Cionel Pérez is one of the newest players in the Cincinnati Reds organization, but he’s not new to some of the people in the organization. When Pérez was an amateur free agent coming out of Cuba, the Reds were one of the teams heavily linked to the left-handed pitcher before he ultimately signed with the Houston Astros in September of 2016. His contract, however, was voided a little more than a month later due to an injury issue that popped up. He would re-sign with the Astros that December. In January the Reds acquired him in a trade for minor league catcher Luke Berryhill.
It would be nearly two years before he’d reach the Majors, but he made his debut in Houston in July of 2018. On a stacked Astros team, he’s only been in the big leagues sparringly over the last three seasons, pitching in just 20 total games and throwing 26.2 innings at the big league level. He’s picked up plenty of strikeouts, fanning 27, but he’s also walked his fair share of guys with 15 fee passes handed out along the way.
In the minor leagues his walk rate has been much better, with the exception of his time in Triple-A. In 52.1 innings at that level he walked 30 batters in just 52.2 innings. His ERA at that stop has been 5.16. That’s nearly two full runs higher than the 3.18 ERA he’s had through his other minor league stops.
Pitching Coach Derek Johnson mentioned Cionel Pérez among a few players that was interesting to him.
“I see guys like the Hoffman’s, the Pérez boys – Cionel and Hector – those guys are just really interesting,” said Johnson. “I don’t know them as well because, obviously, they weren’t here before. But I just think that there are pieces that we’re looking at going ‘we don’t know exactly where we’re going with it’, but it’s promising.”
With regards to Cionel Pérez specifically, it will be interesting to see how he is used in terms of his pitch breakdown. Johnson noted that there are lots of things that he and the team look at with pitch metrics, and how they use them to get the most from each guy.
“What we’re looking at is probably a combination of things,” said Johnson. “This is what the fastball does -whether it’s velocity, whether it’s spin rate, whether it’s vertical profile, whether it’s a horizontal profile – like how does it move, what does it do in flight? Then you kind of stack that up against the video you’re looking at, and asking how do we maximize that? Can we get him more vertical lift so he can pitch more up in the zone? Is he that guy, you hate to call it this, almost that deadzone heater where it doesn’t really play up, it doesn’t necessarily play down – what we know with that guy is that we’re going to have to maximize and use all parts of the zone equally for him to be successful with that pitch.”
“You can also look at it from the other side of it, which is like hey this guy has a really good breaking ball and he doesn’t use it that much, or he doesn’t use it as much as we think he could,” Johnson continued. “We’ll use 25% as that mark – we may try to push that usage up to 35 because we think it’s that good of a pitch. So it’s really just mining the different areas, whether it’s spin rate, it’s usage, it’s making a pitch more efficient one way or the other, it’s actual entry angle – De Leon would be an example of that. He’s a guy that almost looks like he throws uphill. But that’s an outlier for us because it’s 95, it has spin rate, it has this weird entry angle to the plate, and that’s unique.”
With Cionel Pérez, he throws hard – his fastball has averaged just over 95 MPH in his career, and he’ll touch 98 from the left side. But in terms of spin rate, he’s a below-average guy. Typically a low-spin fastball sinks, while a high-spin fastball rises. There’s more that goes into it than that (arm angle, the spin angle, etc), but for general guidelines, low-spin on a fastball is going to make it act more like a sinker than a rising fastball.
Cionel Pérez pitched for the Houston Astros. No one is going to suggest that they haven’t been at the forefront of analytics, or that they don’t know what they are doing. In very limited big league action, spread out of parts of three seasons, Pérez has thrown his fastball 63% of the time. They believed that he should be “fastball heavy” with his approach, or at least that’s what the numbers in the big leagues show. Perhaps when he threw in the minors that was a little different – and the Reds would know that since they have access to the data (it’s not publicly available, so we don’t know). He also threw his slider 30% of the time, essentially making him a 2-pitch guy.
Cionel Pérez has options, so we may not get a chance to see him out of the gate in Cincinnati this year – he’s competing with a lot of guys for a spot in the bullpen that seems loaded with quality arms. Changes to his pitch breakdown will be interesting to look at, though, to see if the organization identified something there. Or perhaps they have been able to identify how to get his fastball to move a little different. Tejay Antone noted how he spent his offseason to better utilize his fastball spin – he didn’t add more spin, but he did work on how to get that spin to work more efficiently.