What’s The Upside Of Keeping Chris Perez?

Here’s a secret about Chris Perez: He was never that good in the first place.

You might think he once was, and it’s understandable why he’d have that reputation. He made the All-Star Game, twice. He saved 23 or more games four seasons in a row, topping out at 36 and 39. He once had an ERA of 1.71. He looked like a closer, what with the beard and the 94 mph fastball.

Perez FIP xFIP
2009 4.27 3.92
2010 3.54 4.13
2011 4.27 5.01
2012 3.34 3.67
2013 5.08 3.83
2014 5.42 4.56

But we know that saves and ERA aren’t really great ways to evaluate relievers — I always like to point to Shawn Chacon‘s 35 saves and 7.11 ERA for the 2004 Rockies — and the more effective ways tell the real story about Perez. Sure, he could miss bats, usually, but he never had elite control, and he was below-average at preventing the longball. That’s why, if you look at his FIP/xFIP numbers over the years, what you see is a pretty fungible, mediocre reliever. Sure, he had his moments — 2012 was a particular high point — but for the most part, there’s not a lot that stands out.

Saves, as they often do, give value to a reliever that doesn’t otherwise deserve it. Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland, for example, aren’t great because they’re the only two relievers with more than 60 saves in 2013-14; they’re great because the highest FIP or xFIP either has is 1.88. Kenley Jansen is at 2.07 (FIP) and 2.01 (xFIP). That’s what an elite closer looks like.

And to its credit, the baseball world recognized that. There’s a reason that Perez managed to only land himself only $2.3 million in guaranteed (with a ton of incentives) money this winter, for only a single year. (Well, a reason besides the thing where he mailed marijuana to his dog. Yes, really.) He wasn’t valued like a man with a closing resume. He was valued like a very questionable reliever. This is good. This is progress.

But it also means that there’s really no reason why the Dodgers can’t cut him and move on, and there’s very little that indicates that they shouldn’t, especially after he faced six Diamondbacks yesterday and allowed five to reach. After a lousy end to his Cleveland career, Perez has been even worse this year, putting up career-worst marks in, well, just about everything. It’s not velocity-related — if anything, he’s throwing harder — but it’s not a good sign that he’s:

  • • allowing more flyballs (45.8 percent) than he has since 2011
  • • inducing fewer groundballs (30.6 percent) than he has since 2011
  • • throwing fewer strikes (50.3 percent) than he ever has
  • • putting up easily the worst FIP- (152) of his career

That’s all bad. So is this: Over his career, his slider has always been his best pitch, holding hitters to a 45 wRC+, which is excellent. But the slider isn’t working this year, since that wRC+ is up to 115, considerably-below average on his end. Despite that, he’s begun to throw it more because his fastball, despite the heat, is so awful, allowing a 181 wRC+ this year and a 123 over his career. A pitcher can’t live on one good pitch alone, at least pitchers who aren’t Mariano Rivera, and especially not when that one good pitch isn’t performing. Perhaps in recognition of that, it does look like he’s tried to start using a change over his last few outings, which he discussed using in 2011, but never did.

When you look at the results, it’s difficult to hold out hope. His FIP of 5.42 is only the 21st-worst of pitchers with at least 20 innings, but it actually looks worse than that if you dive into that list. Mike Pelfrey, Ivan Nova, Brad Hand, and Tanner Scheppers have all been injured. Wandy Rodriguez, Dan Straily, Franklin Morales, Josh Lueke, and Brandon Gomes have already lost their jobs. Marco Estrada might soonNick Martinez and Rafael Montero are rookies. It’s hard to be this bad and continue to be in the big leagues.

You might wondering why we’re talking about Perez and not Paul Maholm, who has also been terrible and is on that FIP list. Frankly, I’d be fine with seeing them both move on, but if we’re choosing only one, it’s going to be the guy who isn’t lefty and can’t throw multiple innings. Besides, Maholm has been much more effective since moving to the bullpen; after allowing an awful .404 wOBA as a starter, it’s been only .288 in the bullpen, which is better than league-average. It’s not great, and it’s not a big sample, but it’s something.

So how might you replace Perez? To be honest, I’d prefer if it weren’t with a pitcher, but with a bench player. I’ve long despised the inflation of bullpens to include 12 or 13 total pitchers on the staff at the expense of bench players, and we’ve seen the impact on this team repeatedly. Every time a Hanley Ramirez or Yasiel Puig or Dee Gordon or even Justin Turner tweaks something and needs a day or two, Don Mattingly is continually put in situations where he has no choice but to let Miguel Rojas or Jamie Romak or Tim Federowicz hit with the game on the line. I’m not saying I always love the choices Mattingly makes, but far too often his options are limited. With the starting rotation intact and working deep into games more often than not, now would seem like the ideal time to do it.

Unfortunately, if you look at the organizational depth chart, you can see that there’s not a bat worth calling up. Do we really think Mike Baxter or Clint Robinson or Jeremy Hazelbaker — none of whom are on the 40-man roster — are going to add much to the bench? Not really, and no, now is not the time to start talking about Joc Pederson. Perhaps when Juan Uribe or Carl Crawford are healthy, we can make the argument to add an extra bench player, but probably not now.

The good news is, the one thing the Dodgers have plenty of is available minor league relievers. They have six different 40-man relievers in Albuquerque, and while you may argue for the return of Paco Rodriguez or Jose Dominguez, the one who interests me the most — warning, scouting the stat line ahead — is Yimi Garcia, who has a 34/5 K/BB this year and 201/45 since 2012.

No matter who it is, it’s time for a change. Perez isn’t getting the job done. He didn’t get the job done last year, either. There’s no Brandon League contract keeping him in place, and there’s plenty of depth. This was worth a shot, and it hasn’t worked out. Make the move.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.