2015 Fantasy Baseball: Brewers sign Chris Perez to Minor League Deal
A minor league contract signing doesn’t generally mean much from a fantasy baseball perspective, but with Francisco Rodriguez a free agent, the closing role is presently up for grabs for the Brewers. Chris Perez has closing experience, and coincidentally, the aforementioned Rodriguez saved 10 games for the Brewers in 2013 after signing a minor league contract with the team in April of that year. Could Perez be their next minor league signing turned bullpen asset?
Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt tweeted that Perez’s contract is worth $1.5 million if he makes the club and another $1.5 if he reaches a certain number of games finished. Haudricourt previously tweeted that the Brewers have been looking for a reliever with closing experience. This presumably means that the organization, or perhaps manager Ron Roenicke, would prefer an experienced closer working in save situations. They already have a couple on the roster with Jim Henderson and Jonathan Broxton still members of the bullpen, but Henderson missed most of last year due to injury and underwent surgery in August to “clean up” his labrum and rotator cuff. At 32-years old, Henderson is no spring chicken, and the rate of recovery to previous levels of success from shoulder surgery is lower than that of elbow surgery. In other words, Henderson, who began throwing off a mound in late January, is a huge question mark this year. As for Broxton, his 3.96 xFIP last year stands in stark contrast to his 2.30 ERA, and he hasn’t bested 60 innings pitched in a season since 2010.
Unless trade talks resurface between the Brewers and Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon, or unless the club brings back Felix Rodriguez (both of which are possibilities), the battle for the closer job in the spring should be intense and should include Perez. Last year was a poor one for the former Cardinal and Indian as his 4.27 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and 4.89 xFIP would suggest. He struggled mightily with his control with a 12.5% walk rate. FanGraphs has the league average last year at 7.6%, and Perez’s career rate is 10.3%. Perhaps his biggest problem was getting ahead of hitters. Perez threw only 51.5% of his first pitches for strikes (60.6% was the 2014 league average), a far cry from his career rate of 58.0% and well below his 2012 mark of 59.5% and 2013 mark of 61.3%. Making matters worse was his 19.5% strikeout rate, a full three percent lower than his career rate.
There are some interesting nuggets in Perez’s 2014 numbers if you dig a bit. Despite his depressed strikeout rate, his swinging strike percentage of 8.7% was up from 7.9% in 2013. The swinging strike uptick is supported by a jump in velocity. Brooks Baseball had Perez’s fourseam fastball averaging 93.37 mph, and that number spiked to 95.16 mph last season (his highest average velocity since 2008). That spike in velocity resulted in a hearty whiff percentage of 9.27%, again, his highest mark since 2008. The addition of a changeup to his repertoire, albeit one with a lackluster velocity separation from his heater (89.37 mph average velocity on his changeup), is also interesting. Brooks Baseball credits him with throwing the changeup 30 times, and it had his highest whiff percentage of any offering at 13.33%. The sample size is tiny, but with a batting average allowed of .000 against the changeup, it seems like there is some promise with the pitch.
The pitch that gave Perez problems in 2014, and was likely the reason his strikeout rate dipped, was his slider. Perez’s 10.58% whiff rate on the slider in 2014 was his lowest mark since 2011 and the second lowest rate of his career. The pitch movement could explain the lack of whiffs since the slider’s horizontal movement was the second lowest of of his career, and the pitch featured the most vertical movement of his career. A rediscovery of the previous form on his slider would go a long way in Perez bouncing back this year, especially if he’s able to carry over the velocity bump to his fourseam fastball.
Standard league gamers can ignore Perez in drafts now. However, NL-only leaguers and those in very large mixed leagues (especially those with deep benches or strict transaction limits) wouldn’t be crazy to use a last round or very late round pick (or a buck in auctions) to acquire Perez’s services. His ceiling isn’t very high, but saves are saves.