Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 3: Tomas Perez

By popular demand! Enough people requested Tomas Perez that I can’t hold up one. Consider this the 2006 Time Man of the Year cop-out of Obscure Former Phillies Hour. There’s so much to discuss about Tomas Perez that I feel like I’m only wasting your time up here. Straight to The Pieman’s career in eighteen points.

  1. Before we start, I want to tell you about the first time I ever saw Tomas Perez. I was watching a Blue Jays-Orioles game at my aunt’s house in Virginia in 1996. I was nine years old, and Robert Alomar had just been signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Now, Roberto Alomar is a Hall of Famer, and I remembered him at the time as only one of the stars of that 1993 Blue Jays team. And to replace him, Toronto had promoted a backup infielder named Tomas Perez to the starting lineup, and because I was a child, I assumed that the replacement would be as good as the original. I remember being shocked that I wasn’t hearing very much about Tomas Perez for years afterward.
  2. Tomas Perez was born Dec. 29, 1973 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Remember when I said the flag of Willie Montanez’s home city was cool? Well this one’s even cooler, if a trifle busy.
  3. As you might know, it is de rigeur for Venezuelan-born infielders (particularly shortstops) to wear No. 13 in the major leagues, starting with Dave Concepcion with the legendary 1970s Cincinnati Reds. Notable examples: Omar Vizquel, Freddy Galvis, Macier Izturis, Ozzie Guillen, Asdrubal Cabrera…you get the idea. Perez was no exception, wearing that fabled number first with Toronto, then for a year and a half with the Phillies, before switching to No. 9 partway through the 2001 season. As far as I can tell, this took place as a result of–and I’ve found only circumstantial evidence of this, so I could be wrong–Turk Wendell joining the Phillies via trade. That’s right, sportsfans, Turk Wendell. I remember that trade vividly, though again, I don’t remember what it did to Tomas Perez’s uniform number. We might do another one of these for Turk Wendell someday.
  4. Tomas Perez joined the Phillies in 2000 via free agency. Despite playing for four major-league teams (and in five other teams’ minor-league systems) in a 12-year major league career, Perez was only traded twice. One of those trades was from the Blue Jays to the Anaheim Angels for one-time Macho Row cleanup hitter Dave Hollins. On a personal note, Dave Hollins was the last person to play for both the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Philadelphia Phillies. Though I’m still rooting for you, Mike Cisco.
  5. As a Phillie, Tomas Perez played for Terry Francona, Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel. Very few players can make that claim. Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal…I’m sure there are others, but it’s starting to look like Tomas Perez deserves a spot on the Wall of Fame.
  6. Tomas Perez stole six bases in his major-league career, but never more than one in a season.
  7. Perez was walked intentionally 24 times in his career, which wouldn’t be strange except for his career OPS+ of 65. And that would be strange except he hit in front of the pitcher often enough to garner 11 free passes in 2003. I just find it amusing that in about half as many career plate appearances, Perez has been walked intentionally exactly as many times as Ryan Braun has.
  8. On May 28, 2004, Perez started at first base and batted eighth in a game against the Braves. He went 0 for his first 3 plate appearances, but when he came up with the Phillies down 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the 8th, he lined a 1-2 pitch from Chris Reitsma into the right field corner for a game-tying double. His next time up, he hit a walk-off home run (also with two strikes) in the bottom of the 10th. This game is also a reminder that Chase Utley once batted seventh.
  9. Of course, Tomas Perez didn’t deliver many walk-off hits in his career with the Phillies. His most notorious connection with walk-off hits is through his role as the Phillies’ unofficial shaving cream pie specialist from 2000-2005. This earned Perez the moniker “The Pieman,” a cognomen that was cruelly stolen some years later by Lee Pace’s character on Pushing Daisies.
  10. Here’s a picture of Perez as a Tampa Bay Ray, having been hoisted on his own petard.
  11. In 2000, Perez played shortstop exclusively, but in September of that year, the Phillies called up Jimmy Rollins, making Perez and Desi Relaford the Tony Fernandez to Rollins’ Derek Jeter. Relaford had a .363 OBP that year too. CRAZY.
  12. Tomas Perez pitched once! It’s true–May 13, 2002, in the midst of 17-3 loss to the Houston Astros. Down 9-1 in the bottom of the 8th, Phillies pitcher Hector Mercado allowed eight of the 10 batters he faced to reach, so Larry Bowa moved Perez from third base to the mound and brought in outfielder Jason Michaels to play third base (also Michaels’ only career appearance in the infield). Perez got his first batter, Jeff Bagwell to ground a ball to…Michaels, who bobbled the ball for one error, then threw it away for a second, allowing Gregg Zaun to score and Bagwell to reach second. The next batter, Jason Lane, flied out to right, and the nightmare was over.
  13. I’m going to repeat part of that last bit, because you might have missed it with the excitement of Tomas Perez pitching: Jason Michaels played 1/3 of an inning in his career in the infield, and in that time he had one ball hit to him and committed two errors on the play. Scott Rolen started that game at third base, in case you were wondering.
  14. Despite playing in nine organizations, Tomas Perez never played in a playoff game.
  15. Tomas Perez played six positions in the major leagues. He missed out on playing catcher, left field and center field. And DH, which is a good thing, because, again, he had a career OBP of .290.
  16. Perez’s hometown of Barquisimeto, Venezuela is actually a pretty big place, a state capital and home to some 2 million residents, making it considerably larger than Philadelphia. I’d never heard of it before, because I don’t think I can name two dozen cities in the whole of South America. Anyway, Barquisimento has produced 15 major leaguers. Of those, 11 were position players, and of those, Maicer Izturis is by far the best hitter. Apparently Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez (you know, the Venezuelans who can actually hit a little) grew up elsewhere.
  17. Maicer Izturis is the half-brother of fellow major leaguer Cesar Izturis. Fellow Barquisimeto native Steve Torrealba, however, is not, however, a relative of Yorvit Torrealba, which comes as a shock to me because I was convinced for years that Steve and Yorvit Torrealba were, in fact, the same person.
  18. Saving the best for last: This is from Phillies Nation’s Jay Floyd a couple weeks back.

