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Almost Ripe: Martin Perez
Ethan Wagner, FantasyJuice.com

Suppose that once upon a time there was a pitcher who, as an 18-year-old, split time between Single-A and Double-A, posting the following combined stats:

W L ERA IP H BB SO WHIP
14 4 2.95 149.1 132 47 172 1.199

The next season he was in the major leagues, where he compiled a 2.67 ERA with 8.2 K/9, and by the time he turned 23, he was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award. This player exists, of course, and his name is Felix Hernandez.

Now, let’s imagine that in 2009 there was another 18-year-old who also divided his time between Single-A and Double-A, finishing with this line:

W L ERA IP H BB SO WHIP
6 8 2.90 114.2 111 38 119 1.299

This pitcher is Martin Perez.

Perez Next in Line for the Throne?

Before continuing, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I am not equating King Felix and Martin Perez. Please understand this. Hernandez is a pretty rare talent. But let’s run with this as an interesting prism through which we can look at Perez’s stats and his near-term outlook.

At first glance, both sets of numbers above are impressive, but they also appear to be distinctively different from one another, giving Hernandez clear edges in the bulk numbers. If we look at the numbers per 9 innings, however, the distinctions become less clear:

Hernandez Perez Difference
H/9 8.0 8.7 0.7
K/9 10.4 9.3 1.1
BB/9 2.8 3.0 0.2
HR/9 0.5 0.4 0.1

We can see the largest difference was that Hernandez struck out one more batter per 9 IP, though Perez’s rate was still excellent. Perez was slightly more hittable, while the other numbers were essentially a wash, with Felix edging Perez in BB/9 and Perez enjoying an advantage in HR/9.

That we can compare Hernandez and Perez’s age 18 seasons with a straight face speaks to just how good Perez can be. He strikes out lots of batters, while also keeping his walks and home runs allowed at manageable levels.

Too Soon or Almost Ripe?

The more important question is whether Perez can be useful this season. In other words, is he actually “almost” ripe?

This is really the purpose of writing about him at this point. Yes, it may seem a little premature to talk about Perez in the majors – crazily enough, he is still 18 and won’t turn 19 until April.

However, forward-thinking fantasy owners need to have Perez on their minds now because there’s a good chance he factors in this season, and he certainly will be a critical piece for fantasy players in keeper leagues to keep tabs on.

To continue with the Hernandez framework, note that Hernandez wound up making 12 starts, putting up excellent numbers, in his age 19 year at the big league level. Twelve starts have meaning, particularly down the stretch as fantasy teams jockey for playoff positioning. If Perez starts strong in Double-A, it isn’t unreasonable to think he could have a similar impact.

Organizational Tendencies – Derek Holland

Additionally, the Rangers organization has proven that it is particularly aggressive about promoting its pitching prospects. Derek Holland, for instance, made four Double-A starts and one Triple-A start before spending virtually all of last season in the major leagues.

Now, one might argue that Holland’s 6.12 ERA will deter rather than encourage Texas from handling Perez or another young pitcher similarly, but there’s more to the story than meets the eye. For one, Holland still struck out 7 per 9 IP, a strong number, particularly for a rookie. Second, he surrendered an uncharacteristically high number of home runs, and his BABIP was elevated.

I think the Rangers’ progressive front office realized Holland’s season was better than it looked (they always could have demoted Holland to Triple-A, but didn’t), and therefore won’t be shy about promoting pitching prospects aggressively in the future.

Most Likely 2010 Scenario

We should recognize that there are factors at work against Perez having any meaningful fantasy impact this season. While it’s exciting to think about him as being on the fast-track to stardom, the odds are, in all probability, that Perez gets nothing more than a September call-up.

Holland was pushed, but he was also 22 last season. In King Felix’s case, he was a little more advanced at age 18, making five more starts at Double-A than Perez did this year, and with more success.

Short-Term and Long-Term Expectations

So even if Perez does follow the Hernandez path, he’s likely starting out a step behind. Finally, if he does force Texas’ hand, he will have to deal with a ballpark that is rather tough on pitchers, particularly as the weather gets warmer and muggier into July and August. Fantasy players will need to weigh these negatives with the tantalizing possibilities Perez offers.

My intent here was not to compare Felix Hernandez and Martin Perez, per se, but rather to use their similarities in terms of age and production to illuminate the kind of path Perez could follow – namely, one that is much faster than most would anticipate if they casually perceived Perez as talented, but a ways from the big leagues due to his youth.

What that means exactly depends on your league. If you have a very deep league or a lot of bench space, maybe he’s worth stashing away early in the season in hopes of a second-half boost. In more shallow leagues, owners need to follow him closely and pounce if/when it looks like he’ll make his debut.

If he’s still available in your keeper league, he’s unquestionably a player worth drafting offering the ideal mix of potential near-term impact and a high long-term ceiling.


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