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Cojones

Mike SteffanosSunday, September 23, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


I was optimistic about Oliver Perez coming into the season, and every time he pitches badly it seems I hear from someone reminding me of that fact. On the flip side, I get to hear from a couple of Mets fans who feel the need to jump on it whenever I write something that isn't 100% positive about the 26-year-old lefty. It just seems to come with the territory when you choose to blog about something that so many people care about.

Although the self-appointed defenders can be unfair and annoying at times, what really surprises me is the number of fans who remain so pessimistic about Ollie Perez. He's had some downs this season, and his emotions and volatility sometimes work against him, but he's come a long way in 2007. He seems to me to be dancing around the threshold of becoming one of the elite pitchers in the league over the next couple of years, if -- God willing -- he can stay healthy. For the most part, he has learned to channel his emotions effectively and has harnessed what is undoubtedly the most dominant stuff on the staff.

More significant than that, however, is how well this kid has pitched in the big games. He has a knack for stepping up. I know he struggled against Philly last time out, but he's been big in most big games. The reason, to me anyway, is the title of this article. I find it ironic that he gave the performance everyone was expecting from Glavine on Thursday. This is no knock on Glavine, but rather an acknowledgement of what Perez gave them.

The Mets need more of this down the stretch from their other starters, beginning with John Maine this afternoon. If they get it, chances are they'll keep playing into October. If they don't, they'll be playing golf.

My work hasn't let up, but I'll make a commitment to post something every day this week, win or lose. Thanks to all of you that have kept this site going over the past month with your great comments and your passion for the Mets.

I have to run out now, but will post one of Barry Duchan's historical pieces this evening when I return.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (2)

I would never accuse Perez of lacking in the cojones department. His ability to lose focus can irritate, but it's hard to turn away from that stuff he brings to the mound.

Been thinking about that over-used term, clutch ability; specifically, I found myself doubting the Mets, mostly from the error plagued ball but also from some of the poor location pitching and from Reyes suddenly rediscovered tendency to chase the low curve again.

I don't believe good clutch players suddenly find a new higher level to perform when a season is on the line. I DO believe that players who do well in those situations are guys who can continue to do what they usually do in pressure situations; and since some other players are likely to tighten up in those moments, the clutch guy can look awfully good by continuing to be who he is.

Which is to say: How's about that David Wright? He just keeps on; we're damn lucky to have him.

Collecting 300 Total Bases in a season is one of the true benchmarks of a good player having a great year. Darryl Strawberry, fearsome slugger that he was, had one 300 Total Bases season in his career; Mike Piazza had five, mostly in Los Angeles; we Mets fans saw about 1 2/3's of those years. Howard Johnson managed the feat twice. Remember how Hojo could turn on a fastball? We're talking about the real article here, some great hitters.

David Wright has AVERAGED well over 300 Total Bases over his short career. He has now topped that level in all three of his full seasons, and he was on a pace to do it in his first year too.

The Mets never had anyone like David Wright before.

I think you hit the nail right on the head when you say that Perez is dancing at the threshold of being an elite pitcher. He has certainly had more than his share of elite games, and his stuff is right up there with some of the best in either league.

Young pitchers with dazzling stuff - lefties especially - often take until their late 20's, sometimes even early 30's to "put it together." The elixir is generally some combination of *consistent* control, understanding how to pitch situationally, and yes, cojones. Perez showed more of the first two attributes as time went on last year and he got comfortable working with Peterson. He showed all we needed to see about the size of his cojones in the postseason. The kid, as Bill Raftery would say, has onions.

Moreover, the consistency and the savvy are areas that should continue to improve, while the other seems like more of a have-em or don't have-em situation. Guys can gain confidence as their careers progress, but there's a certain in-bred ability to stand up in the moment (yes, perhaps it is just the ability to maintain performance while others tighten up) that defines the guy you want on the hill in game 7, or with the ball in his hands as the shot clock winds down, or lining up behind center for a two-minute drive.

This season, despite some down games, and some lost-focus innings within some good ones, we have seen more consistency from Perez both within and across games than he showed last season. Without looking, I'm pretty sure he's 15-9 right now, and I'd venture to guess that if he shaves 3 or 4 more lost-focus moments off of his season he's gunning for 20 wins. That kind of improvement would seem right in line with the improvement he made from last season to this, and so I'm thinking that over the next few years, we're going to be awfully glad we have this kid.

For those who still talk as if Perez is some kind of failure for being (somewhat) inconsistent - with his stuff, and at his age - all I'll say is you keep finding me 24 yr-old lefties who throw 95 with nasty sliders, but who haven't managed to put it together yet, and you keep giving up on them, and we'll keep signing them. Every day. All day. They won't all work out, but this one, this time, looks to be right on track.

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