The Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day Starter has an ERA north of 7, and the team is rapidly approaching a crossroads.
When Wily Peralta tossed 198 2/3 innings of 3.53 ERA baseball in 2014, it looked like the team had, at the very least, a solid anchor in their rotation. Some felt he could become the team’s ace, and others at least felt his was a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation innings-eating talent.
Right now, that ship appears to have sailed. Peralta followed up his 2014 with a injury-hampered 2015, in which his strikeouts dropped to 5 per 9 innings and his ERA jumped to 4.72. Things have only been worse for Wily in 2016.
But in today’s baseball age, when failing starters are relegated to the bullpen, they have shown a tendency to break out. Naturally, some pitchers will fail in both avenues, but some of the leagues best relievers first logged hundreds of innings as mediocre (or worse) Major League starters.
Andrew Miller, who is probably the best non-closer in the league (thanks to sharing a ‘pen with Aroldis Chapman) was an poor starter (5.70 ERA in 325 innings), but has a 2.26 ERA since becoming a full-time reliever in 2012.
Perhaps the league’s best closer, Wade Davis, was a starter for three years with the Rays to average results, then was switched to a reliever for a year, where he flourished. Upon his trade to the Royals in 2013, he was moved back to the rotation, where he floundered with a 5.32 ERA in 31 games (24 starts). The team quickly moved him back to the ‘pen full time in 2014, and his ERA since then is a remarkable 1.01.
Zach Britton is a similar story (4.86 ERA as starter, 1.72 ERA as reliever), as is Luke Hochevar (5.44 vs. 2.78) and Twins closer Glen Perkins (5.05 vs. 2.99). And yes, most pitchers will perform better out of the bullpen in general, but the possibility of turning a below-average starter into a valuable reliever is looking pretty attractive at this point.
Even the Milwaukee Brewers’ Will Smith began his MLB career as a struggling starter, though he logged significantly less starts than the previously mentioned pitchers.
Many (both fans and players) are understandably resistant to the idea of moving pitchers to the bullpen. It has a reputation of being a place for failed starters, even if some of them become the league’s most dominant relievers.
But the opportunity to turn a pitcher’s career into something new is one the Milwaukee Brewers must seriously consider. If Peralta can’t succeed in the rotation, perhaps he can in the bullpen. If he can’t succeed there, then he has much greater problems. But if he can improve in the bullpen, his career may very well be saved.
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As you can imagine, tossing less innings allows a reliever to throw harder without as much fear of fatigue. Miller, Smith, and Davis each had their fastball velocity jump 2 to 4 miles per hour after becoming full-time relievers. Britton’s fastball jumped from 92 MPH to 97 MPH.
Increased velocity, as well as the ability to pitch a little more carefully without worrying about pitch count, leads these pitchers to frequently see large increases in strikeout rates, and with his pure stuff, Peralta should be capable of a similar improvement.
Of course we don’t know if Peralta can throw noticeably harder than he is now, but according to Brooks Baseball, he has touched 99 this season. The idea of him permanently adding velocity to his already 95 mile per hour fastball is enticing.
Additionally, Peralta is in essence a two-pitch pitcher. Five to six percent of his pitches are his firm changeup which continues to get hit hard. His remaining pitches, a sinker-slider combination, is typical of a bullpen arm.
Wily Peralta the starter is an enigma. He’s a flamethrower who doesn’t strikeout enough batters, and he’s a contact pitcher who walks too many batters. It’s about time we see who Wily Peralta the reliever is.