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Is Yusmeiro Petit the most under-rated former Diamondback?

Almost 16 years after his MLB debut, Petit has become one of the games best and most unheralded relievers

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Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Petit has been a professional ball-player for over 20 years now, having been signed by the Mets out of Venezuela in November 2001, when Yusmeiro was still only sixteen. After four years in their organization, he was part of the Carlos Delgado trade with the Marlins, and made his major-league debut for them in May 2006. His rookie campaign was underwhelming, to say the least - a 9.57 ERA over 26.1 innings - and he was traded to the Diamondbacks just before the start of the following season. Arizona sent Jorge Julio and cash to Florida, and the general consensus seems to have been warm. While any comments are not currently visible, the article includes this comment from Levski over on DBBP:

“Getting a young pitcher whom they’ll control for 6+ years AND who’s almost MLB ready for a mediocre relief pitcher who threw like crap this spring, was overpaid, and didn’t want to be here in the first place IS a trade that’s good for the franchise.”

Despite hopes (and a misguided attempt by some idiot to compare Petit’s early numbers to Roy Halladay...), Petit’s time with Arizona was largely forgettable. Over three seasons as a swingman, he made 35 starts and 21 relief appearances, going 9-19. In the resulting 203 innings, he had an ERA+ of 91 (ERA 5.05) and a K:BB ratio of 156:66. That K-rate of below seven per nine innings was a significant part of the problem. Oh, there were moments. On August 4, 2009, for example, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Pirates, and finished with eight innings of a one-hit shutout.

But this was close to a last hurrah for Arizona. Three months later, he went on waivers, and though the Mariners selected hm, Yusmeiro never made the majors in 2010, and was released entirely by Seattle in early 2011. No major-league team was interested, and Petit ended up pitching in the Mexican League for Guerreros de Oaxaca. It seemed like the end: few players who go south of the border, ever made it back to the majors. To quote another 2009 comment (author unknown) from DBBP:

“He has very mediocre velocity, and really has no special movement. He is a bit of a short armer, and can deceive certain guys with his delivery, until they see him a couple times. He isn’t going to gain any velocity, and he just doesn’t have the stuff to make hitters miss... The results he has gotten so far in his career are already quite damning, and it’s only going to get worse.”

However, to quote Martin Gallegos of MLB.com, “It was in Mexico where Petit underwent a transformation. He found himself, picking up on the minute details that are required to sustain a pitcher’s body and mind.” He got a spring invite from the Giants in 2012, and though his MLB action was limited to just 4.2 innings, he was on his way back. That season and 2013, he was still a starter. Diamondbacks fans will certainly remember an appearance against them on September 6, 2013. For Petit came within one out of pitching a perfect game against Arizona, before Eric Chavez singled by mere inches, to break it up with two down in the ninth inning (video below).

But in 2014, Petit moved to the Giants bullpen and reached a whole new level. He set a major-league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters (above). equal to 1513 perfect innings. He also went 3-0 in the post-season as the Giants won the World Series that year. One win was for six innings of one-hit relief in the 18-inning win over Washington in Game 2 of the NLDS. He also won Game 4 of the World Series, with three scoreless frames out of the bullpen. That helped him become one of two players to win both a Little League and Major League World Series, having been part of the Venezuelan LLWS champions in 1994.

“I’ve always evolved. I’ve always tried to invest a little more into my body every year. Because as time goes on, your body becomes harder to maintain. You have to do more yoga. More stretching. I know the little things that are required to maintain my body.”
Yusmeiro Petit

He had another year in SF, then one in Washington. But it’s the past five seasons, back in California with the Angels and A’s, that Petit has arguably become the best under-the-radar reliever in baseball. And the busiest, too: his 318 appearances since the start of 2017 is most in the majors (second is another ex-D-back, Andrew Chafin, 311), and he also leads in innings pitched (367). It hasn’t been replacement level work either, with an ERA below three (2.99). Few pitchers, especially among non-closers, can produce the same combination of quality and quantity, especially at a total cost of just $19.25 million over those five years.

How has he done it, especially given a super-pedestrian fastball for a reliever? That averaged just 87.7 mph last year, ranking him 331st among the 337 pitchers with 50+ IP. Control is a part of the equation. He still may not strike many people out (though his K-rate is slightly improved from his time in Arizona, at 7.4/9 IP from 2017-2021), but he very rarely walks many. 311 pitchers have thrown 200+ innings since 2017. At 1.54 per nine innings, Petit’s is the fourth-lowest walk rate among them, giving him a K:BB just shy of 4.8, well above the MLB average last year, of 2.67. But it’s perhaps a case of deception in Petit’s action, as discussed in a very good (if long!) The Ringer article last September.

In it, Oakland pitching coach Scott Emerson says of Yusmeiro, “He’s hiding the ball as long as possible, and all of a sudden he’s down in the bottom of the mound and he’s coming right at you, and that’s the deception part that most people really can’t quantify.” Giants’ pitching director Brian Bannister agrees: “Between hiding the ball visually and just his natural extension and ability to stride out that far, he has two outlier qualities that I think have formed a really nice synergy.” Even Gregorio Machado, the Mets scout who signed Yusmeiro back in 2001, says “That thing that he does where he hides the ball with his body, he has had that since day one.”

This may be a market inefficiency to be exploited: Giants exec Farhan Zaidi said, “We’ve gotten so much better at evaluating pure pitch quality. But evaluating deception or uniqueness is a lot more subjective”. Petit also brings value off-field, leading by example: “I want to show the young kids how to work every day for being ready all season long. You have 162 games and you have to prepare for that. Everybody sees me and everybody is watching me working every day.” That may be why, when he re-signed in Oakland, the players were delighted. Per Manager Bob Melvin, “I got a ton of texts from the guys when we signed him... Since he got to camp, everybody has had a smile on their face because they know we got Yusey back.”

Of all the 47 players who were part of the Diamondbacks roster in 2007, only two played in the majors last year. One is Justin Upton, then a 19-year-old who had been the #1 overall pick in the draft. But you’d likely have got long odds against the other who would still be in the majors now, being Petit. He may not ever have matched Roy Halladay’s Cy Young, or been an All-Star. But whenever Yusmeiro Petit makes his first appearance in 2022 - as he almost inevitably will - his career from first to last game will be longer than that enjoyed by the late Hall of Famer. To get to the big leagues is a feat. To stay there for as long as Petit has managed, is even more impressive.