So I’m sitting here, passing a Wednesday afternoon by scrolling through players Steamer thinks are going to be worse. Most of the time, I get it. Yoenis Cespedes, sure — last year, he had almost everything go right. With Francisco Lindor, I understand bat-related skepticism. I see why a projection system thinks Joe Panik will take a step back, and the same goes for Justin Turner and Nelson Cruz. Honestly, I get it with David Peralta, too. I see why Steamer thinks what it thinks. All the reasons are right there on the player page. I just think in Peralta’s case in particular, there are positive traits that should lift the expectations. Allow me to make the argument.
We haven’t written that often about Peralta, although it was just a few months ago Dave suggested he might be baseball’s most underrated player. That would be fitting, since one of baseball’s other most underrated players is outfield-mate A.J. Pollock. There’s no defining or studying underratedness, so I don’t know quite where Peralta should rank, but he’s inarguably on the list. Dave pointed to some of the numbers he’d put up. I want to point to some other numbers, some numbers I think are especially encouraging.
Let’s get this out of the way: Last year, in well shy of 600 trips to the plate, Peralta was good for 3.7 WAR. Or, if you prefer…actually, Baseball-Reference has him at 3.7, too. That’s convenient. And it was mostly about the bat, which comes with lesser uncertainty. Peralta wasn’t out there quietly racking up the defensive runs. He seems to be a perfectly fine defensive corner outfielder. Adds some value on the bases with his legs. Let’s talk about his hitting.
Peralta can be counted on to walk a roughly average amount. Similarly, he can be counted on to strike out a roughly average amount. He’s neither especially patient nor especially aggressive, and he’s about average at making contact. What that leaves is the quality of contact, and this, fortunately enough, is where Peralta shines. He’s a wonderful example of a guy who just goes up and makes sure to hit the ball hard someplace.
To start with a little Statcast, head over to Baseball Savant. There you’ll see that Peralta was one of just 27 players to hit a baseball at least 115 miles per hour. This isn’t something Peralta did all the time or anything, but it does help set a power ceiling. Peralta topped out at 115. So did Jose Bautista. Bryce Harper topped out at 116.
Something I really like about Peralta, though, is that he’s developed the ability to spray the ball. As a rookie, by our numbers, he pulled all eight of his homers. As a sophomore, he hit five homers up the middle, and two the other way. I’m a sucker for hitters with an all-fields approach, and Peralta came out of 2015 ranking very well.
On Baseball Savant, for simplicity, I split the field in half. There were 163 lefties who hit at least 50 batted balls to the pull half, as measured by Statcast. Peralta finished in third place in rate of batted balls hit at least 100 miles per hour. Now, there were 130 lefties who hit at least 50 batted balls to the opposite half. Peralta ranked 11th in the same rate. This is as much as I’m going to do with Statcast today, but the exit velocities support the other numbers.
By now you should be familiar with the much simpler hard-hit rate. So for this part I’m going to transition to FanGraphs statistics, and you’ll recall that, here, we split the field into even thirds. Last year, Peralta was one of 29 players to have a hard-hit rate of at least 30% to all fields, given at least 50 batted balls. The group averaged a 126 wRC+, with a .319 BABIP. For whatever it’s worth, I set the cutoff below Peralta’s actual limits — his lowest hard-hit rate to any field was 33%.
We’re almost done with the numbers, I promise. There’s just one more thing. As a hitter, your first goal is to hit the ball hard, but a secondary goal is to make sure to not waste that hard hit with a grounder. A well-hit grounder can get through the infield, sure, but it might also just get to an infielder faster, and there just isn’t a lot of damage to be done. You want your best contact to come on liners and flies.
So! Last year, 212 players hit at least 150 liners and flies. They averaged a 39% hard-hit rate — that is, 39% of the liners and flies were hit hard, according to whoever judged these things. Peralta finished at 50%, ranking 10th in the majors. Other players who finished at or right around 50%: Joey Votto, Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout, and Freddie Freeman. Not all hard-hit baseballs are created the same, of course. A hard hit by Giancarlo Stanton is probably hit harder than a hard hit by David Peralta. But Peralta inarguably made consistent, quality contact, and a lot of that hard contact was in the air, and he sprayed those baseballs all over the place. It was Batting 101: hit the ball hard, where the defensive players aren’t.
I know this post has featured a lot of statistics, and I know those can put readers off, even on a site like this. So let me try to put it all into more readable words: Last season, David Peralta made improvements with regard to contact quality and distribution. He hit the ball hard, and he hit the ball everywhere, and what I like about that is it makes Peralta difficult to exploit. Every hitter has weaknesses, but Peralta’s are more difficult to find, because he doesn’t whiff too often, and he can go with a pitch just as well as he can yank it. He’s blessed with quick hands and plate coverage, and to me, that all makes him an excellent bet to remain a quietly excellent outfielder.
He’s probably still not as good as A.J. Pollock, overall, but Peralta strikes me as a hell of a player, and someone the Diamondbacks will be leaning on as they try to win the race in the NL West. They’re going to get attention because of Zack Greinke, and they’re going to get attention because of Paul Goldschmidt. Much of what’s left over is going to go to Pollock, and then there won’t be a lot remaining. I imagine many fans will continue to underrate David Peralta, but his own team won’t. And neither will the others.
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