The last time Oliver Perez pitched for a New York team, he royally disappointed the Mets’ fan base by losing velocity and efficiency. As a starter, Perez had a handful of highly successful years on the back of his slider, but was always highly volatile due to command issues. By the end of his contract with the Mets, Perez’ velocity on his fastball was in a dramatic decline, and he was released during Spring Training of 2011.
The left-handed pitcher returned to Major League Baseball in 2012 with the Mariners. As a reliever, Perez found it easier to limit his walks, and his velocity returned in the short stints. In his first year back, Perez posted a 2.12 ERA with a 2.93 FIP in 29.2 innings, or 33 games. Not only was he highly successful versus left-handed pitchers, but he also held right-handed hitters to a .200/.279/.296 slash.
Perez returned to the Mariners in 2013, and although many of his peripheral stats were impressive, he finished the season with a 3.74 ERA in 53.0 innings. His FIP was fairly consistent with 2012, despite some big changes in many of his outcomes. His K/9 in 2013 jumped from 7.28 to 12.57, and his BB/9 increased from 3.03 to 4.42. Even while playing in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball, Perez underperformed his FIP by nearly .5. Safeco Field may hold batters to fewer home runs, but the outfield defense in 2013 was one of the worst outfield defenses over the last decade of baseball. DRS gave left fielder Raul Ibanez -19 runs saved, right fielder Michael Morse -15 runs saved, and center fielder Michael Saunders -14 runs saved. For a fly ball pitcher like Perez, poor outfield defense equated to a massive underperformance of his FIP.
In 2013, Perez allowed just a 30.6% ground ball rate and a 49.2% fly ball rate, and most Yankee fans know that fly ball pitchers are allergic to Yankee Stadium. The small dimensions of the right-field porch often turn routine fly balls into home runs. But as a left-handed pitcher with extremely good splits towards left-handed hitters, Oliver Perez is a fly ball pitcher that makes sense for the Yankees. Last season, Perez held left-handed batters to just 2 extra base hits, 1 home run and 1 double. Right-handed hitters had more luck in 2013, hitting .254/.323/.463, but the assumption is that most of these hits will go to left field.
If Oliver Perez were to come to the Bronx, his fly ball approach may even improve in Yankee Stadium. Though left field is still considered hitter friendly, swapping his left fielder from Ibanez to Brett Gardner would be one of the biggest defensive upgrades in the game. Meanwhile, switching from Saunders in center field to Jacoby Ellsbury will be an equally beneficial defensive switch. Instead of underperforming his FIP, Perez should overperform it with that type of outfield defense.
As a relief pitcher, Perez is much more than a simple LOOGY. His high fly ball and strikeout rates make him a high-leverage candidate, and his success against right-handed hitters gives the team a much more balanced left-handed reliever than Matt Thornton. Acquiring Perez could move Thornton into more of an efficient LOOGY role, while Perez has the upside to take over in the fireman role, or even in the 8th inning.
As it stands, the Yankees have maintained interest in Perez, though the front office has stated that they are done spending. His cost should be minimal, likely around the $1.5 million contract he signed in 2013, and he could be a significant piece in the bullpen for the Yankees.