Coming into the 2009 season, the Cleveland Indians had to feel pretty confident about Jhonny Peralta. After all, the 6-2, 210 pound Dominican Republic native had averaged 2.75 Wins Above Replacement over the 2005-2008 seasons, including a 3.9 mark in 2008.
His once-leaden leather was showing improvement, as was his bat. While not scaling to the heights of his 2005 season (+25.1 Batting Runs), Peralta improved from -10.6 Batting Runs in 2006 to +2.7 in 2007 and +10.8 in 2008. Jhonny’s ISO rebounded from .128 in ’06 to .160 in ’07 and .197 in ’08. Entering his peak years (Jhonny turned 27 in May), Peralta looked like a good bet to turn in another above average offensive campaign:
2009 pre-season projections:
Instead, Peralta has been an offensive drag. Through 250 plate appearances, Jhonny owns a sickly .252/.331/.338 line. His .086 ISO is way below his .162 career average. To put that figure into context, the immortal Willie Bloomquist has out-ISO’d Peralta by 11 points. Amazingly, Jhonny and Willie are in a heated race to see how homers more, with Peralta holding a slim two-to-one edge.
So what in the name of Chief Wahoo is going on here? Peralta is showing similar plate discipline, with a 9.8 BB% (9% career average) and an Outside-Swing Percentage of 24% (23.5% career average), so he’s not hacking his way to a sub-.670 OPS. Jhonny’s 25.7% K rate is also near his career norm (25.7%) and his BABIP is .331, so it’s not as though a bunch of balls put in play are finding gloves.
Peralta’s problem? He’s chopping the ball into the dirt like never before and getting jammed more frequently:
2009: 57 GB%, 26.7 GB%, 11.4 IF/FB%
Career Avg: 46.9 GB%, 33.5 FB%, 5.7 IF/FB%
Jhonny holds the 8th-highest groundball rate among all batters, sandwiched between a pair of middle infielders sporting new duds. However, Howie Kendrick (Salt Lake Bees) and Emmanuel Burriss (Fresno Grizzlies) probably aren’t too thrilled to be touring the Pacific Coast League.
Peralta has struggled badly with the heat in ’09, with a -1.12 run value per 100 fastballs seen. That ranks as the 15th-worst mark in the majors, and is well below his +0.49 career average. Jhonny has been an automatic out when pulling the ball this season (stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference):
2008: Pulled-RHB: .461 BAVG/.737 SLG (101 OPS+; one percent better than the league average in this category)
2009: Pulled-RHB: .216 BAVG/.333 SLG (-6 OPS+)
Not only is Peralta putting the ball in the air less often, but the flyballs he has hit have been about as threatening as a newborn kitten:
2008: .289 BAVG/.792 SLG (167 OPS+)
2009: .200 BAVG/.350 SLG (52 OPS+)
Peralta’s increased groundball rate and infield/fly percentage suggest that he’s a little tentative at the dish right now. He has swung at fewer pitches within the strike zone (67.7%, compared to 73% in 2008) while making contact with those pitches less often (84 Z-Contact% this season, 86.1% in 2008). If Jhonny is going to out-homer Wee Willie Bloomquist, he might have to let ‘er rip with more conviction.