Oliver Pérez Martinez
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 3", Weight 225 lb.
- High School Cobales High School
- Debut June 16, 2002
Hard-throwing left-hander Oliver Pérez signed with the Yucatan Lions at age 16 but did not pitch for them that year. In 1999, he inked a deal with the San Diego Padres and went 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA and three saves for the AZL Padres, striking out 37 in 28 innings. Pérez split 2000 between Yucatan (3-2, 4.36, one save) and the Idaho Falls Padres (3-1, 4.07, 27 K in 24 IP).
In 2001, Ollie was 8-5 with a 3.46 ERA as a starter for the Fort Wayne Wizards, fanning 98 in 101 1/3 IP and then was 2-4, 2.72 for the Lake Elsinore Storm, K'ing another 62 in 53 frames. Baseball America rated him the #18 prospect in the Midwest League.
That winter, Oliver had a great winter for the Culiacan Tomato Growers, posting a 0.76 ERA in Mexican Pacific League play (3-1) and then allowing one run in four innings in the Caribbean Series for the champion Tomato Growers. He was 3-3, 1.85 in 9 games for Lake Elsinore (66 K in 48 2/3 IP), 1-0, 1.17 in four starts for the Mobile BayBears (34 K, 11 H in 23 iP) and 4-5, 3.50 after joining the 2002 Padres in mid-June, striking out 94 in 90 innings.
While he fanned a lot with the 2003 Padres (117 K in 103 2/3 IP), he was just 4-7 with a 5.38 ERA before he was dealt with Jason Bay and a player to be named later to the 2003 Pirates for Brian Giles in a major deal. He continued his struggles in Pittsburgh, going 0-3.
2004 was a magical season for the 22/23-year-old southpaw. His fastball averaged 93 mph, sixth in Major League Baseball and topped 95 mph 458 times, and he complemented it with a superb slider. He led MLB in strikeouts per 9 innings (10.97), making him one of the top 10 pitchers in history to that point in that category. His 239 strikeouts made him the third-highest pitcher in Pittsburgh Pirates history, trailing Cannonball Ed Morris and Bob Veale. He was sixth in the 2004 NL in ERA and fourth in Ks. The Pirates took a gentle approach with Pérez, telling him to skip winter ball that year. Perez was being compared to other hard-throwing, somewhat wild, lefties like Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson.
Things hit the skids in 2005 as Ollie's fastball dipped to 88-92 mph on average and his control, never great (206 BB in 412 2/3 IP in the majors), got worse - he issued 70 walks in 103 innings and overall was 7-5 with a 5.85 ERA. He was not allowing a significantly high number of hits and was still averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, but the control was very poor. He also lost two months after he hurt his toe kicking a team laundry cart in frustration.
Pérez was selected to play for Mexico in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and threw four scoreless innings, allowing one hit, walking four and striking out three. His effort against the USA helped eliminate that expected powerhouse from the tournament. Ollie was tabbed to be Pittsburgh's Opening Day starter. He expressed optimism that he would revert to his 2004 form as his arm felt good, saying his problem was in mechanics. He began the year by striking out 9 Brewers and allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings on opening day. His velocity had not returned but the outing was impressive. Before long, though, 2005 was looking like a pleasant memory as he was 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA, 51 BB, 61 K and 88 hits allowed in 76 innings. Pérez tried adjusting his delivery but that didn't help and he was sent down to the Indianapolis Indians in exchange for Tom Gorzelanny. He struck out 13 in his debut with the Indians but was just 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA in six starts there. He walked only 11 in 32 innings, striking out 34 and allowing 28 hits. On July 31, Pittsburgh gave up and dealt him along with Roberto Hernández to the New York Mets for Xavier Nady.
In 2006, pitching for the Mets, Pérez set the record for the highest regular season ERA (6.55) by a player who started a postseason game. The only other ERAs of 6+ were 6.17 by Dave Mlicki of the 2001 Astros, and 6.18 by Alex Ferguson of the 1925 Senators. He got the start due to injuries to Mets aces Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, but pitched surprisingly well, notching a win and giving up only 6 runs in 11 2/3 innings. One of his starts was the key Game 7 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. He kept the Mets in the game, even if the Cardinals won in the late innings.
He continued his rebirth in 2007 tying for the Mets' lead in wins with John Maine with a 15-10 record. While his ERA was excellent at 3.56 (a 120 ERA+), he only pitched 177 innings in 29 starts, putting a lot of stress on the Mets' bullpen. Still, his return to form was a major positive for him and his team.
Pérez went 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA for the Mets in 2008, giving him a 100 ERA+. He only allowed 167 hits in 194 innings but walked 105 while fanning 180. He was 6th in the 2008 NL in fewest hits per 9 innings, was 7th in strikeouts per 9 innings but led in walks (2 ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez). After the season, he signed a three-year deal with the Mets for $36 million but it would turn out that he would give his team very little value over the length of that deal.
