Joel Peralta and Foreign Substances

In Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson asked home plate umpire Tim Tschida to examine the glove right-hander Joel Peralta for foreign substances.

Peralta was subsequently ejected for having pine tar on his glove.

This is not new. Baseball has a long history of players skirting around the rulebook in hopes of gaining an edge on their opponent. Whether it is spitting on the baseball, taking performance-enhancing drugs, corking bats, cutting the baseball, or even just (allegedly) having a man in white standing in the outfield bleachers, cheating is as much a tradition in baseball as hot dogs and cracker jacks.

As they say, if ya ain’t cheatin’, ya ain’t tryin’.

In regards to Peralta, it seems as if Tuesday night was not an isolated incident for the right-hander. Davey Johnson spoke of rumors that Peralta liked to utilize pine tar to tip the scales in his favor on the mound. How did Johnson know the rumor to be valid? As he said in the post-game interview:

“Well, he pitched here. I don’t think it’s a secret.”

Peralta pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2010 and enjoyed the best season of his eight-year career, posting a 2.02 ERA and 3.02 FIP in 49 innings of work. At that time, his 9.00 K/9 strikeout rate marked the highest rate of his career. In many ways, he was reborn as a major-league reliever and has since become a solid set-up man for Tampa Bay.

No one knows when the 36-year-old began smearing pine tar on his glove. Judging by the comments given by Davey Johnson after the game, however, it seems exceedingly probable that he was doing so while in Washington three years ago.

Perusing his statistics, one thing really jumps out when trying to ascertain what changed between the 2009 season, in which Peralta compiled a 6.20 ERA and 4.72 FIP for Colorado, and his breakout 2010 season and beyond. His ability to generate swings-and-misses on his fastball has increased dramatically. Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Peralta only generated 6.1% swinging strikes on his fastball. Between 2010 and 2012, however, that number jumped to 10.1%. If we isolate that range to simply the 2012 season, his swinging-strike rate on fastballs is even higher at 16.4%.

What happened to his fastball? It did not gain more velocity. In fact, Peralta has lost almost a mile per hour since the 2010 season. The percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone is lowest of his career this year, too, which suggests he is getting by more on deception and swings outside the strike zone. Could pine tar help facilitate this increased effectiveness?

On the less-skeptical side, perhaps the success of his fastball can directly be tied to the increased success of his split-fingered fastball. Over the past three seasons, Peralta has generated a swing-and-miss 20.3% of the time with his splitter and has consistently increased his usage of that pitch in every single season in the big leagues. It has become a true wipe-out pitch for him on the mound. Opposing batters would naturally swing later at and be fooled more by his fastball if they had his splitter in the back of their minds.

Setting up his fastball off his splitter is a plausible explanation for the increased effectiveness of his fastball, as well as his increased effectiveness as a whole. Perhaps we need not look any further than that. Still, it’s interesting to discover that Joel Peralta has purportedly used pine tar (at least) since the 2010 season because that just happens to coincide with his turnaround as a major league reliever.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


29 Responses to “Joel Peralta and Foreign Substances”

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  1. J6takish says:

    See Kenny Rogers entire 2006 post season, specifically game 2 of the world series. The pine tar was clear as day, the people in the nosebleeds could have seen it. Interestingly he had to wash his hands before the 2nd inning and proceeded to pitch the game of his life

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    • Big Daddy V says:

      Don’t be ridiculous. It was clearly barbecue sauce from one of his famous Roasters.

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    • bpdelia says:

      That may be one of my most unpleasant baseball memories. Thanks for picking the scab. As a guy who had himself done a bit extra occassionally the obviousness of that drove me nuts. I still remember my wife saying “well if that was true wouldn’t the umpires stop it? You are imagining this” and being like ” If? IF????? No thee is no IF going on here”.

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      • Uly says:

        As A Tigers fan, that is one of my favorite memories. Even having lost the series (and looking atrocious while doing so)… That was Baseball Theatre at its finest.

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    • rye says:

      Who was the pitcher that ate something off the baseball, after someone said he had a foreign substance on it?

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  2. bpdelia says:

    Using pine tar is IDEAL for your splitter. I used to discreetly lick between my fingers. The spit didn’t make it slippery it acted as a type of glue. If you don’t have ridiculously abnormally large hands the splitter can feel like it isn’t solidly wedged and you cant generate the same whip and consistent release. Wish id thought of that. Pine tar would have been perfect. Then you can wedge that hitch WAY down in there and let fly without worrying about it tumbling out to far up your fingers. That’s ideal. I’m willing to bet the pine tar is almost exclusively used by him to get a air tight splitter grip. Smart.

