by Matt Wilkes

José Peraza may have played his last game with the Reds

The 2019 season started with hope for José Peraza.

He was coming off his best offensive season as a major-leaguer, turning himself into a roughly league average hitter (96 wRC+) and slugging a career-best 14 home runs and 31 doubles. He seemed to have the Reds’ shortstop job locked down for the foreseeable future. It was his age-25 season — a time for him to establish himself as a long-term starter as he entered what should be his prime.

Then, the Reds signed José Iglesias to a minor-league deal on February 23 with the original intent of making him a backup infielder. Then, Scooter Gennett went down with a groin injury at the end of spring training. It was hard to see at the time, but that spelled the beginning of a tumultuous season for Peraza.

The injury to Gennett made Iglesias the starting shortstop, and Peraza slid over to second base. On Opening Day, Peraza seemed to carry over the momentum from 2018 by homering. That, unfortunately, was not the case.

Derek Dietrich also homered on Opening Day. As Peraza scuffled through the first month of the season in similar fashion to his 2017 struggles, his playing time dwindled. Dietrich kept hitting and snuck his way into the lineup more regularly. Josh VanMeter and, briefly, Gennett took away playing time at second base when Dietrich’s season went downhill. Alex Blandino picked up a large chunk of playing time in September.

Peraza never started hitting to reclaim his starting job. He turned into a utility player, making spot starts at second, short, third base, left field, and center field. He was eventually demoted to Triple-A Louisville at the end of August and finished the season with a dismal .239/.285/.346 line in 403 plate appearances. Only two hitters with at least 400 plate appearances posted a worse wRC+ than Peraza (62), who was 38% worse than league average. A mere three hitters had a worse fWAR (-0.6), and Ian Desmond (-1.7) was the only player with a lower bWAR than Peraza (-0.9).

It was a disappointing season, and one that could result in Peraza playing elsewhere in 2020.

What went wrong for Jose Peraza in 2019?

Steve Mancuso wrote about Peraza’s horrific start in the very first post at RC+. Despite the improvements in 2018, there were still warning signs that his approach hadn’t changed much. Peraza’s poor plate discipline didn’t improve, and neither did his quality of contact. At the time of the post, Peraza held a 32 wRC+. As Steve said, Peraza was unlikely to hit that poorly all year. But he didn’t improve by much.

Let’s revisit some of the points in Steve’s piece.

Plate discipline has long been Peraza’s biggest issue, and he shows no signs of improving this facet of his game. His walk rate (4.2%) stayed exactly the same as 2018. Only eight players with 400 plate appearances — including Iglesias, by the way — had a lower walk rate. Peraza went 71 plate appearances before drawing a walk this season. From June 4 to August 12, he didn’t earn a single free pass, an astonishing streak of 52 games and 144 plate appearances.

Peraza chased pitches out of the strike zone at a career-worst rate of 37.6%, well above league average (31.6%), and swung at 54.0% of all the pitches he saw (league average: 47.0%), also the highest mark of his career. In almost every zone, Peraza swings more than the league average. It shows up in a major way on high pitches:

This only exacerbates Peraza’s problems with making hard contact. Hitters are much less likely to connect solidly when they swing at pitches on the periphery of the zone. Peraza did hit the ball harder as the year moved on — but not by much. His 84.7 mph average exit velocity ranked 373rd among 406 hitters with 100 or more batted balls. League average was 88.3 mph. Only four players — including Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon — had a lower rate of barrels per batted ball event than Peraza (0.3%), who had only one barrel all season. Barrels are the best kind of contact, a result of the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle.

Breaking this down further, Peraza doesn’t even hit the ball hard when it’s thrown in the heart of the plate. Zones 1 through 9 in this graphic are considered the heart of the plate, per Statcast. In balls thrown down that area, he managed a meager average exit velocity of 86.6 mph. League average is 91.6 mph.

The expected statistics bore this out. Peraza managed a decent .264 expected batting average (61st percentile) but a horrific .349 xSLG (8th percentile) and .293 xwOBA (12th percentile). An all-fields approach for Peraza works against him unless he gets lucky bloop hits to right field. Only 20 batters hit the ball to the opposite field more often than Peraza’s rate of 30.0%, and his average exit velocity was an abysmal 80.5 mph when he went the other way. That equates to an unbelievable .192 xwOBA.

Compounding the problem further was his new fly-ball approach. Peraza increased his average launch angle (17.1 degrees) and flyball rate (42.8%) for a second straight year. League averages are 12.2 degrees and 35.7%, respectively. For someone who makes better contact and pulls the ball a lot, this may be a good development. For weak-hitting Peraza, however, it results in a lot of lazy pop-ups. He made strides in pulling the ball in 2018 but regressed in 2019. League average was 40.7%, and Peraza pulled the ball only 32.8% of the time he made contact — a huge reason why his home runs were down.

