Twins' Perkins a rarity: a stathead pitcher
Lefty closer a fan of advanced statistics but doesn't let them distract on the mound
MINNEAPOLIS -- As a rare player who embraces advanced statistics, Glen Perkins tries to shy away from old baseball clichés.
So when asked if there's such thing as a closer's mentality, Perkins isn't quite sure what to say. There's the side of him that knows what it's like to get those pivotal last three outs of a game, while the other side of him knows that the save statistic can often be misleading and that all outs are important, no matter the inning.
"There's always more pressure getting the last outs of a game, but I guess I don't know," Perkins said. "I don't treat it any differently. But it doesn't matter if it's a one-run game or a 10-run game, there's always more pressure getting those last three outs. But I've treated it the same, and it has worked for me."
It has worked to the tune of a 2.27 ERA with 32 saves in 36 chances since taking over for Matt Capps as a closer last year on June 20. Over that span, Perkins has also struck out 78, walked just 10 and given up seven homers in 67 1/3 innings.
And he's done it all while bucking conventional wisdom as both a lefty closer and as a pitcher who enjoys keeping up on Sabermetric statistics found on sites such as FanGraphs.com.
Perkins is a fan of the statistic Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP, which essentially measures the effectiveness of a pitcher based on the three outcomes that don't involve fielders -- strikeouts, walks and home runs.
So Perkins knows that if he can limit those three variables, he's doing his job, as ERA measures too many things that are out of his control. But at the same time, Perkins tries not to let the statistics enter his mind too much while on the mound.
"My main focus is on my FIP, but I know how to keep that low and that's what I try to do," said Perkins. "But I don't think about that or that I'm facing Carlos Gomez and he leads the league in WAR. There's no way to use that sort of stuff to evaluate a hitter in a scouting report sense."
Perkins added that there are some advanced statistics than can help a pitcher, such as linear weights that determine how well a hitter does against certain pitches or stats that evaluate a hitter's propensity to chase pitches outside the zone.
But those types of statistics are often represented in a standard scouting report, based on what advanced scouts see, so Perkins doesn't waste his time checking to see a hitter's chase percentage on pitches outside the zone for example.
"I know guys that will chase and guys who won't," Perkins said. "If a guy chases 23 percent or 18 percent, I don't really care. I think that stuff just forecasts in a season and not just in one at-bat, because anything can happen in one at-bat."
But one area where Perkins doesn't fully embrace the advanced statistic community is the belief that teams waste their best reliever by automatically placing them as their closer.
Perkins understands the argument that the best reliever should be used in the highest-leveraged situations and not wasted in situations such as protecting a three-run lead in the ninth to get an easy save. But he also believes that there's something to be said about creating routines for relievers and keeping them in certain roles so they know how to prepare properly.
"It's a conflict for me, because I believe in the numbers, but if a tough spot comes up in the seventh and I pitch and then there's another tough spot in the ninth, then what do you do?" Perkins said. "So I get that some outs are more difficult to get than others, but every out is just as important. And we're creatures of habit as humans, and it makes it easier when you have an idea of when you're going to pitch."
So while Perkins enjoys his role as the club's stat maven, he admits he's still the only one in the clubhouse who has fully embraced advanced statistics. Perkins says his teammates often joke about it, and he says that others such as Scott Diamond have come to him for advice.
"It's mostly where I'm in the bullpen and we're getting to ready to bunt and someone will say, 'Hey, Sabermetric guy, should we bunt here?' and 99 percent of the time, my answer is no," Perkins said. "But I think it'll be a lot more prevalent by the time I'm done playing. I already see that guys do want to know."
For now, Perkins will talk statistics with anyone who will listen, but he is aware that his main job is to close out games, and it's something he's enjoyed doing over the last year. He has 16 saves this year with a 2.45 ERA, and even though he's thrown just 25 2/3 innings, he's second on the team with 36 strikeouts.
"I think when you get put in the bullpen, your ultimate goal is to climb the ladder, and it's where every guy would like to end up," Perkins said. "Now it's about it doing it right and doing it well and keeping it."