Of all the surprises the 2019 Twins have provided the baseball world, the success of left-handed pitcher Martin Perez is probably at the top of the list.
He was bought out by the Rangers – yeah, they're paying him to not to play for them – in the offseason after he posted a 6.22 ERA in 22 appearances and a WHIP of 1.781 last season.
He somehow landed a one-year contract worth up to $4 with a team option for 2020 with the Twins, and all of a sudden he's pitching like one of the best bargains in baseball.
In 10 games (7 starts), Perez has an ERA of 2.89 while striking out 52 batters in 52 innings, with opponents hitting just .228 against him.
Granted, it's a smaller sample size, but here's some split statistics from last year to this year that show how much Perez has improved.
- 13.1 strikeout percentage
- .323 opponent batting average
- 24.1 strikeout percentage
- .228 opponent batting average
So what gives? How does a guy go from giving up a ton of hits with next to no swing-and-miss ability to one of the stingiest pitchers in the game?
The answer: He added what's been a dominating cutter.
According to FanGraphs, Perez is throwing his cutter 30 percent of the time – the most of all his pitches, which includes a four-seam fastball, slider, change-up and curveball.
With Perez attacking hitters (mostly right handers) with his cutter, he's only throwing his four-seamer 16 percent of the time and has upped his velocity from 93 mph to 95 mph; which the hardest average velocity in his career.
He also cut his slider usage in half.
- Slider usage in 2018: 50.7 percent
- Slider usage in 2019: 25.5 percent
This change in philosophy has made Perez a tougher pitcher to make contact against. Last season, his slider only resulted in 23 percent of his strikeouts, where this season, 45 percent of his strikeouts have come via his slider.
FanGraphs says opponents have a miserable .104 batting average against Perez's cutter, so that's where he's getting ahead of hitters and then finishing them with his a devastating slider.
New pitching coach Wes Johnson also deserves a ton of credit for helping Perez find his groove. In fact, nobody would be shocked if Johnson starts getting managerial calls this winter given his success with the entire Twins starting staff.
While Perez has mowed down lousy lineups from Baltimore, Toronto and Detroit, he also shut down the Astros – a World Series favorite – for eight innings in the Twins' 6-2 win on May 1.
Now, I'm not sure if what he's doing is sustainable over the course of a full season, but clearly he's keeping hitters off-balance and it's working for him.