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January 11, 2007

Player Profile

Jhonny Peralta

by Marc Normandin

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Jhonny Peralta was somewhat of a surprise story in each of his first full major league seasons: in 2005, he shocked many by putting together one of the better all-around seasons by a shortstop in the majors at age 23, while in 2006 he followed up with a disappointing below-average performance. The question heading into 2007 is simple: which Jhonny Peralta can we expect to show up?

Jhonny Antonio Peralta was signed as an non-drafted amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 1999 at age 17. He played for the Dominican Summer League Indians in his professional debut, and hit .303/.398/.514 with 41 percent of his hits for extra bases. His BABIP was .373, which was above where it should be for the league difficulty level. For his efforts, Peralta was placed in Single-A Columbus in the Sally League, where he struggled. He was promoted to High-A Kinston in the Carolina league for the next season, and continued to have problems:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Col.(A)   349 .241/.352/.309 .241  20%  .068   14   14.3%  24.7%
Kin.(A+)  441 .240/.328/.351 .234  31%  .111   26   11.5%  29.3%
Peralta maintained an ability to draw walks at both levels, but struggled to hit for a decent batting average or any sort of power, although at Kinston he showed a little more promise offensively. The high strikeout rates were worrisome, although Peralta was still only 19 years old and did manage to hit .303 (30/99) over the last 27 games of the season. Even with his struggles and youth, the Indians aggressively promoted Peralta to Double-A Akron of the Eastern League for 2002.

Baseball America ranked Peralta the 19th best prospect in the organization heading into 2002, and gives us a good idea of where his defense was at: "Those soft hands, and Peralta's over-the-top throwing motion, have led to defensive comparisons to former Gold Glover Alan Trammell. Peralta has a strong, accurate arm, and plenty of range." He still had his problems with the bat, but those would be less of a problem in the upcoming season:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Akr.(AA)  470 .281/.343/.457 .277  36%  .176   33    8.4%  18.0%
Peralta's strikeout rate dropped considerably, as did his walk rate, but he finally gained some home run power, smacking 15 without losing any of his doubles power. His BABIP was just .327, so this was a legitimate offensive output by the 20 year old shortstop. Baseball America moved Peralta up two spots in their organizational rankings to #17, with some major changes in the comments on his defense:

…the Indians sent Peralta to the Arizona Fall League to play third base. His ultimate position is yet to be determined, though his thick build probably will mean he'll have to move off shortstop…He's steady defensively, with excellent hands and plenty of arm for shortstop or third base. His range is fringe average at best and he's a below-average runner who lacks quick reactions to the ball.

Even with the offensive output, his defense seemed to take a step back, and there were worries about his physique working out at shortstop in the long run. Cleveland promoted him to Triple-A Buffalo following the season, and he would see time with the major league after Omar Vizquel got injured:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Buf.(AAA) 237 .257/.310/.329 .127  23%  .072   13    5.8%  17.4%
Cle.(MLB) 242 .227/.295/.326 .174  27%  .111   11    7.4%  24.1%
Peralta struggled mightily at both levels, not displaying the improvement from the previous season at Akron. His walk rates dropped down to levels where they were a bit more dependent on his batting average, and his power still was not developed. His BABIP was low given his line drive rate at the major league level, but his line drive rate is high in comparison to the ones that followed in his big league games, rendering that tidbit pointless.

Baseball Prospectus 2004 still had faith in Peralta's long-term potential, despite his debut struggles:

The Indians system is rich in talent at short, but Peralta is clearly the pick of the litter, the puppy you keep for yourself while foisting all others off on people who have something you want. He'll hit for power, and he can play the position. He won't be a star, but he will be a good answer for four or five years.

Peralta went on to dominate Triple-A Buffalo during the 2004 season:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Buf.(AAA) 556 .326/.384/.493 .271  34%  .166   46    8.8%  20.5%
His walk rate was better than the previous stint's, and he appeared to have hit for some power, but it is mostly a batting average driven season fueled overall by an uncharacteristically high BABIP. Peralta's BABIP was .399 for Buffalo; in order for this to be repeatable, Peralta would have to hit roughly 27 percent of his batted-balls for line drives consistently. To put that into perspective, from 2004-2006 there were only four individual seasons where a player maintained a 27 percent line drive rate, and they were all by different players. Peralta's breakout campaign in the minors really wasn't anything of the sort, it seems.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 was leery of his numbers heading into 2005:

Peralta and Brandon Phillips, who may be 2006's double-play combination, have two things in common: they each bombed in their initial big league exposure in 2003, and their offensive games are way too reliant on batting average to be trusted. It was time for Cleveland to move on from Omar Vizquel, but unless Peralta's jump in BA comes to the majors and then sustains-and both those things almost never happen-he won't be an impact player.

