Forgotten Pittsburgh Pirates: Pitcher Oliver Perez

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 5: Pitcher Oliver Perez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on June 5, 2005 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Perez was the winning pitcher as the Pirates defeated the Braves 5-2. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - JUNE 5: Pitcher Oliver Perez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on June 5, 2005 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Perez was the winning pitcher as the Pirates defeated the Braves 5-2. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

If there is a 2020 season Oliver Perez will surprisingly enter his 18th season of Major League Baseball, but his tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates was fairly forgotten.

I’m sure if you told any Pittsburgh Pirates fan in the late-2000s that lefty starter Oliver Perez would have a near 20-season career, many wouldn’t have believed it. But here we are in 2020, and, if there is a season, Perez will enter his 18th season of MLB play. But one of the many forgotten seasons in the 20 years of losing was Perez’s 2004 season with the Bucs.

Perez was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a 22-year-old as one of the other pieces in the Jason Bay trade. He, Bay and Cory Stewart were sent to the Bucs in exchange for one of the most underrated Pirates in franchise history, Brian Giles.

Perez didn’t do much in his first few innings after the trade to Pittsburgh. He yielded 15 earned runs on 12 walks and 26 hits in 23 innings of work. He did show promise though. Perez allowed just two home runs and struck out 24 batters. That helped him finish with a sub-4 FIP at 3.77.

But the season we will focus on today is Perez’s 2004 season. Perez was nothing short of outstanding during the year. In 196 innings, Perez spun up a 2.98 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP. He also had a 3.34 SIERA and 2.70 DRA.

Overall, Perez’s peripherals were great too. The southpaw struck out a ton of batters. He clocked in with a league leading 11.0 K/9 and 29.7% strikeout rate (3rd best in baseball) enroute to 239 total strikeouts. While Perez wasn’t a control-freak kind of pitcher, he wasn’t bad at limiting walks. Perez allowed a BB/9 of 3.7 and walk rate of 10.1%. Perez did allow 22 home runs, but that was a minor blemish in an otherwise outstanding season.

However, Perez followed up his breakout 2004 with a poor 2005 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In an injury limited 103 innings, Perez allowed 67 earned runs. Walks became a huge issue as he let up 70 free passes and he only recorded 97 strikeouts. Not only did he allow a ton of walks, but allowed home runs frequently. Of the 102 hits Perez surrendered, 23 were home runs. That’s about 22.5% of all his hits.

In 2006, Perez had his worst season yet. His strikeout rate with the Pittsburgh Pirates dipped below 20% at 16.8%. Home runs and walks still plagued the 2004 ace seeing as he surrendered 13 long balls and 51 walks in only 76 innings. Eventually, the Pirates sent Perez to the New York Mets with Roberto Hernandez for Xavier Nady, but Oliver’s numbers did not improve post trade.

In his first 36 innings in New York, Perez did increase his strikeout numbers, getting 41 of the 165 batters he faced on strike three, but home runs and walks were still major issues in his game. Overall in 2006, Oliver Perez finished with a 6.55 ERA, 5.61 FIP and 1.79 WHIP in just 112.2 innings of work.

Following two awful seasons, Perez put up solid, albeit unimpressive numbers in 2007. Despite his 3.56 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, Perez had a 4.35 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, 4.25 SIERA and 3.84 DRA. His strikeout numbers did rebound to  22.8%, but he still wasn’t putting up good control numbers (10.3% walk rate), and the long ball still bit him 22 times in 177 innings of work. His overperformance in 2007 caught up to him in 2008, as his ERA was 4.22 in 194 innings, but his FIP (4.85), xFIP (4.68), and SIERA (4.57) all stayed relatively similar to his 2007 numbers.

Perez barely played with the Mets in both 2009 and 2010. He was frequently on the disabled list, which led to him pitching just 112.1 innings combined in the two seasons. But it’s not like the Mets were rushing Perez’s return. In those 112.1 innings, the lefty gave up 85 earned runs, 21 home runs, and walked more batters (100) than he struck out (99). After 2010, the Mets released Perez on March 21, 2011.

At just 28-years-old, it looked like Perez’s career was over. A one hit wonder with the Pittsburgh Pirates who showed some promise in the early part of his career, but injuries and constant underperformance seemed to be the downfall. But Perez was far from done. Far from it actually.

After not making it back to the Majors in 2011, Perez signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners, and reinvented himself as a LOOGY, or a lefty only one out guy. In 2012, Perez appeared in 33 games and pitched 29.2 innings. Perez let up an ERA of 2.12, and the home runs that consistently plagued him as a starter were gone. He allowed just one home run, and 10 walks, resulting in a 0.3 HR/9 and 8.1% walk rate the lowest of his career. Overall, Perez had a 2.12 ERA, 2.93 FIP and 1.25 WHIP.

Perez continued to build off of this season. In 2013 with the M’s, Perez saw his strikeout rate jump back into elite territory. He struck out 74 of the 229 batters he faced, resulting in a 32.3% strikeout rate. Although he was giving up more walks (11.3%) and home runs (1.0/9), his attempt to come back as a relief pitcher seemed to be a success.

Oliver’s 2014 season would end up being his best season since his 2004 breakout year with the Pirates. Perez was outstanding with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Through 58.2 innings, the converted bullpen arm allowed just a 2.91 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 1.261 WHIP. He put up almost identical strikeout and walk numbers to his breakout season including a 29.7% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate. He also carried a solid 0.8 HR/9.

Perez didn’t post as great of numbers across the next three seasons. In his next 114 innings with the D-Backs, Astros and Nationals, the lefty allowed 58 earned runs on 109 hits. He still was an overall solid pitcher though seeing as he 26.8% strikeout rate and 0.95 HR/9 rate. Regardless, an ERA of 4.95 and 4.64 in a LOOGY role isn’t too great, and he had to settle for a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians for the 2018 season.

Turns out, it was one one of the best contracts over that off season. Perez turned in 32.1 innings of work that yielded a 1.39 ERA, 1.74 FIP and 0.74 WHIP. That also includes 2.17 SIERA and 2.61 DRA. The biggest standout of 2018 for Perez was his strikeout and walk rates that include an amazing 35.8% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate. He also allowed just one home run. Last year, Perez didn’t do as well, but was overall still solid with a 3.98 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 1.23 WHIP in 40.2 innings.

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If there is a 2020 season, it will be Oliver Perez’s 18th MLB season, and age 38 season. Something that neither fans nor Perez himself probably would have foreseen back in the early 2010s. But Perez’s kind is a dying breed. For now, there will be a three batter minimum on the season, meaning that all pitchers must face three batters before being pulled from the game. Only time will tell what the future will hold for this former Pittsburgh Pirate.