Oliver Perez: Big Game Pitcher?

Patrick MurraySenior Analyst IJuly 7, 2008

Mets fans know the torture Oliver Perez dishes out. One start he looks like a potential Cy Young award winner, the next he looks like he couldn't throw a strike if his life depended on it.

I think the problem with Perez is mental. He always has good stuff—a mid-90s fastball, a sharp breaking slider that he throws to right-handed hitters, a good sweeping slider he uses against lefties, and a developing change-up.

It’s just that on some occasions he can't throw these pitches for strikes and it gets him into big trouble.

However, it seems like Perez always comes through in big games. Most recently, this is evidenced by his last two starts. He threw a combined 14 innings against the Yankees and Phillies while allowing just one run—a Wilson Betemit solo homer—and striking out 14.

Against the crosstown rivals, Perez did not walk anyone. It was his only start this year without issuing a free pass.

Perez's career numbers against the Yanks read like this: 5-1, 2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP.

The Mets acquired Perez from the Pirates at the trade deadline in 2006. He was basically a throw-in in the trade that sent Xavier Nady to Pittsburgh, bringing needed reliever Roberto Hernandez.

When Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez went down with injuries, Perez was thrust into playoff action in the NLCS. In Game Seven against the Cardinals, he allowed just one run on four hits and two walks in six innings. Every Mets fan knows he got a no decision in that game, as the Mets lost after Perez came out of the game.

This year, Perez faced MLB's top offense in Texas on June 13. Manager Willie Randolph's job was on the line, with many reporting he would be fired if the Mets lost. Perez turned in seven innings of three-hit ball and allowed just one run—a Josh Hamilton solo homer.

Perez also has pitched well in road games against division rivals. Including yesterday's game, he has a career 1.42 ERA in four starts against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. At Atlanta's Turner Field, Perez has a 2.73 ERA in four starts.

In his first start of this season, Perez tossed six shutout innings while striking out eight Marlins in Miami. He only walked one batter.

His next start? Five-and-two-thirds innings of shutout ball at Shea against the Phillies.

Perez has struggled in routine games that perhaps don't seem to matter as much. I think Oliver turns on that something special in big games, and seems to be more focused and composed in those crucial matches. In other games he seems to get easily rattled.

The Mets need to figure out what turns on Ollie's focus and composure and use that in every game. If Perez can figure it out, he can be an elite pitcher and even win a Cy Young. More importantly for the Mets this year, he can help them get back to the playoffs.