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Main | Rangers Ink Nathan; Feliz to Start »

Perkins Plenty Capable in the 9th

With Joe Nathan now a Texas Ranger, The Twins are in search of someone to conquer opposing clubs in the late innings. Minnesota needn't look far to find a high-leverage gun slinger, though. Lefty Glen Perkins's stuff improved dramatically in the bullpen last year, allowing him to quietly turn in one of the better performances among all relievers amid the Twins' apocalyptic 99-loss season.

A University of Minnesota product taken with the 22nd pick in the 2004 draft, Perkins was an unremarkable, back-of-the-rotation arm as a starter. Sitting around 90 with his fastball and mixing in some sliders and changeups, Perkins posted an ERA around five and struck out a paltry 4.4 batters per nine in 246.1 innings as a starter for the Twins in 2008-2009.

After another yawn-inducing season spent mostly at Triple-A Rochester in 2010 (5.81 ERA, 4.08 FIP), Perkins was bumped to the 'pen in 2011. Going all out in short stints, Perkins pumped up his fastball velocity, turned his slider into a weapon and became a relief ace.

The 28-year-old struck out 9.5 batters per nine, walked 2.3 unintentionally and surrendered 0.3 HR/9 in 61.2 innings pitched. He lucked out by giving up a homer just 4.3 percent of the time that a batter put the ball in the air (about one-half of the average rate for relievers), but his fielding-independent stats still pegged him as a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher. With 1.7 Wins Above Replacement, Perkins ranked just outside the top 10 among relievers despite missing time with a strained oblique.

As a reliever, Perkins simplified his approach. He attacked hitters with his fastball (up to an average of 93.9 mph), throwing slightly more than 59 percent of his heaters in the strike zone. Perkins used that fastball to get ahead in the count, throwing it more than three-quarters of the time in the first pitch of the at-bat.

Getting ahead of batters so often (about two-thirds of the time) then allowed Perkins to expand the zone with his low-80s slider and changeup. While he pounded the zone with his fastball, he baited hitters to chase his breaking and off-speed stuff off the plate:

Perkins' slider and changeup location, 2011

And chase they did. Check out hitters' swing rate by pitch location against the slider and changeup, compared to the league average. Opponents chased ankle-high sliders and changeups against Perkins:

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Perkins' slider and changeup, 2011

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. sliders and changeups, 2011

Perkins is yet another example of the marked difference between starting and relieving. Facing lineups multiple times and having to pace himself, Perkins was Joe Saunders' little brother. Letting 'er rip an inning at a time, he gained zip and was fantastic. Teams give starting prospects every chance to make it because they're more valuable if they can capably pitch 150-200 innings. But if you're scrounging for relief help and looking to avoid the financial pitfalls associated with adding a "Proven Closer," turning the stalled-out starter loose in the bullpen isn't a bad plan.

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