After impressive performances out of the bullpen in the latter part of last season, smart money would’ve ticketed Brewers right-hander Freddy Peralta for a similar role in 2020. His performance in winter ball may have that assumption in question.
Brewers fans certainly are likely to remember the early season struggles of the team’s starting rotation in 2019, largely due to a heavy reliance on unproven, young pitchers. Partly due to that, GM David Stearns acquired a number of pitchers during this off season in an attempt to avoid a similar situation this upcoming season.
One of the pitchers who struggled in the rotation early last season was Freddy Peralta. A trip to Triple-A San Antonio and a move to the bullpen greatly turned around his year, so many have speculated a similar role for him moving forward. That was before reports of his eye-opening performance in Dominican Winter League.
From the rotation to the pen
Peralta’s first year as a starter to open a season in 2019 was short-lived. After five starts and an 8.31 ERA to start the year, he was relegated to bullpen duty for the remainder of the season outside of a few more spot starts. The role generally served him well. Though his ERA as a reliever was average at 4.01, he struck out 12.59 batters per nine innings and held opposing batters to a .219 batting average.
With the increased bullpen action came a velocity increase for his fastball – Peralta’s most dangerous pitch. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Peralta’s four-seam fastball had an average velocity of 92.78 mph in April and March, covering his first four starts. But in September, that average velocity for the four-seamer jumped up to 96.22 mph.
On top of the fact that Peralta’s fastball showed more life out of the bullpen, his pitch repertoire set up better as a reliever as well. In 2019, Peralta essentially only paired his fastball with a curveball as the two pitches accounted for 98.67% of all of his pitches last year. But that was then….
Multiple reports had Peralta’s fastball topping out at 98 mph as a starter during winter league and also having potentially added a slider. If these reports are true, it suddenly makes him a very intriguing rotation candidate.
Is there a rotation spot available?
There are at least three spots in the rotation that could be considered locks at this point. Brandon Woodruff arguably enters this year as the ace of the staff after a breakout season that resulted in his first All-Star berth. Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom were signed during the off season as free agents and are confirmed for the rotation as well.
Eric Lauer, who was acquired in the trade with the Padres that also netted infielder Luis Urias, has started 52 of his 53 career big league appearances so he’ll be in the Milwaukee starting rotation too. That leaves one rotation spot up in the air.
Assuming Stearns doesn’t make another move to bolster the starting crew, one of the most likely candidates for that position could be Adrian Houser. The righty did well after being moved permanently to the rotation in 2019, compiling a 3.28 ERA over 12 starts to end the year. But he was even more impressive when pitching out of the bullpen.
As a reliever in 2019, Houser had a shiny 1.47 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while holding batters to a .180 batting average and just a .524 OPS in 30 2/3 innings. He also struck out 33 batters while walking only 11. If manager Craig Counsell decides to utilize Houser’s talents as a reliever again, it could open the door for a return to the rotation for Peralta.
There’s still plenty of time left in the off season and more pieces could be added, including to the starting staff. But if no further moves or made, it’s comforting to know that the Brewers have options, and that includes another chance at starting for Peralta.