Peralta's batting average dropped to .292, but his slugging percentage peaked at a professional high of .520 in 2005. His 2006 follow-up was a disappointment, as previously stated:
        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2005   504 .292/.366/.520 .339  43%  .228   39   10.2%  22.5%
2006   569 .257/.323/.385 .225  30%  .128   31    8.9%  24.1%
It's hard to get two lines of statistics that look as different as those two. PECOTA had projected a line of .274/.345/.462 heading into the season, which seemed somewhat accurate considering his progression the past two seasons (or one season, since I'm somewhat discounting 2004 due to BABIP). That ended up being a tad over the mark, as Peralta hit considerably lower than that.
Year P/PA  FB%   LINEDR%  GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP  Dif.
2005 4.0   35.0%  19.5%  45.5%   6.0%  19.6%  .349   .315  -.034
2006 4.1   33.6%  19.5%  47.4%   6.4%   9.4%  .329   .310  -.019
His batted-ball data tells part of the story. Peralta's expected BABIP (LINEDR% + .12) was much lower than his actual BABIP, and his batting line should have been somewhere around .258/.332/.486, assuming all of those lost hits were singles - which they most likely were not, as you will see later. For the 2006 season, Peralta was once again over his eBABIP, this time by .019, meaning his 2006 line should have been closer to .238/.304/.366. Normally, someone who hits as many groundballs as Peralta would have a bit of a boost in his BABIP, but Peralta is not a fast baserunner and actually grounds out to the left side of the infield a great deal.

Another important thing to note in the batted-ball data is the drop in home runs per flyball. Peralta hit fewer flyballs by 1.4 percent, but also saw his HR/F% drop 10.2 percent, a significant change. Considering his 2005 home run figures are out of place among his career ones, it's safe to say that his home run power was an outlier, at least in this stage of his development.

Peralta's batted-ball data also shifted somewhat, as the chart below shows:

These directional charts, provided by Dan Fox's Balls in Play Program, are solely for line drives in 2005 and 2006. Peralta went the other way with more line drives in 2006 than he had in 2005, where they were a bit more to the left side of the field. Not only that, but more of those balls turned into outs:

Those red "f" notations are flyouts, while the red "g" is a groundout. These charts, which are only for Jacob's Field, show Peralta to have flied out 45 times in 2005 and 77 times in 2006. Looking for some of those missing home runs? They sought refuge in the gloves of an outfielder, more often than not the one stationed in right field. He had trouble with any pitches that weren't down the heart of the plate in 2006 as well; his batting average on fastballs was .310, while curves, sliders and changeups were .205, .236 and .217 respectively.

Peralta's offense was not the only thing to suffer in 2006; remember how his build was affecting his defense all the way back in 2002, according to Baseball America? The trend continues to this day, according to Indians beat writer Anthony Castrovince, who answered questions in an MLB.com mailbag in late 2006:

Range is the key with Peralta. While those numbers you just threw at me might look like an improvement, it was obvious to those who have watched this club day in and day out over the past two years that Peralta was struggling to get to balls he should have been getting to. Plain and simple.

The Indians claim Peralta, who must have been eating his Wheaties, grew an inch and a half between the '05 and '06 seasons, and it was pretty clear he had added a few pounds to his frame. Those physical changes were probably the key to his defensive struggles, which, it should be noted, were much more prevalent in the first half than the second.

This was in response to a reader who wondered how Peralta's defense was considered worse when his Fielding Percentage had increased slightly and his errors had dropped by a few. It doesn't stop with a beat writer though, as Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro also commented following the 2006 campaign:

I know he didn't make many errors, but we went back and watched on video every single ball hit to him all year--and his range was among the worst of any major-league shortstop. There were more balls that an average major-league shortstop needs to get to.

This article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer states that assistant general manager Chris Antonetti did the legwork for the study; Antonetti is a name oft-heard in regards to one of the next GM's to break into the game.

John Dewan's Fielding Bible comes to the same conclusion above, at least for 2005, ranking Peralta #27 among 32 qualifiers with a Plus/Minus of -14. David Pinto's charts for his Probabilistic Model of Range defensive system also find fault with Peralta's range, at least with groundballs:

Peralta has no range to his left on grounders heading towards second base, and was roughly 10 outs below-average in 2006. He is slightly above average on line drives and flyballs, which are not as important for a shortstop as groundballs, but helped to pad his overall Out Ratio of 102. In fact, if you look at the chart in the link above, he caught a few flyballs close to third base that probably should not have been credited to him.

Clearly, the soon-to-be 25 year old Jhonny Peralta has his work cut out for him as far as becoming a league average player goes, never mind an impact player as it looked like following his "breakout" 2005. He's still young enough to develop further, but the physical issues are a problem, and Cleveland may not have room for him at third base if Andy Marte pans out as expected. PECOTA expects improvement on last year's awful showing, but below last year's expectations. If the Indians plan on contending in the incredibly competitive American League Central, they will need to soon figure out if Peralta is a shortstop that can produce enough to merit sticking around, or if they will need to begin exploring the market for other options. He's still young enough to rise to the occasion, but far enough below where they need him to be right now to remain a problem.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles. You can find some of Marc's other work here.

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