Pérez was part of Mexico's rotation in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, going 0-1 with a 9.45 ERA; he gave up 13 hits (including 5 homers) and 3 walks in 6 2/3 innings, striking out 8. Oliver was the starter in Mexico's 17-7 loss to Australia but only lasted two innings, giving up 5 runs, including homers to Luke Hughes and Chris Snelling, before Francisco Campos relieved. Against the South Korean national team, the lefthander didn't last through the 5th inning before Elmer Dessens took over. He gave up homers to Bum-ho Lee, Tae-kyun Kim and Young-min Ko. His struggles in the tournament foreshadowed what would take place during the 2009 season, as his ERA jumped to 6.82 in 14 starts and his record was 3-4. His season was shortened by two stints on the disabled list with patella tendinitis in his right knee, eventually requiring an operation on September 1st. He then struggled even worse in 2010, but this time did not have the excuse of physical problems: he was hit hard from his first start onward and the Mets soon relegated him to the back end of the bullpen, as he could not be trusted in any situation in which the game was still on the line. They attempted to place him on the disabled list but were warned by the Commissioner's office that underperforming was not a sufficient cause for such a move. They eventually convinced higher authorities that there was still something wrong with Oliver's knee, and he was allowed to be placed on the DL at the end of May. He returned twice to the Mets late in the year, in late July and in September but pitched no better than he had in the early going. He finished the season 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA and walked 42 batters in 46 1/3 innings, while striking out only 37, his inability to throw strikes consistently being a constant frustration to his manager, Jerry Manuel.
Pérez moved to the Washington Nationals' organization in 2011 and spent the year with the AA Harrisburg Senators, where he went 3-5, 3.09 as a starter. He moved again after the season, this time to the Seattle Mariners, and they decided to send him to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers to work as a reliever, a new role for him. He did so-so, with a 2-2 record and a 4.65 ERA in 22 games, but the Mariners saw enough to bring him back to the big leagues on June 18, 2012. He pitched a lot better in the big leagues, sticking on the pitching staff for the remainder of the season while going 1-3 but with an excellent ERA of 2.12 in 33 games; all of his losses came in extra innings. Pitching slightly under an inning per appearance, he struck out 24 batters in 29 2/3 innings while walking only 10, showing that he had managed to lick his control problems.
He was once again pitching for Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, though he faced just one batter. He relieved Luis Mendoza with a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th against Team USA with two on and one out. He retired Eric Hosmer, then was relieved by Jose Cobos. He was ejected from the game with Team Canada due to his role in a brawl. He spent all of 2013 as a reliever with the M's, making 61 appearances and pitching 53 innings. He went 3-3 with a 3.74 ERA and struck out 74 batters while walking only 26, for the highest K/9 ratio of his career. He recorded his first two career saves that season.
In the 2014 Caribbean Series, he was with the champion Naranjeros de Hermosillo. He had a rotten first game, allowing a hit to Miguel Abreu, a walk to Enrique Hernandez and a RBI double to Ramón Castro. Luis Montanez grounded in one run then Martin Maldonado singled in another; Oliver had turned a 6-0 lead into a 6-3 one, but he got Kennys Vargas to end the game. He came back to get the win over the Tigres del Licey. Called on to pitch in the 9th with a 2-2 tie and a spot in the finals at stake, he allowed one walk and hit one batter but nothing else, fanning Julio Lugo to end the inning. Mexico scored in the bottom of the 9th to make Pérez a winner.
In spite of back-to-back solid seasons as a bullpen artist, Pérez had some trouble finding a team for 2014, finally landing a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 10th. He had been looking for a multi-year deal, but the best he could do was a two-year contract for $4.25 million total, a far cry from the huge contract he had signed back in 2009 when he was one of the top left-handed starters in the game; his value as a generic middle reliever in his mid 30's was a lot less. He pitched 68 times for Arizona, all in relief, with a record of 3-4, 2.91, with 76 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings.
On August 8, 2015, the Diamondbacks traded Oliver to the Houston Astros for minor league pitcher Junior Garcia. Pérez had a 19-game scoreless streak going on at the time, third longest in Diamondbacks history, and was 2-1, 3.10 in 48 games. Things did not go as well with Houston, however, as he was 0-3, 6.75 in 22 games. The problems continued in the postseason when he gave up a run on two hits and a walk in a third of an inning in the ALDS against the Kansas City Royals. He became a free agent after the season and signed a two-year contract with the Washington Nationals for $7 million.
He was the only player to pitch multiple games for Mexico when they swept through the 2016 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers to get a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He saved their 2-1 opening win over the Czech national team with a 1-2-3 9th and finished the qualifiers with 1 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings. On April 24, 2016, it was his bat that made him the hero for the Nats. They were trailing the Minnesota Twins, 5-4, with two outs in the bottom of the 15th. Danny Espinosa drew a walk, but manager Dusty Baker was out of pinch-hitters and had to bat for himself with the game on the line. Espinosa stole second base and Oliver then put down a beautiful drag bunt down the third base line. C John Ryan Murphy picked up the ball, but threw wildly to first base, allowing Espinosa to score the tying run. The Nationals won the game on Chris Heisey's walk-off homer in the bottom of the 16th and Oliver was credited with the win.
Primary Sources: 2000-2006 Baseball Almanacs, The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, "Under the Gun" by Dejan Kovacevic in the 4/3/06 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, World Baseball Classic
- 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2007)
- 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2004)