Could Martin Perez be a Ruben Niebla reclamation project?

Oct 19, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers pitcher Martin Perez (54) throws during the eighth inning in game four of the ALCS against the Houston Astros for the 2023 MLB playoffs at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: David Frerker-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres need pitching. Lots of it. Could Martin Perez be a bounce-back candidate with Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla?

Martin Perez just completed his 12th year in the major leagues. The fact that he has been able to stick around longer than a decade speaks to his ability and work ethic. When he was signed as a teenage amateur free agent out of Venezuela by the Rangers, the team employed a certain Director of International and Professional Scouting in A.J. Preller.

Could that connection to the current Padres’ president of baseball operations and general manager prove fruitful in bringing Perez to San Diego?

Some may look at his 2023 numbers with the Texas Rangers in a vacuum and scoff at the idea that he could be useful to the Padres in 2024. However, there is more to that story than meets the eye.

First, yes, his 2023 campaign was less than stellar, with a 4.45 ERA and exactly average 100 ERA+. He was even bumped to the bullpen from the rotation once the Rangers acquired Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery for their late-season run.

Perez was unhappy with his diminished role with the Rangers down the stretch of their run to a World Series title. This was just one year removed from him being an All-Star in 2022, with a 2.89 ERA and 137 ERA+, near ace-like numbers.

He was in the 92nd percentile for barrel rate allowed in 2022.

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So what happened? And, more importantly, can he bounce back?

Credit: AP Photo

An encouraging sign is that it wasn’t due to a major dip in velocity or spin rate. In 2022, the average speed of his four-seam fastball was 92.7. It was 91.8 in 2023, less than a one-mile-per-hour difference. The spin rate went from 2,055 rpm to 2,023. A negligible difference.

He struggled with location mostly. He allowed 21 home runs, the third most of his career. Couple that with a middling 5.9 strikeouts per nine, and that leads to a disappointing season.

That also seems like a very fixable issue. Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla has a great reputation around the league. Under his tutelage, Blake Snell won his second Cy Young Award. Joe Musgrove earned his first and only All-Star bid to this point. Michael Wacha had a resurgence. Seth Lugo put up solid numbers in his first year as a full-time starter in six years.

If the Padres were to sign the Venezuelan free agent Perez, Niebla could once again work his wonders to reclaim the magic Perez had in 2022.

Even if Perez does not turn out to be an All-Star, getting him back to even slightly above league average would be a huge boost for a rotation that severely lacks depth at the moment.

FanGraphs’ projections also favor a bounce-back from Perez. After posting just a 0.5 fWAR, they project him to be at 1.0 in 2024. That might not seem like much, but if the Padres acquire him at a cheap price to be a fourth or fifth starter type, that is exactly what the Padres need. They also project him to command around $8 million, which wouldn’t completely break San Diego’s bank.

Certainly, Perez can’t be the only notable addition to the rotation. If the Padres can acquire another solid starter or two via trade or free agency, Perez is a great bounce-back candidate under Niebla towards the back of the rotation.

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