Concern About Chris Perez's Drop In Velocity?

Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians: It doesn't seem that many people have been concerned with Perez's diminished velocity this season, this columnist included, judging by his lofty ranking all season and generous projection a week ago. But after a loss Wednesday, and another strikeout-less outing, Perez's numbers warrant further discussion. Among pitchers with 20-plus innings this season, the Indians finisher has the 14th-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.08), and among closers, only the Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz (0.86), who has battled injuries, has a lower ratio.

The drop is stark: Perez, who averaged 9.68 strikeouts per nine innings and 94.4 mph with his fastball from 2009-10, has seen those numbers slip dramatically this season, to 5.01 and 92.9. Nevertheless, his manager, Manny Acta, told the team's official website a few weeks ago that it didn't concern him.

"How hard did [ex-Indians closer] Doug Jones throw when he saved the games over here?" said Acta. "[Perez] is healthy and he's doing a nice job for us. I've seen him throw 94 or 95 [mph] in different games. As long as he gets the saves and he's healthy, I'm fine with it.”

The problem, however, is that Perez's peripherals show that he's walking a proverbial tightrope, his 3.36 FIP (fielder independent pitching score, on an ERA scale) and 4.93 xFIP (expected FIP) hinting that his current 2.70 ERA is a fluke. His line-drive rate has also soared to 24.1 percent, and he's continuing to serve up fly balls at a high rate (46.3 percent). Perez continues to get the job done -- he's 15-of-16 in save chances and 25th among relief pitcher eligibles on our Player Rater -- but the low strikeout rate is bothersome in fantasy and if you wanted to say he's been somewhat of a magician so far, you'd have a point.

Perez offered an explanation for his diminished velocity in early May: "I'm not worried about it at all. It's not far off from where I was at this same time last year. People seem to forget about the beginning of last season."

While it's true that Perez's velocity was down early in 2010 -- he averaged 93.7 mph in April of last year -- the numbers don't entirely support his claim. Through June 8 of the 2010 season, he had averaged 94.3 mph with his fastball. And if you're curious if it's improving, consider that Perez has averaged 93.8 mph with the pitch the past 30 days, but 93.4 mph in June so far. It's not a devastating drop, but it's something that bears watching, especially accounting for his peripherals.

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