On the heels of a disappointing season, the Brewers were relatively quiet amidst a noisy baseball offseason going on around them. That all changed on January 19th, when the Brewers traded erstwhile “ace” Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers. With Yovani’s departure, as well as Marco Estrada’s trade to Toronto for Adam Lind, the Brewers starting rotation will feature three righties that are in the beginning stages of their Major League careers in Jimmy Nelson, Mike Fiers, young fireballer Wily Peralta. Peralta, the most experienced of the bunch, improved in almost every aspect of the game in 2014. Given his youth, his immense potential, and his already promising results, Wily Peralta is a player that the Milwaukee Brewers should be targeting for a contract extension.
The Brewers signed Wily Peralta in 2005 as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic. He turned 25 over the past season, his second full season in the major leagues. He debuted in April of 2012, pitching in 6 games before becoming a regular in the rotation in 2013. He isn’t arbitration eligible until after the coming season.
In 2014, Wily became a horse for the Brewers staff, leading the team in innings pitched, wins, and strikeouts. Peralta posted an ERA of 3.53, which ERA estimators xFIP (3.64) Skill Interactive ERA (3.73) largely supported. His ERA+ of 107 was above league average, and he was 3rd in the MLB with an average fastball velocity of 95.8 MPH.
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Peralta’s statistics only suggest that he will continue to improve. Though he has the ability to blow a fastball by hitters, he is far from reliant on the strikeout. His K/9 climbed to nearly 7.0 in 2014, yet he still maintained an excellent 53.6% ground ball rate. Peralta was able to take advantage of this extreme ground ball tendency by offering batters more strikes to swing at; Wily raised his percentage of pitches inside the strike zone to 45.4%, up from 43.6% in 2013. Because of the fact that he was throwing more strikes, Peralta posted a Z-Swing (swings at pitches inside the zone) of a career high 66.2% as well as a Z-Contact of 89.2%. When a ground-ball pitcher is throwing more strikes and inducing more contact, he’s getting more outs. Indeed, Peralta posted an improved H/9 in 2014 and a much improved walk rate of 2.76/9, down from 3.58/9 in 2013. Accordingly, his WHIP dropped from 1.42 in 2013 to 1.30 this past year. His season earned him a rating of 2.7 WAR, which was an improvement of nearly 4 wins from 2013.
From a more subjective standpoint, Peralta appeared much more composed in his second full season in the bigs. In an interview with OnMilwaukee.com’s Jim Owczarski, Peralta stated:
“I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’ve been growing up a lot as a pitcher. I’ve been learning how to pitch. So, this is a good thing… I’ve been controlling the situation on the mound and in the game. I don’t let the situations bother me and score a bunch of runs sometimes. But I’ve been able, when I get in trouble, to get out of there. That’s the thing I’ve been learning since last year.”
Peralta credits veterans Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, and Gallardo in aiding this growing up process. He especially values their playoff experience as something that he admires. I expect that Peralta will be the one taking the ball in those big games for the Brewers very soon.
One mustn’t go far to find an example of the Brewers offering an extension to a pitcher pre-arbitration. In 2010, the Brewers signed Gallardo to a 5 year, $30.1 million deal with a team option for $13 million for 2015. Gallardo, while never truly reaching the status of ace, still became one of the best pitchers in franchise history. His option was exercised by Milwaukee on Halloween, but the Brewers traded their all-time strikeout leader last month. Around baseball, Jaime Garcia, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez are a few examples of players signed to extensions after posting similar numbers to Peralta through two full seasons.
Gallardo’s contract would probably serve as the starting point for Milwaukee to begin negotiations. Peralta’s camp would likely point to Garcia’s extension with St. Louis, which was signed after 2012 for 4 years, $27 million with two options worth $11.5 and $12 mil. Contracts are getting more expensive for free agents every year and, with the emphasis on pitching as offense is down around baseball these days, Peralta is in a good position. In this situation, I believe a 5 year, $35 million extension could be feasible for both sides, with a potential option or two. This provides cost certainty through Peralta’s arbitration years and control of at least one free agent year for Milwaukee going forward while locking in a player with ace potential. Even if Wily pitches at the same level going forward as he did in 2014, it would be well worth it for the Brewers. It also gives Peralta financial security, and the $7 mil AAV would be the 3rd highest ever for a pitcher with two-plus years of service, after Cole Hamels and Clay Buchholz.
Around baseball, teams like the Cardinals, Braves, and Athletics have built consistently winning teams around developing young pitching. Unfortunately, this isn’t a situation the Brewers have found themselves in much over the last ten plus years. In fact, since 2004, only three pitchers have been drafted by the Brewers and made at least 10 starts for the big league club: Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers, and Jimmy Nelson. While Wily doesn’t fall into this category as an international free agent, he is certainly a rare example of a pitcher developed by the Brewers, who could become the first true homegrown ace in Milwaukee since Ben Sheets. Young, homegrown stalwarts like Peralta are players that a team can build and thrive around long term. With Kyle Lohse a free agent after this season and Matt Garza after 2017, it would be wise for the Brewers to begin to try and lock in some of their young starters for the future. The first pitcher GM Doug Melvin should try to convince Mark Attanasio to open up the wallet for is Wily Peralta.