Martin Perez’s fantasy baseball success is built to last

If you look at the top of the MLB pitching leaderboard, you’ll see a lot of familiar names. Justin Verlander, back from Tommy John surgery, has a 2.05 ERA and is tied with Walker Buehler for a league-best six wins. Corbin Burnes was in the top 15 in ERA, Robbie Ray ranked in the top five in strikeouts, and the injured Max Scherzer had a top-10 in WHIP and opponent average.

Mixed in with those guys you’ll see a slew of pitchers who were dart throws, at best, in fantasy drafts.

The Yankees’ Nestor Cortes, who was the 97th-ranked pitcher entering the season, headed into Friday with the fourth-best ERA (1.70), as well as the second-best WHIP (0.85) and opponent average (.175).

Milwaukee’s Eric Lauer, the 102nd ranked pitcher, entered the weekend with the 13th-best ERA (2.31) in the majors and eighth-best strikeout rate (29.4 percent). The 130th-ranked pitcher was St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas, who entered Friday with the 13th-lowest walk rate (5 percent) and the seventh-best ERA (1.96).

How about the Rangers’ Martin Perez, the 230th-ranked pitcher heading into drafts and the most added pitcher in ESPN leagues this week? To put his preseason status into perspective, he was slotted one spot above Masahiro Tanaka, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2020.

Martin Perez

From 2012-21, the 31-year-old Perez was 63-69 with a 4.71 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 6.0 strikeouts per nine and 3.3 walks per nine while pitching for the Rangers, Twins and Red Sox.

There is nothing suggesting Perez was ready to be anything other than a middling pitcher who might have been worth streaming in the right matchup. Yet, here we are, a quarter way through the season, and Perez is 3-2 with the 14th-lowest opponent average (.208), the 13th-best WHIP (1.01) and the second-best ERA (1.60) in the majors. He also hasn’t allowed a home run after giving up 131 over his first 10 years in the bigs.

Perez is striking out a career-high 20.2 percent of the batters he faces, though that still ranks in the bottom 20 among qualified starters. His 9.6 percent swinging strike rate is nothing to write home about.

So, what gives?

Perez is showing much better control. Though he is still walking 2.24 per nine innings (a career low), that is miles better than his career 3.22 BB/9 mark. His barrel rate from him (2.3 percent) is also a career low.

Perez has a career-best 55.8 percent ground-ball rate, which in the third-best mark in the majors. Another key: He has all but ditched his fastball to rely on his sinker (39.5 percent usage rate, up from 25.3 percent last year), changeup (23.9 percent, .118 opponent average) and cutter (20.8 percent, .143 opponent average) . Though opponents are hitting .271 against his sinker, according to Statcast, he has an expected batting average of .238 and 62.7 percent ground-ball rate with the pitch.

Reducing his fastball usage to 7 percent has helped him to dominate against righties, who are hitting .186 with 37 strikeouts and a .499 OPS against him. Righties have hit .291 with .807 OPS against him in his career.

There is also nothing indicating Perez can’t sustain this type of success. His FIP (2.43), xBA (.226) and BaBIP (.266) show there will be regression, but not to the point at which he won’t be a reliable option. His xERA (2.49) is among the top 9 percent of the league, according to Statcast.

Perez is not a flashy young pitcher who will rack up strikeouts or be a potential keeper for 2023. He is a pitcher who has found a formula that works for him. As long as he does n’t deviate from his current approach, he will continue to be a solid fantasy option.

Martin Perez

big hits

Trevor Story 2B/SS, Red Sox

After hitting .194 with no homers, 35 strikeouts and a .545 OPS in his first 24 games, he was 17-for-58 (.293) with nine homers, 27 RBIs, 17 runs, five stolen bases and a 1.144 OPS in 15 games before Friday.

Shane McClanahan SP, Rays

Hasn’t lost since April 30, going 3-0 with a 1.07 ERA, 32-5 K-BB rate and .163 opponent average in his past four starts.

Kole Calhoun OF, Rangers

Entered Friday with at least one hit in 16 of his previous 19 games, going 24-for-66 (.364) with seven homers, 15 RBIs, 15 runs and a 1,177 OPS.

Kole Calhoun

Michael Kopech SP, White Sox

Allowed five ERs over his past seven starts while going 1-1 with a 1.18 ERA, 36 strikeouts and a .119 opponent average. Ignore his 17 walks from him.

Big Whiffs

Byron Buxton OF, Twins

Over his past 13 games before Friday, he was 4-for-50 (.080) with two homers, four RBIs, 12 strikeouts and a .375 OPS.

Alex Cobb SP, Giants

Owned a 10.32 ERA over his past two starts with a .392 opponent average. He had a 6.85 ERA and .319 opponent average in his first five starts this month.

alex cobbs
Getty Images

Juan Soto OF, Nationals

Despite walking nine times over his past 11 games, he was 4-for-37 (.108) with no homers or runs scored, three RBIs and a .418 OPS in that span.

Chris Bassit SP, Mets

Three straight no-decisions in which he allowed 13 runs over 16 ¹/₃ innings (7.16 ERA). He allowed five homers and a .314 opponent average in those starts.

Check Swings

  • Why is the Giants’ Joc Pederson owned in just 51 percent of ESPN leagues? Well, after a stellar April (.353, 6 HRs, 10 RBIs, 11 runs, 1.127 OPS), he was 9-for-53 (.170) with 14 RBIs and a .757 OPS in his first 19 games this month. Five of those nine hits were home runs, and four came in two games against the Mets this week (along with 10 of those 14 RBIs). In the 27 games in which he didn’t homer this season, he was 12-for-76 (.158) with 20 strikeouts. All of that may have something to do with it. Did Tommy Pham have Joc on his team?
  • As Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez and countless other shortstops struggled, Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson entered Friday on a nine-game hitting streak. He was 15-for-36 (.417) with two homers, seven RBIs, two stolen bases and a 1,059 OPS in that stretch. Over his past 31 games, he has hit .324 with six homers, 21 RBIs and a .930 OPS, and the Braves just bumped him up to the No. 2 spot in the order.

Team Name of The Week

The River Yordan


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