Even prior to being rewarded with a three year, $36 million contract, Mets starter Oliver Perez could’ve been called one of the game’s great enigmas (which is a nice euphemism for saying his inability to consistently throw strikes made fans and managers alike fantasize about pushing him down a flight of stairs). However, shortly after being the recipient of Omar Minaya’s largesse, the left-hander emerged with an expanded waistline, control issues even more pronounced than previously, and an alarming drop in velocity. Though it’s been suggested previously that Perez’ brief stint with the Mexican squad during 2009’s World Baseball Classic didn’t do him any favors, Amazin Avenue’s Matthew Callan delves into greater detail, writing, “If I don’t exactly blame the WBC, I don’t exactly let it off the hook, either.”
In the WBC itself, to say Perez struggled would not be so much kind as it would be lying. In a mere 6 2/3 innings of work, he gave up a staggering five home runs and pitched to an ERA that pushed north of 9. Most damaging of all, however, may have been his last appearance of the series against Korea. Mexico’s manager Vinny Castilla left him in to throw 85 pitches at a time in spring when few pitchers are given that kind of workload.
The Mets attempted to keep tabs on Perez’s conditioning, but admitted they were unable to get through to Mexico’s pitching coach, Teddy Higuera. Even now, it is staggering to me that the team could not effectively monitor a pitcher who’d just received a ginormous contract, regardless of whether it was the Mets’ lack of due diligence or Higuera’s negligence (or a combination of the two).
To be fair, a player who would completely neglect his conditioning the second he was out of his team’s sight could’ve succumbed to any number of temptations or fates–especially a player who did so while ostensibly pitching for national pride. If not the WBC, Perez’s downfall may have been precipitated by an injury sustained during a pickup basketball game, or at an all-you-can-eat buffet, or while being distracted by a shiny object.