Cardinals' Peralta Could Make the Difference for 2014

Corey Noles@@coreynolesCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2014

Cardinals' Peralta Could Make the Difference for 2014

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    When St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made the decision to pick up free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, he saw more than just a solid option at shortstop.

    While many concentrated on Peralta’s prior baggage, in reality he should have been the obvious choice for the Cardinals. The fact that he could be acquired for a reasonable price without trading away any talent, combined with the fact that he was likely the most substantial upgrade on the market, made the move a no-brainer.

    On the surface, simple batting average alone is enough of a reason to make the decision. If Pete Kozma could have hit as high as .250, the Cardinals could have justified him defensively.

    In the end, his .217 average just didn’t cut it and left the team with a gaping hole in the bottom third of its lineup that had to be addressed.

    The case for Peralta, a career .268 hitter who batted .303 in 2013, goes much deeper than just his baseline batting average. Overall, there are many ways that Peralta makes the 2014 Cardinals a far better offensive team.

    Here is why:

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through March 6, 2014.

He’s better against lefties

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cardinals were terrible against left-handed pitching in 2013, batting only .238 against lefties as opposed to .280 against right-handed pitching.

    This is an area where Peralta can make a difference.

    Kozma, in his career, hits only .205/.297/.298 against lefties.

    Peralta, by comparison, has had much more success against lefties going .262/.339/.449. While on the surface .262 may not sound great, when you consider it’s a 57-point average increase over his predecessor, the numbers are put in perspective.

More First Pitch Pop

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    While Peralta and Kozma have similar strikeout rates, there is a somewhat related quality the Cardinals will welcome from Peralta.

    Peralta hit well—in fact, extremely well— against the first pitch he faced in an at bat.

    When he comes to the plate swinging, he hits .368/.365/.565 on the first pitch. That number is over 589 at bats, which makes for a rather hefty sample size, so it’s more than a fluke.

    Kozma, on the other hand, has a career line of .235/.233/.318 when he comes to the plate swinging.

    While it might seem like an obscure number to investigate, it can be the difference in being a rally extender or a rally killer. I don’t think "clutchness" is entirely measurable, but how a hitter fares against first pitches is definitely a factor.

When the Chips Are Down, Who Ya Gonna Call?

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    How a player performs when the team is down and out is very important. For the most part, anybody can look decent when times are great and the pressure is off.

    But, what about when your team is down and it’s late in the game?

    As odd as this sounds, and I double-checked, Peralta’s numbers are better when his team trails than when he leads. When his team is behind, Peralta hits .274/.338/.451. When the team is ahead, the numbers take a slight dip to .268/.323/.434.

    Kozma’s career numbers are considerably lower, showing only .200/.257/.279 when behind and .249/.307/.331 when ahead.

    While, individually, these last two statistics may not seem like a big deal, what you’re seeing is the difference in an average player and a player that is built for high leverage situations.

He Hits Well Against Finesse Pitchers

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Finesse pitchers have been the Cardinals’ Achilles heel in recent years.

    Remember Barry Zito? Randy Wolf? Jon Lester?

    It’s like they can hit a pitcher throwing 100 mph, but can’t wrap their mind—or their bats—around an 85 mph fastball.

    Jhonny Peralta, on the other hand, does well against pitchers who focus more on finesse and ground balls than on speed and power.

    Against finesse pitchers, Peralta is .296/.345/.479 with 83 career home runs and 334 RBI. All of those numbers are substantially better than his performance against power pitchers.

    He shows a similar trend against ground-ball pitchers, batting .276/.331/.415 versus .253/.318/.417 against fly-ball pitchers.

    While it wasn’t a major issue during the regular season, this has been a serious issue for the Cardinals in the two previous postseasons. Having Peralta’s bat as a complement to everything the Cardinals are not could be quite valuable to them, especially if they find themselves playing ball in October 2014.

    As St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz noted, Peralta seems to be fitting right in with his new teammates.

    Peralta, both for his talent and veteran leadership, will be a welcome addition to the Cardinals clubhouse when they arrive back in St. Louis this April.