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.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude March 27, 2009 at 9:12 pm
    Joe, I think the “out of shape” comment was directed more towards Ollie’s mechanics than his waistline. Probably a case of Warthen using loose terminology and the media running wild with the quote. I watched Ollie’s last performance, too, and even to my untrained eye I noticed that he was not following through with his left leg on his delivery, thus causing him to leave the majority of his fastballs up and away to right hand batters. It’s also no secret that Ollie reverted back to bad habits in the WBC, and is needing a refresher crash-course at camp now by Warthen to get him back “in shape.” I agree, his back-to-front motion was there against Detroit, but he still has some work to do to get to where the Mets want him to be.

    The issue of the timing of the quote by Warthen isn’t a big deal to me because I think it’s the media trying to convey the message to it’s readers that there is internal turmoil between Ollie and the Mets’ brass, while in actuality Ollie knows he’s not in proper baseball “shape” – pertaining to his mechanics and not his physical stature – and that the proper context of the quote has been understood and taken in stride. I do agree that Ollie’s psyche is a fragile one, but I’m not chalking this issue up to breaking down his self-esteem. And until I see some direct quotes from Santana’s “stern” lecture, it’s not even worth going into. Unless you were a fly on that wall, you really have no idea of the tone or the words that were used, so it’s not worth the speculation.

  2. joe March 27, 2009 at 11:19 pm
    Actually the out of shape comment was partially for his waistline (see http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2009/03/did_wbc_somehow_cause_oliver_p.html), partially for mechanics and partially for not having thrown enough (which, actually, go hand in hand — repetition breeds good habits). Being with Mexico for three weeks, Ollie didn’t throw much in between starts and apparently munched down a few too many tamales.

    What bothers me more than the timing of the quote is the fact that there WAS a quote. Why are we hearing from Dan Warthen? Do you have any idea who the Yankees’ pitching coach is? No, because you don’t hear him spouting off negatively about his pitchers. (Ask a Yankee fan who their pitching coach is, and they might tell you it’s still Ron Guidry.) This may seem petty but the fact that there are so many “go to” guys for the press throughout the organization is not a good thing — especially not in NYC.

    The “stern lecture” was not my description — it was reported as such in several outlets. I should have provided some links — my bad.

  3. sincekindergarten March 28, 2009 at 4:57 am
    I think it’s a combination of a few things. Not only does Warthen think that Ollie needs a swift kick in his fourth point of contact, but Johan is trying to establish a role for himself–that of the motivational leader of the pitching staff. My guess ius that Johan may have gone to Warthen and told the coach what he was going to do. Warthen bought off; and by releasing the story, it shows that Johan had Warthen’s blessing. Maybe Ollie, by getting married, grew up a tad and he’ll be able to listen to Johan’s counsel.

    Then again, maybe Ollie won’t take it to heart, and we’ll be subjected to the same sort of roller coaster that we were last year when Ollie pitches. It’s a good thing my remaining hair is short–much harder to grasp and pull.

  4. joe March 28, 2009 at 12:17 pm
    Or maybe Ollie, settled down with a wife and a fat multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract, is now comfortable and doesn’t have much motivation to improve.

    Yikes … let’s hope not!

  5. isuzudude March 31, 2009 at 8:14 am
    Whatever Warthen and Johan had said to Ollie seems to have worked as Perez was back on track last night against the O’s. I stand by my opinion that this “out of shape” comment was overblown by a blood-thristy media looking to create controversy where there isn’t any. Ollie won’t pitch like he did tonight in every one of his starts this season, but that’s common knowledge by now. As long as we get 3 starts like this to every 1 we had against the Tigers last week, Perez will be fine as the #3 and the Mets should win 75-80% of his starts.
  6. joe March 31, 2009 at 9:04 am
    As mentioned in the post, I thought his process was good, despite the results, in his previous outing. And lo and behold, he comes out with the same approach as last time, and gets better results. Who’da thunk it?

    But hey, we can believe it was the blathering by Warthen or the sit-down with Santana that caused Ollie to pitch seven innings of 1-run ball. And if that’s the case let’s put Dan and Johan in the White House and get this country fixed toot de suite.

    I’m not blaming the media for the out of shape stuff — I blame Warthen for talking to reporters. He should keep negativity to himself and let us bloggers discuss the negative stuff.

  7. 2009 Analysis: Oliver Perez : Mets Today October 23, 2009 at 9:56 am
    […] he supposedly allowed himself to get out of shape during the World Baseball Classic and in turn was lambasted by both Dan Warthen and Johan Santana. From there on, it was all […]