Cheap and low-risk signings have been a common theme for the Milwaukee Brewers over the last few weeks. On Jan. 30, they spent $3 million on Neal Cotts, and on Wednesday, they inked reliever Chris Perez to a minor-league deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives if he makes the major league club. The former is a steal for Milwaukee while the latter is more of a lottery ticket with a minimal prize. If Perez is a lottery ticket, the jackpot is anything over 0 WAR. The Brewers are hoping he pitches better than replacement level, something Perez has failed to do since 2012.
For his career, Perez owns an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.51/4.23/4.23, resulting in 0.1 Wins Above Replacement. He’s never been worth more than a win in a single season, only coming close in 2010 and 2012 (0.8 WAR). Perez isn’t much of a ground ball pitcher, gives up a decent number of home runs and has walked batters at higher rate in each of the last three seasons.
So, why were the Brewers interested in him?
It’s a question that deserves multiple answers, but let’s start with this:
Just spoke with Chris Perez. Said he’s been given no guarantees by #Brewers but is looking forward to challenge of earning role in bullpen.
Tom (@Haudricourt) February 5, 2015
Obviously, a minor-league deal comes with no promises, but it shows the Brewers aren’t going to give him any hand-outs just because he was once a “successful” closer. He has to earn a job, and if he somehow makes the 25-man roster, it’ll be deserving, because even though the bullpen has problems, most of the current pieces in it are better than Perez.
The main reason the Brewers snagged Perez is because they coveted an arm with closing experience. Perez has 133 saves in his career. The Brewers by no means want him to close (if that happens, I’m becoming a Cardinals fan. I swear I’ll do it), so I find it odd that Doug Melvin feels it’s necessary to have former closers taking up room in his bullpen. Maybe Perez is solely insurance in case a multitude of relievers go down with injuries. That would make the most sense.
But Perez also comes cheap. Spending $1.5 million on a fringe MLB reliever isn’t going to break the bank, and honestly, I’m okay with any signing the Brewers make for $1.5 million. If they want to bring back Trevor Hoffman for that amount, why the heck not?
Now, back to a statistical standpoint. Perez utilizes two pitches — a fastball and slider. He used a changeup for the first time in his career last season, but only threw it 3.6% of the time, so don’t count on it seeing in 2015. Perez’s fastball is exactly that…fast. It averages in the mid-90s and topped out at 96.7 mph last year. His slider is a slow slider, averaging just 83 mph, and up until last year, it was worth positive runs (excluding his rookie campaign).
Perez has struggled more in high leverage situations than in any other circumstance in his career. He strikes out fewer batters, and allows a .312 wOBA in high leverage situations, while only giving up a .309 wOBA and a .301 wOBA in low and medium leverage situations, respectively. For a closer, who almost exclusively pitches in crunch time, that’s not what you want to see.
Additionally, his strikeout rate has decreased and walk rate has increased consistently since 2012.
Even if Perez makes the team, the likelihood that he’ll actually help the team is small. Still, signing him to a low-cost minor-league deal involves almost zero risk.