Pittsburgh Pirates: All Time ”Flash in the Pan” Team
Pitcher: Oliver Perez, 2004
It hurts to put Oliver Perez on a rather dubious list like this, because sadly, he was not entirely responsible for his career going down hill. As a rookie in 2004, Perez had one of the most exciting individual seasons in recent memory for a Pirate. His record of 12-10 is modest, but his 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts (in the steroid era mind you) are not. Two of the greatest pitching performances I have seen in person were courtesy of Oliver Perez. The first was in Cincinnati, where he struck out 13 Reds over eight innings of work. The second came in Pittsburgh in the first end of a doubleheader, when he fanned 14 Houston Astros. The start to Perez’s career in Pittsburgh was magnificent, which is why, in typical Littlefield-era fashion, the Pirates had to screw it up.
After the 2004 season, the Pirates coaching staff decided to mess with Olie’s pitching style. Rather than strike fools out, they wanted him to pitch to contact, so they had him take a few MPH off his wicked fastball. Now, the purpose the organization had for doing this was not entirely nonsensical. The Pirates cared about Perez’s health and didn’t want him to burn himself out by throwing too hard too often, and that’s understandable. However, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The Pittsburgh Pirates broke Oliver Perez.
Olie’s days of domination were over after 2004. The following year, his ERA skyrocketed to 5.85, and his strikeout total fell to 97 (he missed several starts after kicking a laundry cart in St. Louis). In 2006, things got even worse, as Perez started the season with a 2-10 record and an Earned Run Average of… are you sitting down.. 6.38, before he was shipped off to Queens in exchange for Xavier Nady. It’s tough to wonder what might have been if the Pirates coaches had just let Ollie be Ollie. I firmly believe that had his career had kept going at that 2004 rate, Perez could have been the first Pirate since Doug Drabek to win a Cy Young Award (I mean, why not? Freddy Sanchez won a batting title). It’s also possible that the league was able to adjust to Perez and figure him out, but I don’t totally buy that. Perez is still in the majors as a reliever for the Washington Nationals, but his career could have been so much more had he played for a different team.