Cionel Perez was a revelation for the Orioles this season.
The Baltimore Orioles now have a reputation for turning waiver claims into Major League contributors, and Cionel Perez is one of the clearest success stories. After a dreadful 2021 season with the Reds where his ERA was above six, he became one of the best relievers on the Orioles. Alongside the (literally) lights-out Felix Bautista, Perez enters 2023 as the setup man and by far the best lefty.
But report cards are about what has already happened, so Perez is being graded only for his 2022 season. As Principal Linn explained, Birds Watcher University uses a standard GPA system. Pitchers are evaluated based on their overall results, their batted ball quality, and a miscellaneous elective of their (see: “my”) choosing.
Overall Results: A
Cionel Perez had a fantastic season with a 1.40 ERA, good for sixth-best in the Majors. Estimators like FIP, xFIP, xERA, and SIERA say he is one or two runs worse than that but expecting regression next season does not change his results from this season. Nine earned runs in 57.2 innings is outstanding any way you slice it.
Perez gave up just two home runs the whole year, but his other statistics aren’t quite as impressive, which is why the estimators are underwhelmed. His 23.5% strikeout rate is a little above average, while his 9% walk rate is a little below average. More impressive is his total value, as Perez had 2.8 bWAR, which is elite territory for a reliever. His 2.21 win probability added was 20th among relievers, which is quite good especially since most of the people in front of him are closers who pitch in higher-leverage situations (Bautista was ninth). In RE24, which measures a player’s results compared to the base-out states, Perez ranked 16th with 13.40.
The lefty brings a hard 4-seamer and a wipeout slider, and he added a sinker upon joining the Orioles while shelving a changeup. Even with just one breaking ball, Perez held both lefties and righties down. He worked inside and outside with both kinds of fastballs, while his slider works in the zone and as an out pitch. Sliders tend to do worse than curveballs and changeups against opposite-handed hitters because they move towards the batter, but Perez’s slider has a ton of vertical movement as well as horizontal movement. The Orioles like traditional diving sliders, which is probably why they claimed Perez in the first place. Run values on his individual pitches also look quite good, as his 4-seamer had -10, slider -6, and sinker 0.
Batted Ball Quality: B+
If you look at his Statcast percentile rankings, Cionel Perez doesn’t particularly stand out. Other than elite velocity and poor extension, there are a lot of light colors. He is a little above average in K-rate, xBA, xWOBA, xSLG, whiff rate, and barrel rate, but a bit below average in fastball spin, walk rate, average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and chase rate. Put together, that sounds like a decent pitcher and not a great one.
Some of the disagreement among peripherals stems from batted ball results, where Perez has some wonky stats. His batting average against on his 4-seamer and slider outperformed his xBA by 40 points but the sinker underperformed by 90 points. Similarly, his 4-seam and slider slugging percentage outperformed their xSLG by over 100 points while the sinker underperformed by 80 points. Even weirder is that the 4-seamer and slider had launch angles of 9 and 8, while the sinker had -9. Expected stats can be quite noisy for relievers given the relatively few innings, but I think some of this is shift-related. Batters smacked the sinker into the dirt and beat the shift. I bet they will be much closer to the results without the shift in 2023.
When batters made contact, they generally struggled to square up the ball off of Perez. The exit velocity on his 4-seamer and sinker are both 91, which is concerning, but he kept the ball on the ground. Perez had a strong 51% groundball rate, so even when he gave up hard contact, it often resulted in singles or ground outs. His slider was much better, with an average exit velocity of 85 MPH and the highest whiff rate of his three pitches at 30.7%.
Perez did a good job of avoiding barrels, but there is a big difference between his pitches in that regard. A scary 10.8% of 4-seamers led to barrels, but only 4.9% of sliders and 0% sinkers (yes, really). That alone shows how Perez had both good luck and bad luck this season. His .284 BABIP is lower than the league average of .294, so he had more good luck than bad luck.
Luscious Locks: A
Kyle Stowers might have something to say about this, but Cionel Perez has the best lettuce on the Orioles. Find yourself a man who can wave his hair in the wind and wave goodbye to batters.
Maybe while adding a few inches of break to his pitches, Perez also grew out his hair by a few inches. His all-natural crown on the team might be in danger if the Orioles do indeed splurge for Josh Bell or Jacob deGrom.
Final GPA: 3.77
Cionel Perez is not quite the top of the class, but he certainly cemented his spot on the 2023 Orioles. Beyond winning the World Series, keeping a roster spot is ultimately the goal for most players. He is in a much safer position than last offseason.