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Baltimore Orioles

Oriole of the Day: Cionel Pérez gives Baltimore another hard-throwing lefty struggling with command

Under other circumstances, Tuesday would have marked the day Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota, Florida, to begin preparations for the 2022 season.

Instead, with the league’s lockout of players continuing as the two sides negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, that benchmark passed without the season feeling any closer. Until significant progress is made between the owners and the players’ union, it’s fair to wonder whether the Orioles’ March 31 Opening Day matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays will take place as scheduled.

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What can be assured, though, is the continuation of Oriole of the Day, The Baltimore Sun’s series evaluating each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster.

Left-handed reliever Cionel Pérez signed out of Cuba with the Houston Astros while Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was in their front office, though it was before Elias led Houston’s international scouting efforts. Less than two years later, Pérez was in the majors, but he has yet to stick there despite a few appearances over the past four seasons.

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Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 25

2021 stats: 6.38 ERA, 24 innings, 25 strikeouts, 1.708 WHIP, 22.5 K%, 18.0 BB%, minus-0.3 fWAR with the Cincinnati Reds; 3.26 ERA, 30 ⅓ innings, 41 strikeouts, 1.286 WHIP, 31.8 K%, 10.1 BB% with Triple-A Louisville (CIN)

Under team control through: 2026

2021 in review

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Number to know: 44.1%. Among major league pitchers who faced at least 100 batters in 2021, only one had a higher walk rate than Pérez did (18.0%), and only two threw a first-pitch strike less frequently (44.1%). That pitch was particularly vital for Pérez; if he got ahead 0-1, he limited batters to a .398 OPS and didn’t allow an extra-base hit. But when he fell behind 1-0, opponents posted a .936 OPS, with more than a quarter of those plate appearances ending in a walk.

What was good: Despite Pérez’s numbers, it’s understandable why the Orioles snagged him on waivers earlier this offseason. They already effectively have an in-house version of him in Tanner Scott, a hard-throwing lefty with an effective slider. Pérez’s breaking ball is much slower than Scott’s but also moves a lot more. Based on Statcast’s expected batting average and slugging percentage — which are measured using quality of contact rather than results — the pitch was equally effective against right- and left-handed batters. Among the more than 100 left-handers who threw at least 100 sliders, Pérez allowed the ninth-lowest xBA and 16th-lowest xSLG with his.

What wasn’t: In Triple-A, Pérez had reverse splits, holding opposite-handed batters to an OPS nearly 600 points lower than he did same-handed batters. That trend didn’t carry over into his major league appearances, where his struggles finding the strike zone were accentuated against right-handers. He walked 21.4% of the right-handed hitters he faced, the highest rate for any lefty, while striking out only one more than he walked.

If Cionel Pérez, pictured pitching for the Cincinnati Red on April 13, makes a strong enough impression in spring training, Baltimore could elect to carry three lefties in its bullpen.

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Left-handed relief option

What’s projected: Scott and Paul Fry figure to be the Orioles’ primary relief options in 2022, though both suffered prolonged stretches of ineffectiveness in 2021. Pérez is out of minor league options, meaning he would need to clear waivers for the Orioles to send him to Triple-A. If he makes a strong enough impression in spring training, Baltimore could elect to carry three lefties in its bullpen, though manager Brandon Hyde has on occasion noted his lack of right-on-right relief options. Steamer and ZiPS project Pérez to cut down his walk rate and ERA substantially in 2022.

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A step forward: Despite its effectiveness, Pérez’s slider was often a non-competitive pitch. A Statcast-defined “waste” pitch is any offering that is either 10 inches outside the sides of the strike zone or a foot above or below it. More than a quarter of Pérez’s sliders were waste pitches, tied for the third-highest rate for any slider and 13th-highest rate for any breaking ball thrown at least 100 times. Of Pérez’s 32 wasted sliders, 30 were balls. Making that pitch consistently more appetizing for hitters could make it a much more valuable part of his repertoire.

Three up, three down

This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Mike Baumann, Dean Kremer and Ryan McKenna. The Orioles due up next are Kelvin Gutiérrez, Jahmai Jones and Yusniel Diaz.


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