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Yusmeiro Petit signing: 5 reasons to love the Oakland A’s new reliever

One of the most dominant pitchers no one ever talks about.

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Sep 16, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Yusmeiro Petit points to the sky after recording the last out in the ninth inning, defeating the Texas Rangers 2-0 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Thanking Christopher Lloyd after the final out.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s inked their first MLB free agent of the offseason on Wednesday, signing reliever Yusmeiro Petit to a two-year deal worth $10 million. The 33-year-old is the second addition to the bullpen so far, after the acquisition of Emilio Pagan from Seattle. Here are five reasons to be excited about Petit.

1. Versatility

Petit’s calling card is his versatility, which allows him to fill any role needed. He’s basically the Ben Zobrist of pitching.

  • He began his career as a starter, and can still step into the rotation in an emergency. His last two spot starts combined (@LAD in ‘16 and @TOR in ‘17): 10 ip, 3 earned runs, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR (by LAD’s Turner and Pederson).
  • Out of the bullpen he’s capable of going multiple innings in a game. Over the last three years, he’s thrown 2+ relief innings 54 times, and 3+ innings a dozen times.
  • Or, he can come in for a few big outs to protect a close lead in a high-leverage situation. That’s something he began doing in 2017, and he converted 19-of-20 save/hold chances on the year, including four saves. The one blown save came in the 6th inning.

He can do it all, and do so effectively. He’s like the blank tile in Scrabble, allowing you to set up everything else around him and then plug him in to whatever gap is left over. The A’s used an eight-man bullpen last year to help support their young, unreliable starting rotation, and it’s hard to see the rotation’s longevity becoming a strength before April. With Petit on board, combining multiple needs into one roster spot, might they be able to push back down to seven relief arms?

2. Dominance

When you think of dominance out of the bullpen, you probably imagine a fireballer pumping high velocity. There might be wipeout breaking balls involved, and probably wacky facial hair, but that sheer power is usually a hallmark.

Petit’s fastball averaged 90.1 mph last year, according to Brooks Baseball. That was a career-high, up from 89 the last few seasons and 87 in his previous life as a starter. He topped out at 93. His curve, change, and cutter range from 77-86. Speed is not his game.

And yet, he struck out 10 batters per 9 innings last season, a tick above what Blake Treinen did after arriving in Oakland. Petit managed that while also limiting walks, to the tune of a 5.6 K/BB rate; limiting hits and homers, helped along by a top-10 rate of infield flies induced; and did so over a large sample, leading MLB in relief innings (and often high-leverage ones, not just mopup work). And it’s not the first time he’s racked up Ks, as he managed 10.2 K/9 in 2014 as a swingman. There’s not much else you could ask for in terms of a dominant profile.

Actually, there is one more thing: In 2013, pitching for a team that shan’t be named, Petit came one strike away from throwing a perfect game. He made it all the way to the 9th against the D’Backs, with two outs and a 3-2 count, before none other than Eric Chavez managed to knock a single just in front of a diving Hunter Pence. Petit wound up with “only” a shutout, but his point had been made.

The next year, he successfully found his way into the record books. Between the end of a spot start, six sparkling relief outings, and then the beginning of another spot start, Petit retired 46 consecutive batters. That broke the previous record held by Mark Buehrle. That is basically the definition of dominance, and he holds the all-time mark.

There are other relievers who are scarier on a day-to-day basis, but Petit’s resume includes tons of Ks and popups, low walks, a 2.76 ERA and 2.85 FIP last year, almost a perfect game, and the most lights-out month of pitching in league history.

3. New strategy?

As A’s fans, we’re always on the lookout for the next new strategy or undervalued commodity being quietly targeted by the front office. Here is AN community member King Richard with a thought on that subject:

Both relievers the A’s have attained so far this winter (Petit and Pagan) have extreme flyball and IFFB% tendencies. ... I would not be at all surprised if that’s a specific focus, meant to combat all the new flyball hitters — the more that hitters are swinging to put the ball in the air, the better flyball pitchers become (results in more IFFBs and swings and misses). (The ability to hit the ball in the air is more helpful against a groundball pitcher — remember how bad the 2012/2013 FB-hitting-heavy A’s were at hitting flyball pitchers? Cough, Verlander, cough.)

Also on Wednesday, Melissa Lockard offered the following tidbit on The Athletic (paywalled). A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson had this to say (in regard to the whole sport, not just the A’s org):

We used to tell everybody, "Hey, work the bottom of the zone." And the hitters were told, "Hey, see the ball down." Eventually the hitters were able to catch up to seeing that ball down. Now we are going to have to get used to pitching up a little bit more.

Oakland’s new pitching coach is talking about pitching up more. Now they have picked up two extreme flyballers. Pagan’s arsenal is built around a high-spin, “rising” fastball, which he rode to the lowest groundball rate (22.3%) in all of baseball last year. Petit wasn’t quite at that level (32.9%), but he still induces most of his contact in the air and, as mentioned, he’s one of the best at getting infield popups. For those in favor of keeping Chris Hatcher, he fit into this category last year as well (32.5% GB).

4. Trolling

A couple weeks ago, Oakland signed Matt Williams to be their 3rd base coach. Williams is a big name in Giants lore, having spent the first decade of his career there. He made some All-Star teams, nearly won an MVP, and then netted them Jeff Kent in a trade on his way out. And now he’ll wear an A’s jersey.

Petit was a popular Giant, and he helped them win their 2014 ring. Furthermore, his excellent 2017 came with the Angels. Now he can detox all that grossness out of his system. This will help make up for the fact that San Francisco coughed on us and caused us to contract a bad case of Santiago Casilla.

Was this a factor in signing Petit? Of course not. But from a fan perspective, after watching Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Marco Scutaro win rings on the other side of the Bay? It’s time for some payback.

5. Fun facts

A few more minor notes:

  • According to Wikipedia (via ESPN), “As of 2016, he is the only person ever to play on winning teams in both the Little League World Series and the Major League World Series.”
  • Petit is from Venezuela, joining two other countrymen on the 40-man roster: Franklin Barreto, and Renato Nunez.
  • He is the second player in MLB history to have the last name Petit, and now we’ve had them both. The other was infielder Gregorio, who began his career with the A’s in 2008.

Welcome to Oakland, Yusmeiro! Folks on Athletics Nation have suggested you as a smart A’s target for years, and now you’re finally here.