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    • Grant says:

      This is a great post bpdelia. I dabbled with splitters on and off and definitely slippage was the biggest problem with getting consistent tumble and more importantly any semblance of control. On the other hand I was having difficulty figuring out how pine tar would help me get movement on a fast ball…The only thing I can think of again is if I was having trouble with slippage which can happen even with a fastball in humid areas. better grip=better leverage=more spin

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  3. John says:

    Didn’t throw a splitter. But I used it for curveball/slider, in cold weather, when it was tough to get good grip.

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  4. Phantom Stranger says:

    This is not that uncommon at the MLB level. Almost every team has at least a couple of middle relievers doing something similar. Another common trick is to grow your hair out very long in the back and apply massive amounts of hair gel to it.

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  5. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Dirk Hayhurst just confirmed on Twitter that Peralta is “not a villain, just a pine tar junky.”

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  6. monkey business says:

    J.P., I’m somewhat confused as to your stance on this. Do you think removing him from the game was OK but neither a good thing nor a bad thing? Or do you think the umpire should have just said, “boys will be boys” and either not investigated or just let him pitch with pine tar in his glove?

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that it was a good thing but not a great thing. If you cheat, then you might get caught and you pay the price.

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    • RobBob says:

      I don’t get any argument that concludes that the Nats and/or Davey Johnson should not have called out Peralta for cheating, save possibly for the ones that suggest that they might have fared better against Peralta than the next guy.

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      • Grant says:

        From a baseball standpoint it’s cheating and he should be punished. From a character standpoint I think it’s shady to call out a player for something that you had knowledge of him doing illegally while playing for you…I guess the moral of the story is if you cheat, either don’t play for Davey Johnson or plan on finishing your career there

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      • monkey business says:

        Grant,

        Johnson wasn’t the coach of (or employed by) the Nationals in 2010. The talk on the Nationals side is that we finally understand why Peralta wasn’t resigned. So, no love lost if cheaters don’t want to sign with the Nationals.

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      • Grant says:

        My mistake about Johnson then, but it’s still a spineless thing to do to a player who worked hard for your team in the past. Why not say to him before the series that they know about it and that if he does it against them they will take action. Why wait until he takes the mound?

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      • Mike says:

        Monkey Business – Johnson was employed in the Nats front office in 2010.

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      • monkey business says:

        Mike, you are correct.

        Grant, cheating is the spineless action, not calling someone out on it. It was Peralta that put the pine tar on his glove that day, only he is responsible for his ejection.

        “Why not say to him before the series that they know about it” that is like your next door neighbor telling you they know the color of your car. Obviously they knew about it… Peralta was a moron to put pine tar on his glove vs the Nats. The fact that he did indicates how important it is to his pitching now. “and that if he does it against them they will take action.” No, the correct thing to do would have been to tell him to stop cheating in any way that would have made him actually stop for good. The only way to do that within the rules is to call him out in a surprise fashion in a game they were involved in. Yes, they could have done the same in 2010, but that is against (often moronic) the unwritten rules of baseball. Not resigning him is the most responsible way to deal with a cheater.

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  7. Kevin says:

    In the 7th paragraph:

    “In many ways, he was reborn as a major-league reliever and has sense become a solid set-up man for Tampa Bay.”

    “Sense” should be “since”

    Good article, enjoyed it

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  8. chri521 says:

    So Davey snitched and everyone’s mad.. guess the no snitching rule applies to baseball also eh?

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  9. Michael Beschta says:

    Could pine tar give you more rise on your fastball?

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/what-rise-looks-like-on-a-fastball/

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    • Fletch says:

      I was just thinking that. For what it’s worth, looking at his pitchFX page, he’s had ridiculous rise on his fastball since at least 2007 (the first year of data), so extra rise on his fastball doesn’t seem to explain his upsurge in performance starting in 2010.

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  10. Condor says:

    Congress has announced an investigation…

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  11. Bryce Harper says:

    This was a clown move bro.

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  12. DRock says:

    It’s absurd that this happened. All of these guys have it right on the bill of their cap. Grant Balfour touched the dark spot on his hat at least twice before each pitch last night. Why does no one ever call out the scores of pitchers with obvious dark substances on their hats which they just happen to touch repeatedly?

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    • jorgath says:

      Because, like Cole Hamels and Joe Maddon, they play “old school, prestigious baseball.”

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    • monkey business says:

      I believe the dark part under the bill is called a shadow.

      I had a friend who worked for a photo shop and she had to explain this to people sometimes.

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  13. DRock says:

    No, not when there’s a clear black mark on a yellow cap. It’s not a shadow.

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