Talking w/ Oliver Perez's "Stuff"
Picture above: Oliver Perez's "stuff" in better days
After spending the 2011 baseball season pitching for the Washington Nationals' Class AA affiliate in Harrisburg, Oliver Perez will attempt to work his way back to the Majors with the Seattle Mariners. Perez inked a Minor League deal with the Mariners this week, which includes a camp invite. It wasn't all that long ago that Perez's "stuff" was considered among the most dominant in baseball. As a 23-year old with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Perez finished the 2004 season with 239 strikeouts in 196 innings, a nifty 1.15 WHIP and a Randy Johnson-esque 10.97 K/9.
With superstardom seemingly on the horizon, the Pirates shipped Perez (and Roberto Hernandez) to the New York Mets in exchange for Xavier Nady. Perez never duplicated the gaudy numbers he put up with the Pirates in his first two seasons with the Mets, but he pitched well enough to receive a 3-year $36 million deal prior to the start of the 2009 season.
Perez fizzled in 31 appearances with the Mets over the next two seasons. He no longer missed bats, he just missed the plate. He was released from his contract in March of 2011.
The following interview with Oliver Perez's "stuff", which I became familiar with while covering the Pittsburgh Pirates, was conducted in a Mexico City hotel room on January 19, 2012.
There's not much to Perez's stuff these days. What was once an impressive arsenal that featured a blazing four-seam fastball, an untouchable slider, occasional curveball or cutter and a whiff-inducing changeup has been reduced to the kind of mediocre stuff usually reserved for a high schooler's Major League pipedream.
Perez's fastball is the first pitch to sit down, and it looks worn-out and empty. His slider's erratic behaviour had its participation in this interview doubtful right up to the minute it staggered into my hotel room. His changeup, once relied upon to take down some of MLB's most feared sluggers, now looks a lot like his fastball. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but if it is, they're not fooling anyone. Perez's cutter hasn't been seen since 2007 and his curveball seemingly vanished after the 2009 season. His people have instructed me not to ask questions about their whereabouts.
Scott Lewis: Let's just cut to the chase here, will we see Oliver Perez's "stuff" in the Majors again?
Oliver Perez's "Stuff": We certainly hope so, I mean, that $12 million we stole from the Mets last season won't last forever. I think we can get back to the Majors... this is the Seattle Mariners we're working with.
SL: But will it be the "stuff" we saw in Pittsburgh? The 98mph fastball and devastating slider, or will we just see the lost control, soft-tossing crap Mets fans had to endure for four seasons?
OPS: Soft-tossing crap? That's a little harsh, don't you think. [At this point his slider appears to have passed out]
SL: I think it's a harsh truth, yes. The Odalis Perez uh, I mean the Oliver Perez that wowed Pirates fans hasn't shown his face in years.
OPS: You know what, you've been calling me Odalis for the last 5 years...
SL: Well, two years actually, Odalis.
OPS: How many strikeouts did I have in that game versus Houston that you were at? How many?
SL: Well, that was 2004 and you may have been Oliver Perez back then, but somewhere along the way you ceased being Oliver and you became Odalis.
OPS: If you call me Odalis to my face one more time...
SL: I already did three times...
OPS: If you do it one more time I'm going to...
SL: You're going to what, Odalis?
At this point Oliver Perez's "stuff" gets up and attempts to throw its chair out the window, but he misses the window by about four feet. Their handlers enter the room and calm them down before informing me that my time is up.