The Pieman abides, sports fans. If you have any other Tomas Perez stories, you know where to share them. In fact, if you have any pie, I’d like for you to share that as well. I myself am fond of Boston creme pie, cherry pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, pecan pie….

Smell the Glove: Evaluating Defense in the 21st Century

The Gold Glove awards were announced Tuesday night and, while I don’t especially care about MLB’s awards, I thought it’ be nice to offer up my unique perspective on evaluating defense. Obviously I’m partial to grading defense with my eyeballs first, but I spent this past season compiling data for Baseball Information Solutions, primarily in the name of defensive metrics and the Fielding Bible Awards (BIS’s own take on rewarding solid leather). Quantifying defense is a controversial practice that’s really still in its adolescence. There are several different defensive metric calculations. All of them produce varying results of questionable accuracy and, in turn, create doubt in our trust of these ever evolving numbers. Colin Wyers over at Baseball Prospectus is always stoking the fire of progress in these matters and some of his concerns are spot on while some are superfluous. Go read the things he writes. While it’s topical, I’d like to give my thoughts on the practice of evaluating defense both traditionally and with metrics and quickly opine about this year’s award winners.  Let’s walk through them position by position, shall we?

Catcher:

Gold Gloves- Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters

Fielding Bible- Molina (Wieters was second)

Catcher defense is the most nuanced and unique skill set to grade out and I’d view any catching defensive metric with a giant grain of salt. Part of what BIS does to evaluate catchers is count “wild pitch misplays” which are assigned whenever there’s a wild pitch that the catcher had even a small a chance to block. Not all of these are created equally but they all count the same.  A lot of them should really be passed balls but BIS is at the mercy of MLB’s official scorekeepers.  Combine that with tougher things to quantify like game calling, receiving, framing, preparation, handling pitchers…there are just thing you can’t quantify in catchers. My ballot would have included Sal Perez if he had played enough games to be eligible. I love almost everything about Perez. If only his receiving were cleaner.  I’ll have to write an entire post on scouting catchers one day, I don’t want to short change that process by trying to fit it into one paragraph here.

 

First Base:

Gold Gloves- Adam LaRoche and Mark Teixeira

Fielding Bible- Teixeira (Adrian Gonzalez was second)

My ballot went Gonzalez, Teixeira, Hosmer. One thing to beware of with first base metrics are “scoops”.  At BIS, first basemen are rewarded for picking throws out of the dirt, a stat that is heavily influenced by the quality of the player’s teammates’ throwing accuracy. It’s essentially the RBI of defensive metrics.  Scouting wise, guys tend to end up at first base because they can’t pass anywhere else but exceptional players the position typically have efficient footwork, soft hands and quick reactions.

