Milwaukee Brewers: Wily Peralta’s Limited Ceiling

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It seems like forever now that Wily Peralta has been considered a rising star in the Milwaukee Brewers system, perhaps because the big righty was signed out of the Dominican Republic a decade ago at the tender age of 16. Featuring a fastball that can hit the upper 90s and a devastating slider, the label of “future ace” was quickly applied to Big Wily, who was a consensus top 100 prospect in 2012 and 2013.

Peralta looked like he was heading towards that direction after a terrific step forward in 2014: a 3.53 ERA in 198.2 innings pitched with 154 strikeouts, 61 walks, a 53.6% ground ball rate and 2.7 rWAR. I found myself guilty of getting caught up in the hype, even proposing the framework for an extension for the 26 year old before the season started. However, a 4.20 DRA and 110 cFIP- tell a different story about Wily’s perceived breakout, painting him as much closer to a league average pitcher who was the beneficiary of some good fortune and help from teammates around him.

This sets the stage for 2015, which has been a disappointing season for Peralta and his supporters. Wily has managed only 13 starts after missing more than two months with an oblique strain. The results have been uneven: 77.1 innings pitched, a 4.07 ERA, and 10 home runs allowed. According to DRA, Peralta has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season: his 5.38 is 28% worse than league average and his -0.43 DRA_PWARP ties him for 580th among MLB pitchers this season.

There are a few factors holding Peralta back from turning into the pitcher that many hope he eventually becomes. One is that Wily, always a ground ball heavy pitcher, relies too much on getting outs via balls in play. Peralta struck out a slightly below average 18.4% of opposing hitters last season, putting together a K:BB ratio of better than 2.5-to-1. Despite ranking 20th among starters with an average fastball velocity of 94.3 MPH this season (min. 20 IP), Wily has seen his K rate plummet to a dismal 13.6%, tying for 16th worst among all pitchers (min. 70 IP). On average, batters have swung at less of Peralta’s pitches (45.4% swing rate in 2015 is 1.5% below league average) while making significantly more contact (83.1% contact rate is 4% higher than league average), and his whiff rate is a career low 7.6%. Peralta is giving up a career high 10.1 hits/9, and has seen his WHIP rise to 1.41 this season despite cutting his walk rate from 2014.

Perhaps most alarming, however, is how hitable Peralta’s hard stuff has been this year. According to Brooks Baseball‘s tracker, Wily throws two distinct fastballs: a sinker that he’s featured 43.93% of the time this season, and a four seamer that he’s thrown 20.6% of the time. He’s generated just 46 swings-and-misses among his 755 total fastball/sinkers, and eight of his 10 home runs have been given up off his hard stuff. Batters are absolutely teeing off on his four-seamer with a .471 batting average against and a .275 ISO, and hitters are also batting .291 against his sinker.

Wily Peralta 2015 fastball/sinker heat map, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.Net.

Fastball command appears to be a major culprit in this case. When we take a look at Peralta’s fastball/sinker heatmap for 2015, it’s hard to ignore how many pitches are located belt high to the hitter. In fact, 25.43% of Big Wily’s big heaters have been thrown at the belt, one of the easiest locations for a hitter to zero in on the ball. True to form, opposing hitters hold a .400 average and .643 slugging percentage against Peralta’s hard stuff in these areas of the strike zone. Pitch F/X rates Wily’s fastball and sinker at a combined 1.0 runs above average last season, but the number has fallen to an abysmal -10.0 runs in 2015.

After a strong performance in 2014, former ace-in-waiting Wily Peralta has fallen back down to earth this season. Peralta won’t ever become an ace as this incarnation; however, if Big Wily could figure out how to use hit excellent stuff to strike out more hitters, he could see more consistent success down the road. This could be likely accomplished in one of two different ways: a greater willingness to elevate his fastball, or a heavier reliance on his changeup.

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As evidenced by the above chart, Peralta clearly favors the lower half of the strike zone with his hard stuff. If Wily could vary this approach, perhaps by throwing his sinker low and away while perfecting the art of throwing his four-seam fastball up-and-in, it would likely lead to more Ks on the board.

One could perhaps call Peralta’s changeup an underutilized weapon this season, given the stellar results against it despite throwing it just 5.4% of the time. Opponents are hitting just .177 with a 13.33% whiff rate against the change, which has been rated as 1.5 runs above average by Pitch F/X. The changeup offers a different look than the usual fastball/sinker/slider mix from Peralta and is especially effective against lefties, and an increase in usage could help Wily get more whiffs.

Wily Peralta was once seen by many as the future ace of Milwaukee’s staff, however it’s looking more and more like he may never be more than a #3 starter on a good pitching staff with a solid defense behind him. Peralta’s hitable hard stuff and inability to induce strikeouts are major hindrances to his ceiling as a major leaguer, and while there is plenty of value in a league average innings-eater, it’s hard not to be somewhat disappointed when seeing Peralta’s pure stuff on display.

Next: Timber Rattlers Farm Report

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