Why Pérez views Bucs as the perfect fit

February 17th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf’s Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Martín Pérez may be new to the Pirates, but he already has plenty of history with his coaches. Pittsburgh pitching coach Oscar Marin was a Minor League coach during Pérez’s first stint with the Rangers, and manager Derek Shelton was the bench coach when the lefty was with the Twins in 2019.

Shelton's first impression of his new left-hander was that he isn’t quite the same guy he knew in Minnesota.

“Listening to him talk today and how much he’s matured and taken the role of being that veteran guy, I’m excited to get him,” Shelton said. “This guy has grown into a solid pitcher and a solid leader in the clubhouse, which is really important for us.”

The Pirates could use that type of guy. More importantly, they need veterans who want to be that guy, and Pérez isn’t backing away from that role -- he feels this is the right fit for him.

“I believe in this team,” Pérez said. “Trust me, if I don’t feel good somewhere, I’m not going to be there because money’s not everything. To be here, with this type of group, is an honor for me because I know we can have a good team.”

If the Pirates do live up to the higher expectations they have for themselves in 2024, Pérez is probably going to have to be a big part of it. The team came into the winter with rotation questions, which only escalated when Johan Oviedo had Tommy John surgery.

If Pérez can regain his 2022 form, the rotation will have a second anchor behind Mitch Keller. Pérez was an All-Star that year, recording a 2.89 ERA over 196 1/3 innings. A July slump in 2023 forced the Rangers to boot him from the rotation, where he finished with a 4.45 ERA over 141 2/3 frames.

The Pirates have a good track record of late of polishing up softer-tossing left-handers, like Tyler Anderson and José Quintana. Pérez could be an inning eater in the worst case scenario, but the team is hoping he can provide both quantity and quality.

“He was really attracted to our situation and we were really attracted to him based on what we know about him as a teammate and his growth the last few years,” Ben Cherington said. “He’s one year removed from an exceptional season, and as we looked back on last season, there were small things that had changed and that we thought would be relatively easy adjustments for him to make.”

While Cherington didn’t offer specifics, there are a couple areas that are night and day between Pérez’s 2022 and ‘23. His slugging percentage against with his cutter, for example, skyrocketed from .290 to .640. His batting average allowed with his changeup went from .233 to .316. Those are his two most used pitches, behind his sinker, and his whiff percentage for both dropped more than five points last year.

Pérez will need his breaking and offspeed stuff to be successful, so if there is something in mind to getting those pitches back on track, it would go a long way to getting the taste of last season out of his mouth.

“I know last year was a weird year for me but, like I said, it’s a new year. We have new goals,” Pérez said. “Personally, I want to be ready to go out there and throw 32-33 starts. I want to pitch every five days and help the team to win. I have the same mentality, just a different approach. It’s a different organization, but it’s not going to be hard for me to be ready for what they want or what they’re looking for out of me.”

Pérez has had that taste of success the past few years, both individually and as a team. For a young team looking for veterans to add to the mix, it sure makes sense to target someone who just won a World Series with the Rangers.

“I’m not coming here to just do my job on the mound,” Pérez said. “I’m coming here to try and help my teammates, to let them know how good it is to win a World Series. I just try to bring that mentality to these guys and try to make them better people and better players, to make sure they know how to compete to get to that point.”