Baserunning was also a problem for Peraza. He went from an above-average runner coming into 2019 (career 8.4 BsR) to a below-average one (-1.0). His average sprint speed dropped from 28.8 ft/s to 28.0. That’s still above average (27.0), but it’s a notable decrease. Peraza’s stolen base total dropped from 23 to seven, and he went from a career-best 79.3% success rate to an abysmal 53.8%. Remember, a player needs to convert at a 75% rate to provide any sort of positive value. Peraza was one of many Reds players who hurt the team with their baserunning.

Defensively, Peraza didn’t impress either, although he didn’t get enough playing time at any position to draw any definitive conclusions. He was below average at second base and left field, but he did rate above average at shortstop.

  • 2B (441.1 innings): 2.o UZR/150, 1 DRS
  • SS (226.0 innings): 11.2 UZR/150, 3 DRS
  • LF (135.0 innings): -14.2 UZR/150, -1 DRS, -1 OAA

In Peraza’s defense, he did get some unlucky breaks with his batting average on balls in play (.268), which was well below his career average (.301). His xBA and xwOBA were also higher than his actual batting average and wOBA (.272), even if both were still subpar. But overall, this was an extremely disappointing season that sadly made 2018 look like the outlier instead of 2017.

A now-uncertain roster status

Peraza’s steep regression leaves the Reds with a tough decision to make this offseason. Peraza is entering the second of four arbitration years (he was a Super Two player) and will likely get a small raise from the $2.775 million he made in 2019. There is no chance that Peraza is a starter next season. While his versatility and speed could prove valuable off the bench, those assets may not be worth the roughly $3 million salary he’ll earn when he brings almost nothing to the plate with his bat. The Reds plan to raise payroll next year, however, so Peraza wouldn’t make much of a dent in their budget.

The primary reason he’s in danger of a non-tender is the simplest one in the book: there are other players at position(s) who are better than him. Derek Dietrich, Freddy Galvis, Josh VanMeter, and Alex Blandino are all in the mix for next season, and each one outperformed Peraza at the plate in 2019.

Player

PA wRC+ wOBA xwOBA
Jose Peraza

403

62

0.272

0.293

Josh VanMeter

260

91

0.316

0.316

Alex Blandino

50

114

0.352

0.341

Freddy Galvis

589

89

0.307

0.276

Derek Dietrich

306

102

0.334

0.347

Minus shortstop, VanMeter plays the same positions as Peraza and brings far more power and plate discipline. Blandino can play every position in the infield, has slightly better power, and offers far better plate discipline. Galvis has more pop and is a better defender. Dietrich is limited to second base but brings more power off the bench.

There’s a strong chance that the Reds try to upgrade in the middle infield via free agency as well. Further muddying the waters is Nick Senzel. After undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, there’s a strong possibility Senzel moves from center field back to second base. Even if the Reds non-tender Dietrich, which looks significantly more likely than it did a few months ago, Peraza could get buried on the depth chart if he returns in 2020.

Perhaps the Reds will give Peraza a chance to recapture his 2018 form with a new hitting coach. In an already-busy offseason, the team announced Turner Ward would not return in 2020. However, the organization has started to shift away from a past approach of sticking with the familiar and the comfortable. The front office has made a series of decisions previous regimes wouldn’t have made — or weren’t allowed to make due to owner interference (see: non-tendering Billy Hamilton, releasing Matt Kemp, firing Ward after one season, etc.).

The Reds are indicating they’re serious about winning in 2020, and Peraza doesn’t help them do that unless he suddenly becomes a hitter who can lay off bad pitches and hit the ball with authority. He’ll be 26 next season, his fifth as a major-leaguer, and he is who he is at this point. The plate discipline and power are as poor as they were when he became a professional in 2011 at age 17.

Maybe Peraza will be a late-bloomer. But if it happens, there’s a strong possibility it will be with another organization.

[Photo Credit: Hayden Schiff]

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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vegastypo
11 months ago

I’d even say ‘versatility’ doesn’t help him much. His defense was a disaster in the outfield, and I’ve never been much impressed with his infield defense, either. Somebody who enters the game late ought to be able to play defense. …. I love cheering for the underdog, but I haven’t seen much at all to argue for him having a spot on the 25-man roster.

Thanks for this analysis.

jeffversion1
jeffversion1
11 months ago

He had his moments in the past, but as this year went on he seemed to be devolving into Wilson Valdez. i hope the headline proves true.