Who: Luis Perez, No. 47. Left-handed relief pitcher. 6’0”, 210 LBS. 26 years old.
Provenance: Guayubin, Dominican Republic. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2003 by the Blue Jays.
2011 Stats: 5.12 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 54 strikeouts and 27 walks in 65.0 innings over 37 games with the Blue Jays.
Minor League Stats: At Triple-A (2010-2011), 5.61 ERA in 23 starts, 6.8 K/9, 4.8 BB/9. At Double-A (2009-2010), 3.86 ERA in 41 games (39 starts), 6.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9.
Looking Back: There was scarcely a word or whisper among the media, blogs or fans about Luis Perez until the date that he was called up in April of last season. Last spring, we were all too fixated on what sort of growth we might see out of David Purcey to even pay much mind to any other depth lefty. But as pitchers were injured early and as Purcey pitched poor enough so as to secure his release from the Jays, Perez was called upon to mop up some early season messes.
Though his initial service with the Jays lasted just three outings, he made enough of an impression to earn himself a return engagement and stuck with the team through most of the rest of the year. We were impressed with Perez from the outset, and probably liked him much more than we should have given his pedestrian numbers at the end of the year.
It wasn’t completely unwarranted, either. If you’ll indulge us as we play with arbitrary endpoints, Perez posted a 2.96 ERA in the 28 games between his May 23rd recall and his August 27th start against the Tampa Bay Rays. A couple of ugly outings in blowouts and one horrific start against the Red Sox in September overshadow a lot of the good that Perez did throughout the season, but he’s pitched well enough to work his way back into consideration for a role in the crowded Blue Jays bullpen.
The apex of Perez’s 2011 came in an August 21st start against Oakland, in which he limited the A’s to one hit over six innings. After cruising through the first five innings, striking out four while keeping a clean sheet, Perez walked two and gave up a hit to load the bases before getting a 6-4-3 double play ball from Coco Crisp to close off his part of the day. The Jays went on to win 1-0.
Looking Forward: Perez is out of options, and it’s hard to imagine that the Jays will let him walk, so he’s almost certain to be part of the big club to open the season. John Farrell raved to the press corps about Perez on Wednesday, noting that his slider looked much better, and his approach to getting our right-handed hitters had improved significantly.
It will be interesting to see how a new approach manifests itself in the pitches Perez is asked to deliver. Last year, he threw his fastball 72.5% of the time, which is likely a function of his middle relief role. (“Just go in and throw strikes, kid.”) If Perez is given work in higher leverage situations, or if he needs to make starts in a pinch, he may be asked to lean on that slider more often, or work in a changeup more than 6% of the time.
Ultimately, Perez throws fairly hard (92.6 M.P.H. on average with the fastball), and showed a willingness to stay down in the zone. He also improved significantly on his strikeout and walk rates after arriving in Toronto, which might be a comment on the funhouse pitching environment of the Pacific Coast League, or could also be a reflection of his ability to be coached by the major league staff. Being the optimist we are, we’ll opt for the latter.
2012 Expectations: Not unlike Joel Carreno or Carlos Villnueva, we believe that Perez has the ability to be a 100-inning reliever for the Jays this year. (Yes, this is a fixation of ours. No, we have no reason to believe that either Alex Anthopoulos or John Farrell share our enthusiasm for this strategy.)
Moreover, with the praise that has been heaped in his direction early in the spring, it also wouldn’t surprise us if he were asked to step in to a fifth start spot while certain other pitchers get their stuff together. Either way, we expect Perez to be an important part of a strong bullpen.