 

Second Base:

Gold Gloves- Darwin Barney and Robinson Cano

Fielding Bible- Barney (Alexi Casilla and Cano tied for second)

There’s going to be a lot of talk about the way the Cubs shift and how Barney’s positioning padded his defensive metrics.  Half way through the year BIS purged all plays impacted by shifts from their defensive metric calculation.  Here’s the thing, the line between what BIS classifies a shift and what it does not can be blurry.  Often, a team’s pre-pitch defensive movements are too subtle to call a “shift.” Instead, we took to calling it a “shade.” These were not omitted in the calculation of BIS’s metrics. Now we have to discuss whether or not Barney (or any other player that’s helped or harmed {Alcides Escobar comes to mind} by shades like this) should be given credit for his positioning.  Is Barney putting himself in these spots or is he being moved by his bench coach?  Barney’s still really good defensively and I’m fine with him winning the awards, but keep these issues in mind for future metric consideration.  Scouting second basemen is strange because they’re usually shortstops who have one glaring shortcoming (usually the arm) or subjects of an experiment that just kind of worked out (Jason Kipnis, Dustin Ackley, Craig Biggio).

 

Shortstop:

Gold Gloves- Jimmy Rollins and JJ Hardy

Fielding Bible- Brendan Ryan (Andrelton Simmons was second)

Rollins has lost a step but he’s still pretty good (he looked better as 2012 progressed) and Andrelton Simmons probably didn’t play enough to justify getting the award (even though he’s the best defensive SS in all of baseball as far as I’m concerned) so good for Jimmy.  American League? They’re both good, no complaining. Very few humans can play a good shortstop. One needs everything to play it well, not a single skill is superfluous.  A strong, accurate arm, soft hands, a quick transfer, good footwork and tremendous range are all things to look for in a shortstop. The range comes more from quick twitch reactions and acceleration than pure speed. There’s also the vaguely termed “feel” for the position, which is harder to delineate than it is to scout.

 

Third Base:

Gold Gloves- Chase Headley and Adrian Beltre

Fielding Bible- Beltre (Mike Moustakas and Brett Lawrie trailed him)

BIS was compelled to remove shifts from the data when Brett Lawrie was lapping the field at third base thanks in large part to his unique positioning in right field for left-handed pull hitters. When the shifts were taken out, Lawrie was still the leader in the metrics by a wide margin. He doesn’t always make it look smooth and pretty but he’s so physically gifted and athletic that he gets to balls no other third baseman can get to.  Maybe that’s more important than poetically and sensually fielding softly hit choppers in on the grass with grace and fluidity. It’s something worth discussing. The best third basemen are usually range-deficient shortstops.

 

Left Field:

Gold Gloves- Carlos Gonzalez and Alex Gordon

Fielding Bible- Gordon, unanimously

Nothing to say here. Gordon’s great, nobody in the NL particularly is.

 

Center Field:

Gold Gloves- Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones

Fielding Bible- Mike Trout (Michael Bourn was second)

Playing a viable center field is, in itself, a tremendous feat.  McCutchen and Jones are good defenders, but they’re not better than a host of other guys at the position.

 

Right Field:

Gold Gloves- Jason Heyward and Josh Reddick

Fielding Bible- Heyward (Reddick second)

Great choices.  The only other name I’d throw in is Ben Revere, though Revere lacks your typical right field profile because he has Juan Pierre’s arm.  One thing to keep in mind when looking at outfielders’ metrics is the player’s teammates. Players in the outfield are always positioned relative to the other outfielders’ ability to cover ground.  If the Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez in right field, Dexter Fowler in center and Michael Cuddyer in Right, then Fowler’s positioning might be self-sacrificial in order to mask the squad’s weaknesses (pssst…it’s Cuddyer).  Also be mindful that people like Jim Tracy are in charge of this positioning.

Hopefully I’ve been able to teach you something new over the last thousand words.  I really think defensive metrics will take off when TrackMan develops into something special, but that’s another show.  If you’re thirst for advanced metrics is not quenched, go pick up the new Bill James Handbook that the good folks at BIS put together annually. The new one comes out today.