by Steve Mancuso

Jose Peraza’s awful start is no surprise

Zack Cozart’s departure to free agency at the end of the 2017 season left a hole in for the Reds roster as wide as the Ohio River. Jose Peraza was the heir apparent at shortstop, but the 23-year-old had hit just .259/297/324 with a wRC+ of 61. In 143 games, Peraza had put up a negative WAR season in 2017.

The good news is the Reds saw important development with Jose Peraza and the shortstop position during the 2018 season.

Heading into last year, I wrote at Redleg Nation that the Reds shouldn’t sign Cozart to an extension and instead give playing time to Peraza or make it a priority to acquire a shortstop of the future.

Based on Peraza’s track record in both the minors and major league, skepticism was warranted. It looked like Peraza might not ever hit for power or put up a decent on-base percentage. His ability to steal bases was of questionable net value because of how often he got thrown out attempting to do it. Peraza’s ability to handle shortstop was an open question. Former GMs suggested both the Braves and Dodgers had given up on Peraza at short.

I wrote it was time to move on.

Hope in 2018

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the scrap heap. Jose Peraza played a lot better in 2018.

Peraza hit for power in 2018, more than doubling his ISO from .066 to a respectable .128. (League average ISO was .161.) His home run total grew likewise from 5 to 14 and his doubles jumped from 9 to 31. Peraza raised his batting average to .288. He’d improved his stolen base success rate to 29/35, above the 75% threshold for positive value. Peraza cut his swinging-strike rate from 7.4% to 6.0%.

In total, Jose Peraza posted a wRC+ of 97 (100 is league average) in 2018 and positive WAR (2.7 fWAR and 2.3 bWAR).

Peraza had hit well enough to lessen the urgency for the organization to find a new shortstop. Peraza’s improvement had pushed that to a second-tier problem. If you were prone to a bit of optimism, you could make the case that the Todd Frazier trade had, after all, produced the Reds shortstop of the future

Not So Fast

Yet, there were nagging issues.

In 2018, Peraza had led the MLB in errors with 22. Errors are nowhere near the final word in measuring defense, but they’re part of the equation. Fancier metrics chimed in with caution signals. Peraza logged negative Defensive Runs Saved, a negative Ultimate Zone Rating and negative Total Zone Fielding scores.

Peraza still hadn’t drawn walks. His BB% of 4.2% ranked at #133 out of 140 qualified players. (League average was 8.5%.) He finished the season walking only 1 time in his last 146 plate appearances, with none in his final 91 at bats. Lack of production through walks meant his offensive value would depend a huge extent on BABIP (opponent defense and luck) translating into batting average.

Peraza hadn’t made progress in reducing the number of pitches outside the strike zone that he swung at (O-Swing%). His rate of 35.2% was still well above the league average of 30.9%.

But the brightest flashing red light about Peraza’s 2018 season had to do with his quality of contact. Per Statcast, out of 186 hitters with at least 300 batted ball events (around 6 players per team), Jose Peraza ranked 180 in Exit Velocity. He ranked 178 in balls hit at least 95 mph. And he was #167 in barrels/plate appearance.

There was reason to question whether he could repeat his batting average. On balls judged to be “poorly hit, weak” by Statcast, Peraza had batted an improbable .407, while the league hit just .195 on those kind of balls. Some of those were bunt hits, but he also had disproportionate luck on soft fly balls and grounders. It was hard to imagine him sustaining anywhere near that kind of luck on soft hits.

His expected offensive output, based on looking at every ball Peraza hit last year, was far below the actual results.

Peraza had an unusual number of hits like this:

And like this:

And like this:

Note: All three of those balls were out of the strike zone.

April 2019 Free Fall

It’s probably best to peek at Peraza’s 2019 season with eyes partly covered.

He’s hitting .196/.221/.293. His isolated power (ISO) is .098. He has four stolen bases with one CS.

In 95 plate appearances, he has two walks. At one point, Peraza had a streak of more than 160 times to the plate without a single walk, dating back to last season. His strikeout-rate (20%) has just about doubled from last year.

Jose Peraza’s wRC+ is 32. League average is 100. At while ago, his wRC+ was -3 (negative three). Negative wRC+ represent a tear in the time-space continuum. So we’re lucky we didn’t get drawn into to Peraza’s metaphysical abyss.

Let’s get back under the hood.

What really stands out is the collapse of Peraza’s plate discipline. He’s swinging at 55.8% of all pitches he sees. That’s 171 out of 179 of qualified hitters and an alarming jump over 2018 (47.6%). Similarly, he’s now swinging at 39.6% of pitches OUT of the strike zone, compared to 35.2% from 2018. That’s 167 out of 179 in the majors.

The bottom line: Jose Peraza remains in the bottom tier in quality of contact. Using 40 batted-ball events as the cutoff, 265 batters qualify, or around 6.5 players per team. Peraza ranks 256 of 265 in Average Exit Velocity, #243 of 265 in Barrels and ahead of only former teammate Billy Hamilton in % of Hard Hit (95+ mph) balls.  In each of those categories, Jose Peraza is batting worse in 2019 than he did in 2018.

More of the same [EV 68.7 mph]:

Conclusion

Jose Peraza turned 25 two days ago. It’s not time to write him off. Reds fans have to hope he’ll turn it around. On the other hand, Peraza’s dreadful start is the product of predictable causes.

The BABIP luck and defense gremlins are settling scores for Peraza’s good fortune last year. A decent chunk of his plight is self-inflicted due to a horrible plate approach.

The good news is that Jose Peraza’s terrible, horrible, disastrous, no good start to 2019 is unlikely to continue, at least at its April rate. His plate discipline and contact statistics, while not exactly good in the past have never been near this awful.

The bad news is that Peraza hasn’t progressed in 2019. We can speculate on the reasons. Maybe Scooter Gennett’s injury, forcing Peraza back to 2B, undermined his confidence. Maybe Peraza is worried about proving himself in front of David Bell and a new coaching staff. (Bell’s concern for Peraza’s angst is behind batting Peraza leadoff.)

Whatever the reason, Jose Peraza is pressing.

For a player who offers nothing in walks, is well below average in power and not yet average at his position on defense, Peraza’s worth as a player lies in his hit skill.

But Jose Peraza hits the ball soft.

He did last year and the year before that. He’s hitting it soft again this year. Until that changes, it’s hard to see him sustaining value to the Reds.

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.