Even though Jose Peraza had only a little more than a full season’s worth of major league playing time entering 2018, it seemed fair to think we had a strong grasp of what kind of hitter he was. In his major and minor league past, he had been an aggressive hitter with good contact skills but with little power. Speed was his top tool coming up as a prospect, but in his first full season in the majors in 2017, Peraza merely tied for 17th in the stolen base rankings with 23 and tied for 40th in infield hits with 16. It was easy to see why he was often ignored until after the first 200 players were picked on draft day.
Those who did draft Peraza got a true bargain. He finished eighth in Roto value among shortstops, per ESPN’s Player Rater, and was a top-50 player overall. While owners in this fall’s 2 Early Mock drafts didn’t give Peraza credit for being a top-50 player, they showed respect for his progress, making him a top-100 overall pick (97.6 ADP) on average.
So what was different for Peraza in 2018? Not his stolen base total, which stood still at 23 despite an extra 165 plate appearances. He also stood pat with 16 infield hits. Peraza did make harder contact on grounders, and that may have helped him to increase his batting average on ground balls from .242 last year to .266 this season.
The real difference-maker for Peraza was what happened when he wasn’t hitting grounders. He wasn’t much of a ground ball hitter to begin with, and in 2018, Peraza got serious about launch angle. He increased his average launch angle from 9.9 degrees in 2017 to 13.4 degrees this season, and he lowered his ground ball rate from 47.1 to 36.5 percent.
The move appeared to pay dividends. While Peraza did not burst onto the scene as a major power source, he improved enough to surpass Xander Bogaerts in Roto value (albeit with an advantage in playing time). Nearly doubling his Iso from .066 to .128, Peraza added 14 home runs to his 23 steals, after having hit only eight home runs in his first 799 major league plate appearances. Though the walk-averse Peraza posted just a .326 OBP, a combined 122 games starting as the Reds’ leadoff or No. 2 hitter enabled him to score 85 runs. Peraza was merely average as a hitter on balls in play (.307 BABIP), but an 11.0 percent strikeout rate helped him to bat .288.
Suddenly, the 24-year-old went from being a stolen base specialist to being a threat in three categories while not being a serious drag on home runs or RBIs. In the 2 Early Mocks, Peraza was typically drafted ahead of Tim Anderson, Jonathan Villar, Elvis Andrus and Yoan Moncada, and if he can return as a potential 15-20 player with a .280s batting average, it could be a worthwhile move to take him that early. He would certainly need to sustain a low ground ball rate and not revert to back to making an abundance of soft contact when he does elevate the ball. In 2017, Peraza’s soft contact rate on flies and liners was a major league-worst 30.7 percent, and the next-closest rate among hitters with at least 100 flies and liners was Miguel Rojas‘ 26.8 percent. Peraza’s 19.1 percent rate from 2018 put him in the bottom quartile, but it was still a distinct upgrade.
Having a high soft contact rate is not necessarily a barrier to hitting for power. C.J. Cron and Yasiel Puig also sported soft contact rates on flies and liners above 19 percent, and Cron finished with 30 homers, while Puig bashed 22 home runs in only 444 plate appearances. Both, however, had hard contact rates hovering near 45 percent, while Peraza clocked in at just 28.3 percent. So despite his improvements in avoiding soft airborne contact, Peraza finished at the very bottom of the average flyball distance rankings for hitters with at least 100 flyballs (per Baseball Savant). Not only was his average distance of 292 feet the lowest for all 65 hitters who reached the 100-flyball threshold, but it was one foot lower than his average distance from 2017.
Given how little long-distance thump Peraza actually had, it’s not surprising that xStats isn’t buying Peraza as a double-digit home run hitter. It gives him credit for 7.4 xHR, and even his doubles output is downgraded from 31 to 24.7 x2B.
Still, there is some hope that Peraza — with some peak years ostensibly still ahead of him — could not only repeat his 2018 performance but actually build on it. If we look at three infielders who broke out for power in 2017, we see that just one year prior, none had hard contact rates on flies and liners that were anywhere close to elite. Granted, Lindor had been a top prospect who was in his age-22 season, but few saw Ramirez or Escobar becoming power threats two years ago.
Even with these precedents to draw from, Peraza’s power output from 2018 looks fluky. The shortest and simplest answer to the question of “why did we miss” is that there was no reason to think Peraza would hit 14 home runs, and he was lucky to do so. At least he improved enough this season that we can even consider the possibility of him being on a trajectory to hit 20 or more home runs in 2019. We should also consider that, in addition to be a long shot to improve on this season’s power output, his subpar on-base skills could land him further down in the Reds’ batting order, which would further cut into his fantasy value.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.