Oliver Perez: Pitch Now, Talk Later
The big news from Port St. Lucie is that Oliver Perez received a “stern talking to” from ace pitcher Johan Santana, presumably to motivate the erstwhile and enigmatic lefthander. This comes only a day after pitching coach Dan Warthen publicly lambasted Perez for being “out of shape”. From Steve Popper’s blog:
Warthen said that Perez got out of shape and underworked while pitching for the Mexican squad in the World Baseball Classic, not even mentioning that when he did pitch he posted a 9.45 ERA in his two games. The real problem is that Warthen said he came back to camp out of shape.
“Even though the weight is about the same as the end of last year he is still not the same guy we saw, the energetic guy,” Warthen said. “Even the life around the clubhouse is not the same.”
Huh … when was the last time you heard an MLB pitching coach — from any team — calling out one of his players in the media? Kind of a strange, if you ask me. (Though, right in line with the Jerry Manuel course “Motivating Men Through the Media 101”, which grew tired in Chicago.)
This most recent report about Santana speaking to Perez is equally strange. Why was it made public? Is it the Mets’ answer to criticism that their clubhouse is leaderless?
In any case, I find the timing incorrect. Opening Day is nine days away, and I don’t know how Oliver Perez is going to “get in shape” so quickly. But more importantly, the Mets — and Santana — are missing the mark by kicking Ollie when he’s down. Oliver Perez is most vulnerable not when he’s doing poorly, but when he’s successful.
Ollie is a unique talent, to say the least. His mechanics have too many moving parts and can quickly fall out of sync, often to disastrous results. If we’ve learned anything from three years of his rollercoaster ride, it’s that he can, and will, eventually get going, but can just as quickly fall. In fact, his biggest problem is that when he is pitching well, his confidence surges to the point where he thinks he can do things he shouldn’t be doing (I believe Rick Peterson called it “freelancing” or something similar).
That understood, the time for a pep talk is not now, but when he’s doing well. When Ollie strings together two or three great outings, THAT’s when Johan Santana should sit Perez down and remind him stay focused, and to continue to do all things that are making him successful — and not be a “cowboy”.
After seeing Perez throw in the most recently televised spring training game, I actually thought he did well. The results were not good, but the process was — and in the spring, it is the process that matters. Ollie returned to the step-straight-back movement behind the rubber, which initiated a straight movement toward home plate. His momentum was gathered nicely and directed in a straight line at his target. Rarely did he fall off toward third base on his follow-through. Those are good signs. His velocity wasn’t great, but I believe that was more the result of concentrating on keeping his mechanics in line than anything else — thought slows you down. His command was off, and that was due to an inconsistent release point, which was due to the mechanical changes — for the last three weeks he’s been throwing in a way that his body is falling away from that straight line, and as a result, his release point is in a different spot. It takes time and repetition (not outside criticism and pep talks) to “get back” what was lost.