In many ways, the Brewers are well setup for the future. The farm system is deeper than it has been in years, and it is starting to bear fruit at the Major League level. Three of the team’s top-five pitchers by season’s end were homegrown: Taylor Jungmann, Jimmy Nelson (until his head injury in mid-September), and Wily Peralta. Those three will likely begin the 2016 season as the anchors of the starting rotation, with the hope being that they will hold those slots for years to come.
None of the three young pitchers were perfect, obviously, but both Nelson and Jungmann were quite good. Nelson led the team in innings and posted an above-average DRA, but posted walk and strikeout rates worse than the league’s average. Jungmann also had an above-average DRA, also demonstrating impressive strikeout potential. Given the fact that the two of them are 26 and 25, respectively, and that they have combined for fewer than 400 big-league innings, their future seems bright.
More was expected of Peralta, though. He came into the season having thrown more innings than Nelson and Jungmann combined, and he had experienced a moderate amount of success. After being legitimately impressive in a short stint at the end of the 2012 season, he rebounded after a disappointing 2013 season (4.60 DRA) to post a 3.53 ERA last year. His peripherals weren’t all that encouraging — 4.08 FIP and 4.20 DRA — but as a sinkerballer who specialized in getting ground balls (11th among pitchers with at least 100 innings), he may have been the type of pitcher to outperform his peripherals by getting weak contact.
This year, though, his performance slipped even further. His ERA did not simply rise to match his FIP and DRA. Instead, his FIP and DRA hit career highs and he only occasionally resembled a big-league pitcher. So what happened, and which version of Peralta are we likely to see in the future?
As I’m sure no will be surprised to hear, the answer is likely somewhere in between his 2014 and 2015 performances. Realistically, though, that does not mean he will be a very valuable player.
His 2014 ERA-FIP gap was not due to BABIP; the .295 BABIP he allowed that season was not significantly different from his .300 career mark. His strikeout rate last season was slightly higher than it was in 2013, but it wasn’t a huge outlier as it was still lower than the 20.4 percent he put up in his brief 2012 and just two percentage points above his 2013 mark. The most significant factor that appears to explain Peralta’s ERA-FIP discrepancy was his strand rate. His 2014 strand rate was 76.1 percent, which was three percentage points higher than the league average of 73.0 and significantly higher than his career 72.1 mark.
In 2015, that statistic came back to earth — as did nearly everything else.
Peralta posted an anemic 12.6 percent strikeout rate, which was good for fourth-worst among all pitchers with at least 100 innings and ranked above only Mark Buehrle, Mike Pelfrey, and Tim Hudson. He did not even accompany that with a subsequent drop in his walk rate, which meant that he simply allowed far too many men to reach base.
The good news for both Brewers fans and Peralta is that the young right-hander has put up competent strikeout numbers throughout his career in both the major leagues and minor leagues, so it’s not as if this 12.6 percent is what we should expect going forward. In fact, the lowest strikeout rate he ever posted in a full season in the minors was 6.4 K/9 in 2010. His 2014 mark was just 5.0. Clearly, then, we should expect some positive regression for Peralta next year. His strikeout rate should bounce back up towards 16 percent, which is his career average. We would also expect his BABIP to drop a bit, as his .320 mark in 2015 was much higher than his .300 career average.
However, the rest of the situation doesn’t bode as well. First, it isn’t as if the 16 percent strikeout rate is all that impressive with the Major League average hovering around 20 percent. Second, he doesn’t combine that below average swing-and-miss ability with exceptional control — his 8.2 career walk rate is also above the big-league average. And finally, he does give up an inordinate amount of hard contact for a sinkerballer.
His home run rate in each of the last two season has been much higher than league average. In 2014, he allowed 1.04 home runs per nine innings (HR/9), which does not compare favorably to the league average that season of 0.86 HR/9. And in 2015, he allowed even more long balls as his home run rate jumped all the way to 1.16 HR/9. This was admittedly accompanied by a jump in the league average to 1.02, but the 1.16 mark is far too high for someone with his ground-ball profile.
The whole point of being a sinker-ball pitcher is that Peralta is supposed to be able to prevent home runs. He may allow a few more singles that sneak through the infield than the average pitcher does, but he is supposed to make up for that by keeping the ball on the ground and thus in the ballpark. But since Peralta allows so many home runs, that advantage is mitigated.
Ground-ball pitchers often have low strikeout rates because they are sacrificing swing-and-miss stuff for weaker contact. High home-run pitchers often have higher strikeout rates because they are combining big velocity with working up in the zone and thus are being riskier. Peralta, though, somehow has managed to combine the worst of each of those two skillsets.
After his brief run of success in his debut season in 2012, Peralta seemed to have a bright future. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Instead, his inability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark has combined with his low strikeout totals to make him a below-average starting pitcher.