When the Detroit Tigers re-signed Jhonny Peralta to a two-year, $11.5 million contract, I scratched my head. Then, when I found out the Tigers planned on playing Peralta at short, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Peralta was coming off of two very mediocre seasons in 2009 and 2010 and I didn’t think he had anything left, but in 2011, Peralta is playing at an All-Star level. His resurgence is a big reason why the Tigers are in contention in the American League Central.
Peralta went into Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays with a .306/.365/.510 slash line with nine HRs in 230 plate appearances. Amongst major league shortstops, Peralta is second in SLG (.510), third in HRs (9), wOBA (.375) and ISO (.204), fourth in OBP (.365) and sixth in WAR (2.2).
That’s one heck of a season so far.
Just to give you another perspective on how good Peralta has been this season, think about this. Using Baseball Musing’s lineup analysis tool, a lineup full of Peralta’s would average 6.2 runs per game this season. A lineup full of Troy Tulowitzki‘s would average only 5.7 runs per game.
So what’s been the key to Peralta’s early season success? Well, for one, he is crushing fastballs.
Peralta has a 5.0 wFB this season, which is a stark contrast to how he did against the heat the past two seasons. The last two seasons, Peralta was -4.9 runs below average on a fastball.
Second, he has been more patient at the plate and is “waiting for his pitch,” as they say in little league. Last year Peralta was swinging at 31.8 percent of the pitches he saw that were outside the strike zone. This year he is only swinging at 26.9 percent of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone. That small percentage makes a huge difference.
Instead of swinging at curves or cutters in the dirt or up and away, he is laying off those pitches and forcing pitchers to come into the zone with fastballs. And right now, Peralta is not missing.
In the field, Peralta has been adequate. He’s improved from last season and his -0.2 UZR/150 is in the middle of the pack amongst major league shortstops. He will never be Tulowitzki at short, but the Tigers don’t need him to be.
We can most likely expect some regression going forward from Peralta. But 58 games into the season, has been a real pleasant surprise for the Tigers and has been worth every penny of his contract.