Wily Peralta – An Intriguing (Hard) Dart Throw in 2017

I was at a bit of a loss as to who or what to write about for today’s piece when I sat down to work yesterday. Per the usual, I headed to the leaderboards in search of inspiration. I opted to look at the PITCHf/x velocity data for the first half and second half for starting pitchers who threw a minimum of 40 innings in each half. The usual suspects sat atop the leaderboard, but one big mover from the first half to the second half was Wily Peralta.

In the first half, Peralta ranked tied for 21st in four-seam fastball velocity (94.0 mph) and tied for 16th in two-seam fastball velocity (94.2 mph). Peralta’s a hard thrower, so his ranks weren’t a surprise. What did surprise me were sizable gains in velocity in the second half. Down the stretch, Milwaukee’s righty rose to sixth in average four-seam fastball velocity adding more than a tick averaging 95.2 mph and ranking second in two-seam fastball velocity (95.5 mph). Positive results followed the uptick in cheddar for the 27-year-old.

The first half was a train wreck for Peralta. He was tattooed to the tune of a 6.68 ERA, 5.60 FIP, 4.80 xFIP and 5.02 SIERA with a 13.6% K% and 8.7% BB% in 13 starts spanning 66.0 innings. Peralta wasn’t fooling anyone with hitters failing to chase often (24.5% O-Swing%) and making an obscene amount of contact in the strike zone (94.4% Z-Contact%) while tallying a pitiful 6.6% SwStr%. Not only were batters making lots of contact, they were making plenty of hard contact with a 36.4% Hard%. His lack of success resulted in a demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs in the middle of June. He made 10 starts in the minors and did little statistically to inspire confidence in a turnaround. An injury to Junior Guerra opened the door for Peralta’s return to Milwaukee’s rotation for a start on August 9th against the Braves. He turned in a quality start and remained in the rotation for nine more starts.

In his 10 starts after his recall from Triple-A, Peralta was quite good spinning a 2.92 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 3.90 SIERA and 1.15 WHIP. He kicked his strikeout rate up to 20.8% while pairing his walk rate down to 6.5% and even bumped his already strong first-half 49.1% GB% up to 51.1%. The gain in strikeout rate was supported by a stellar 11.0% SwStr% and coaxing batters to chase out of the zone at a 33.0% O-Swing%. Both of those plate discipline marks blow away his previous full-season bests. There was more to Peralta’s second-half improvement than simply throwing harder.

In the first half, he featured a pitch usage breakdown of four-seam fastball 26.3%, two-seam fastball 39.8%, slider 28.8% and changeup 5.1%. He altered the mix in the second half dropping his two-seamer rate down to 33.8% and changeup down to 3.6% while maintaining a similar four-seamer usage of 26.2% and leaning heavily on the slider at 36.4%. The uptick in slider usage shouldn’t come as a surprise with his marked improvements in O-Swing% and SwStr%. Having said that, it’s important to note his slider was much better in the second half. The pitch had a dreadful 9.8% whiff percentage in the first half, according to Brooks Baseball, and it skyrocketed to 20.47% in the second half.

Despite moving to an even more extreme fastball/slider pitch mix, Peralta posted some encouraging numbers — and some not so encouraging numbers — against left-handed batters to close out the year. Prior to last year, he faced 1,112 left-handed batters and tallied a 8.0% BB% and 16.4% K% while allowing a .347 OBP, .456 SLG, 351 wOBA and 29.1% Hard%. Things got even worse before his demotion last year with Peralta totaling a 7.7% BB% and 10.5% K% while yielding a .393 OBP, .561 SLG, .401 wOBA and 38.6% Hard% to 143 lefties. The standard small sample caveat applies, but Peralta faced 112 lefties after his recall from the minors last year and managed a 8.9% BB% and 17.9% K%. During that stretch he ceded a still unsightly .342 OBP, .495 SLG and .358 wOBA to lefties, but his Hard% fell to 26.8%. The walk rate was worse than throughout his career prior to 2016, but the strikeout rate was an improvement and he cut back on the hard contact allowed. There’s not a lot there to get hyped up about, but there’s just enough to consider the possibility Peralta could move from horrendous against lefties to merely bad or, if everything breaks perfectly, average. His power combo of a pair of heaters and a slider tied up right-handed batters (5.4% BB%, 25.0% K%, .252 OBP, .314 SLG and .249 wOBA allowed) in the second half last.

Peralta should already be in play in daily games and as a streaming option against righty-heavy lineups this year — if, of course, he wins a rotation spot. There’s upside here, and he actualized some of it for his most recent 10 starts. Gambling on premium velocity with a quality breaker isn’t the worst recipe for hitting on a lottery ticket. Perhaps the best part is that he’ll currently cost little more than a last-round pick or dollar bid in most leagues. He’s the 149th starter selected on average in NFBC drafts with an ADP of 558.33. Even if you’re head over heels for Peralta and wish to reach a bit for him, he’s unlikely to cost much with a minimum pick of 398 in NFBC drafts. I’ll be casting a dart in Peralta’s direction in multiple leagues this year.

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Velo increase suggests a health issue resolving, but I wonder also if Lucroy wasn’t, or wasn’t any longer, working well for Peralta as a catcher. Maybe new thinking behind the plate vis a vis pitch mix was part of what helped?