For the San Diego Padres, the 2017 season has come with a lot of uncertainty.
Given the team is in a state of transition, there aren’t really many sure things at this point in time. Sure there are bright spots, such as the development of Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Austin Hedges, but it remains impossible to predict which players are going to work out, and which ones are going to flame out. However, if I was a betting man, there would be one San Diego Padre player I would put my money on. Now if you read the title of this article, you know I am talking about 24-year-old right-hander, Luis Perdomo.
As someone who just recently turned 24 years old (my birthday is exactly one month after Perdomo’s), I can say it is sometimes hard to be a young adult.
I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be to be a young adult pitching in front of tens of thousands of people live and in person and in front of millions more through a television screen or radio speaker. This becomes even more magnified for a guy pitching in the big leagues without a shred of minor league experience above High-A ball. The development path of Luis Perdomo has been the polar opposite of what you would expect from a normal player, as Double and Triple-A are the most integral part of most player’s professional baseball development. Due to the Rule 5 draft, Perdomo has been robbed of that development time, or at least development time at those levels.
Even with this fact, Perdomo has made monumental strides as a major league pitcher.
Despite being viewed by many as a guy who was going to be inevitably sent back to the St. Louis Cardinals at some point last year, Perdomo stuck with the Padres, and actually made significant improvements as the year wore on. Now just about a year and half removed from his selection in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft, Luis Perdomo has proven himself to be not only another Rule 5 success story, but a potentially important piece of the future of the San Diego Padres. And that is no exaggeration.
Let’s start with a quick snapshot of what Perdomo has accomplished thus far this season.
I know it might be hard to look at those numbers and think that Perdomo has been successful this season. Sure he has gotten strikeouts and ground balls, and limited walks, but his FIP still sits at 4.53. Actually, his FIP and xFIP say Perdomo is a better pitcher than those numbers would suggest, mainly because his ERA still sits just below 5.00. Perdomo has given up his share of hits and walks, but he has made some pretty solid progress from last year.
As you can see from Perdomo’s pitch plot, he works down in the zone more often than not. He has gotten to the point where he doesn’t throw much in the upper part of the strike zone or above the strike zone. Just about every pitch he is throwing low and out of the strike zone has been a slider, and he has had a great deal of success with that pitch, as the right-hander has gotten 75 whiffs on 356 sliders thrown, good for a whiff rate of just over 21 percent on that pitch. Add that to his ability to spot his fastball all around the strike zone, and Perdomo has been able to use an effective pitch mix to get hitters out.
Although Perdomo has shown himself to be effective at getting batters to swing and miss at his slider, he really excels when he gets batters to make contact. Among all starters with at least 60 innings pitched this season, Perdomo ranks third in ground ball rate, behind only Houston Astros ace and 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood.
Taking that one step further, in terms of exit velocity on all batted ball events and exit velocity on ground balls specifically, Perdomo ranks among the top 40 in all of baseball for players with at least 100 batted ball events against. So Perdomo has gotten more ground balls than almost any other pitcher in baseball and has gotten plenty of weakly struck ground balls in that mix as well.
So given how good Perdomo has been at getting batters to hit the ball weakly on the ground, why is he not having the results we should expect?
It all lies in the defense. While the difference between his ERA and FIP/xFIP has lessened with recent starts, Perdomo has been let down by his defense. Perdomo is a guy who, despite collecting his fair share of strikeouts, relies heavily on turning batted balls into outs. For the 2017 Padres, turning balls into outs has been an increasingly apparent problem.
Among all 30 MLB teams, the Padres sit at 29th with a -25.8 runs, meaning the Padres defense overall has cost the team over two and a half wins so far this season. By UZR/150, which estimates UZR based on a 150 game schedule, the Padres similarly sit second to last in all of baseball, once again ahead of only the Oakland Athletics. By Fangraphs DEF rating, the Padres are once again just as bad, sitting at -28.8 runs.
By Range runs (RngR), the Padres are demonstrably worse, as they are the worst team in baseball at -22.7 range runs. This attempts to measure how fielders fare at getting to balls that are in their general vicinity. By this standard, and just about every other, the Padres defense has been shaky at best, and awful at worst. However, Perdomo has been more negatively affected by the infield defense in particular given his reliance on ground balls.
Lowest Out Rate – Defenses on Grounders and Bunts
A’s, Red Sox 70.7%
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) June 15, 2017
According to this stat, the Padres infield defense has turned grounders and bunts into outs just 69.4 percent of the time, which is the second worst in all of baseball. Look around the infield and just about every Padres infielder has been rather bad on defense. Ryan Schimpf, Wil Myers, Erick Aybar, Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg, and Allen Cordoba have all been negative defenders by UZR. So when attempting to ascertain why Perdomo has had less than stellar results, poor defense could be at least part of the reason.
Aside from his struggles, Luis Perdomo has been my favorite Padres pitcher to watch. He has so much potential in his plus slider and solid fastball, that it’s hard to not imagine what he could be capable of if he puts it altogether. This isn’t the next Pedro Martinez here, but Perdomo can be a solid member of the Padres’ rotation for years to come. It’s only a matter of working out the kinks and putting it all together. Given that he has added a splitter to his arsenal, which I will talk about further in a later piece, Perdomo has only become more interesting as the season has progressed. For Padre fans, Luis Perdomo leaves a lot to dream on.