Fantasy Focus: Omar’s Gamble – Oliver Perez

I thought we’d change gears here in our fantasy column and talk about the much maligned – and soon to be discussed in depth again (when he eventually returns from his mysterious ‘injury’) – Oliver Perez.

In February of 2009 after Derek Lowe opted for the Braves four year offer – Minaya came to terms with Perez, a free agent, on a $36 million dollar 3 year contract.

At the time it was a bit surprising – though Boras did his best to hint that other clubs were negotiating for Perez’s services – it seemed pretty clear that the Mets were the front runner and sole serious bidder.  Unfortunately – the Mets and Minaya felt their need for Ollie was too great to risk losing him – and although a more inexpensive option was still on the table (Randy Wolf who signed for 1 year $5 million + 3 mil in incentives) – they chose to go for Ollie and his potential and youth.

When it was announced it did seem that a 3 year deal was a small victory for the Mets – in today’s pitching world – you don’t want to be handing out long term deals.  However $12 million did seem high for a pitcher with as volatile a record as Perez.  In a sense, it was a gamble on Minaya’s part that Perez could harness his dominating stuff and develop into a front of the rotation starter.

(It bothers me that the fantasy baseball community in general understood the risks and value of Oliver Perez better in this case that Minaya and the Mets front office.  No fantasy league player would have committed anywhere near 10% of their salary to him.  We liked and understood his upside – but in a typical fantasy league Oliver Perez goes for anywhere from $5-$10 (based on a $260 salary cap). That equates very roughly to a max salary of $5-6 million per year.  And I’m pretty sure that no other MLB team would’ve given Ollie 4 years or anywhere near this amount of money just based on potential.  Contract wise – Omar and his team have been close to disastrous.)

We all know how things turned out in 2009 – and I won’t rehash them except to say that his participation in the WBC for Mexico certainly didn’t help his off season preparation or conditioning for the season.

And while his rehab has taken a turn for the worse – it’s almost certain given the Mets continuing struggles with their rotation that Ollie will be back.

So what can the Mets and Oliver’s fantasy owners expect from Ollie for the rest of 2009?

The Good

Perez is a left hander with a plus fastball and is a proven strikeout pitcher who has consistently shown the ability to strike hitters out at an almost 1 per inning rate.  When he has his slider working – and shows some semblance of command he has the ability to be dominant.  He’s also only 27 years old – and has been one of those pitching projects that tantalize ballclubs – if he can just figure out how to put it all together…

The Bad

Perez is the very definition of inconsistent even during his semi-good seasons (see 2007).  He can be lights out one start – and then get knocked out of a game in 3 innings in the next.  As a Met fan it’s always anyone’s guess whether the Good Ollie or the Bad Ollie will be showing up to any given game.  (of course in 2009 it’s been the Worst Ollie).

2009 and beyond

2009 has been a nightmare year for Perez.  From being rocked in the WBC by the likes of Australia – to an inconsistent Spring Training where he reported out of shape, and finally to a disastrous regular season where the Mets had to finally place him on the DL – with what is hopefully a real injury (and not simply a mental breakdown).

A couple of signs that do concur with a real injury is the decrease in velocity on his fastball (89mph down from 92) and his breakdown of control – which was an atrocious  8.7 BB/9.

Although it’s a small sample size (21 IP) here’s a couple of signs that may point to a possible recovery for our favorite lefthanded punching bag.  First of all he did maintain his dominance – striking out 20 in those 21 IP.

Also – a big factor to his breakdown in control was both the more patient approach hitters took – along with the fact that Ollie was missing the zone not by a little – but by a LOT.  Hitters only swung at 13% of his balls out of the zone (down from 22%) and they only swung in general 38% (down from 44%).  Of course extreme wildness tends to induce this sort of behavior from hitters so it’s hard to say if this is the chicken or the egg…

Hitters also found holes  when they did actually swing and hit Ollie – as evidenced by his .378 BABIP – although that’s not all luck as they did pound out LDs at a 29% clip.  Having watched Ollie this year (unfortunately) falling behind in counts – and either walking batters or serving up a fastball that they KNEW was coming and right down the plate at that (or as close as he could manage) – this is not a surprising number at all.

Finally his strand rate was a miserable 57% – Ollie couldn’t seem to work out of any situations and the bullpen couldn’t bail him out either.

It all adds up to a perfect storm of possible injury, decline in performance, complete loss of control and confidence, compounded by bad luck.

The Wrap

It’s too early for Met fans to bail on Ollie – like Castillo last year (another Minaya contract gaffe) – he’s basically untradable at this point.

Recent reports indicate that he’ll be out until the All-Star Break at least.  Although I don’t know what the plan the organization has to rehabilitate him (and I’m sure hoping this is not a Rick Ankiel situation because Ollie isn’t even sure which end to hold a bat), let’s hope they wipe the slate clean – and treat him like a rookie again.

Perhaps in this way they can take thing back to the fundamentals – untangle Ollie’s inconsistent mechanics and redevelop him into the weapon he was for us in the 2007 NLCS.

Fantasy owners of Oliver Perez – I would advise to HOLD on to Perez and monitor reports out of his rehab.  If you aren’t hearing good news by the All-Star Break – feel free to jettison him – it’s unlikely he’ll be worth anything to you in 2009.

Met fans unfortunately don’t have that choice.

And make no mistake about it Met fans – the way this season is going so far – it looks like we’re going to need all the help we can get.  And that includes the possible redemption of Oliver Perez.