Perez threw four and a third innings before being lifted in favor of Raul Valdez. In those 4 1/3, Ollie allowed 3 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks and struck out 3.
Not a good outing by any stretch of the imagination.
Lurking around a few blogs, there is some buzz that Perez was “getting squeezed by the ump”. Thanks to SNY and DVR technology, I watched every pitch Ollie threw at least twice, and can firmly state that the umpire had very little, if anything, to do with his poor performance.
First of all, the view we see from the comfort of our homes is horrendous for judging the strike zone. The centerfield camera was placed (as it is in almost every big-league park) off-center, rather than in dead-center, so we’re seeing every pitch from an angle to the right — such an angle can cause pitches that are strikes to look like balls and vice-versa. But I tried to work with that bad view, and AT WORST, the umpire might have missed 2 or 3 balls that could’ve been called strikes. However, I also counted at least 2 pitches called as strikes that could’ve been called balls — because of their height, rather than outside the plate. So I’m not buying in — for a second — the theory that Perez pitched poorly because the umpire was “squeezing” him.
Some alert commenters in the blogosphere pointed out that Jeff Francoeur walked twice as evidence the umpire had a tight zone. Again, not enough to convince me, and you can make all the jokes you want. The truth is, one of the walks was an excellent, 8-pitch at-bat by Francoeur.
The point is, even if the umpire did have a tight zone, the pitcher has to adjust. But what happened yesterday in Port St. Lucie went far beyond the inability to make an adjustment.
Problem number one with Oliver Perez yesterday was that he was “all over the place” with his pitches. He had zero command. My guesstimation is that Ollie hit the catcher’s intended target less than 30% of the time. That means that 70% of the time, Rod Barajas was reaching, jabbing, and shifting in order to get to pitches that were way off target. With that much movement, it’s difficult for an umpire to get a good view of the ball. So even if the umpire did “miss” a few pitches, Perez most likely missed his intended target anyway, and was simply lucky to catch an inch of the plate by accident.
One other glaring issue was how Ollie handled what he perceived to be “bad calls” — and I will point to one specific incident to illustrate.
In the fourth inning, Perez started leadoff hitter Brian McCann with two awful pitches that were far, far out of the strike zone and high. The third pitch was a slider that may or may not have caught the plate and may or may not have been low. It could’ve gone either way (ball or strike), but the fact it was a borderline pitch combined with the fact that Barajas set a target in front of his right knee but caught the ball outside his left knee was likely the reason the ump called it ball three. Perez’s reaction was immediate, with very obvious, negative body language that could’ve been in reaction to his own frustration for missing the target but looked more like disapproval with the call. Perez threw a called strike on the next pitch and McCann fouled off strike two. The final pitch of the at-bat was another borderline pitch. Barajas had set his body on the outside part of the plate, his belly button directly behind the outside corner, glove slightly inside his left knee. The pitch (a slider), however, started at McCann’s torso and was caught by a reaching Barajas somewhere right behind the inside corner of the plate. Again, it looked like it might’ve gone either way, though it’s possible the pitch “went around” the plate and didn’t catch the corner. In any case, Perez again responded with negative body language as McCann trotted to first base.
On the very next pitch, Ollie threw a flat slider over the middle of the plate that Yunel Escobar crushed into the jet stream in right-center for a two-run homer. Yes, it was a wind-aided homer but it was also a hard-hit “frozen rope” that would’ve been at least a double in any park (likely a triple in Citi Field, with Escobar’s speed).
So what does this particular sequence tell us? That Oliver Perez still has work to do in regard to controlling his emotions and dealing with adversity. But will he ever improve in this area? Because we’ve been seeing the exact same behavior since 2006. As long as Ollie is “cruising”, everything will be fine. At the slightest bit of adversity, he loses his focus, wets the bed, and the game goes unraveling out of control.
We could get further into the command issue, the inconsistent mechanics, and the startling loss in velocity compared to his last outing (his fastball was reportedly clocked at 87-90 yesterday), but does it matter? Even if he’s throwing 94 MPH and threading a needle, will it make a difference if he craps the bed the moment something goes wrong in the game? Maybe, but I’m not sure. Confidence can get you far in this world, and success breeds confidence. Perhaps if Ollie has a string of games where he’s “cruising”, he’ll eventually become more confident and learn to keep his focus in the face of adversity. I’d like to think that could happen, but then there’s the fact he’s 28 years old — if he hasn’t grown up yet, when will he?