would seem to make the Giants an ideal landing spot for him. And as bad as those last four seasons have looked combined, I can’t help but notice that he raised his strikeout rate to a career-best 7.3 K/9 this past season while keeping his walk rate around where it has been the past few seasons (3.6 BB/9). He brutalized left-handed batters, too: .228/.291/.294 in 148 plate appearances. Could you imagine him facing the Dodgers?
Don’t forget that the Giants have a little bit of pitcher whispering ability in them. Do I think the Giants’ brain trust is better than the Rangers’ and Twins’ and could get Perez to ditch his sinker entirely and utilize his four-seamer or cutter more and to greater effect? Yes, absolutely. Trevor Gott is already a success story. Tyler Anderson looks setup to be another.
Maybe he doesn’t fit on the roster as a full-on starter, but maybe as an opener? A follower? The next Drew Pomeranz? This year’s Derek Holland? That might be the better comp because Zaidi paid Holland $6.5 million based on a 2-win projection for 2019, which is where Pérez projects to be for 2020. A hard-throwing lefty who gets soft contact and gets to face National League hitters and play at home in Oracle Park? In a competitive year he’d be an exciting project. In a year that figures to suck no matter what the Giants do, any diversionary projects must be embraced.