Throw strikes, Ollie

oliver perez -- san diego padresI’m increasingly concerned about the future of Oliver Perez.

He’s a kid with filthy stuff. He has the kind of stuff that could make him one of the elite pitchers in baseball. We’re talking Pedro Martinez territory.

And the comparison to Pedro isn’t facetious. I’ve seen both Perez and Martinez pitch. Both are hard-throwers with movement on all their pitches, and they’re about the same build.

Last year, Perez, 21, made his major league debut with the Padres. In 16 appearances (15 starts), he posted a 3.50 ERA, posting a 4-5 record with the offenseless San Diego squad. He struck out 94 hitters in 90 innings.

Those are the impressive stats. The less impressive stats are his 48 walks and 17 pitchers per-inning average.

Last year, Perez had a hard time throwing strikes. He often worked deep into counts. Far too often, he was facing hitters with 3-2 counts. As often as not, he struck those hitters out, but a major league pitcher simply can’t survive going 3-2 on two or three hitters per inning.

Pitchers, especially guys with slight physiques like Perez, are more likely to develop arm trouble with they throw too many pitchers per inning or too many pitchers per game. Also, major league hitters, even mediocre ones, learn to adjust. Why chase a guy’s filthy slider or sweeping curve, if you know he’s going to have to eventually groove a fastball.

Finally, pitchers with a reputation for missing the zone are less likely to get the benefit of the doubt from umpires.

All of this conspires to force a young pitcher to throw more pitches, and this conspiracy seems to be catching up with Perez this year.

He’s averaging 21.3 pitches per inning and has yet to last past the 5th inning of every game (this, btw, is putting a terrible strain on San Diego’s already less than stellar bullpen). His ERA is 9.00, and hitters have posted a .452 on-base percentage (compared to .320 last year) and .693 slugging percentage (.377 last year).

There are also troubling reports, persistent since spring training, that Perez has lost 2-3 m.p.h. off his fast ball. That, as much, as anything, may be driving up that slugging percentage, and also an explanation for the higher pitch totals — as Perez tries to compensate for the lost velocity (catcher Wiki Gonzalez caught Perez sneaking looks at the scoreboard radar gun start before last) he is aiming his pitches.

Could it be that the Padres rushed Perez to the majors (he went straight from Double A ball last year to the majors, skipping AAA)? I think so. Padres fans can only hope that a return to Portland, or even AA Mobile, will help Perez master his lively arm and cure him of his wild ways.

In this age of increasing plate discipline, pitchers simply must throw strikes and rely on the movement on their pitches to get hitters out. Until Perez is able to do that, he’s going to be a train wreck on the mound.

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