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Wily Peralta: Sliding his Way to Improvement

Need a warm body at the end of your draft to fill out a bench spot? Struggling to see straight after putting down too many Yuenglings? Mock Draft Central tells us there’s no shortage of commoners to be had: Jason Vargas and his lifetime 51-58 record will be there for the taking; Josh Johnson and his patched-up elbow can be had on the cheap; and Trevor Cahill, owner of a 15.6 percent career strikeout rate, stands ready to be selected should you have something better to do than sit patiently and wisely craft the back end of your roster.

There’s no crime in being haphazard, but us FanGraphs folk prefer the whiff of upside to the constraints of guaranteed mediocrity. So it’s in that spirit that I wonder if Wily Peralta, currently being priced at a 324 ADP, is deserving of more love.

It’s not difficult to see why Peralta isn’t in heavy demand. A 16.1 percent strikeout rate isn’t nearly good enough for fantasy owners to look past a 4.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 11-15 record. But Peralta, a former two-time Baseball America top 100 prospect who turns 25 in May, turned in two somewhat different seasons last year, as the chart below shows:

Nothing earth-shattering, perhaps, but improvement nonetheless, especially for a guy getting through his first full major league season. The biggest change, as others have noticed, was Peralta’s increased use of his slider, particularly against left-handed hitters, both to get ahead in the count and to finish them off. The changed approach reversed lefties’ success against Peralta; what was a .341 average during the first 15 starts melted into a .200 clip the rest of the season.

Of course, the chart above reveals no change in Peralta’s BB/9, which is disappointing, as walks were a recurring problem for Peralta throughout the minors. His first-pitch strike percentage was below league average last year, and no matter his pitch selection, he’ll have to pound the zone more regularly. The 19 home runs he allowed during 2013 is also discouraging, and he continued surrendering them even during the improved 17-game stretch cited above.

But it’s March, so I’ll choose to look at Peralta’s positive attributes, not the least of which is his live arm; his 94.6 mph heater was tied for fourth last year among qualified starters. He also loves his ground balls (51 percent clip), which, when combined with the manageable 0.6 HR/9 pace he displayed over 620.2 minor league innings, provides hope that he’ll stop feeding his gopher as often going forward. As the home runs decline, his strand rate will improve, just as it did in the second half, when it jumped six and a half percentage points to a decent 70.8 percent mark.

There’s also the matter of the Brewers themselves; while Peralta’s final 2013 statline justifies the 15 losses, it’s also true that the rookie was pitching for an 88-loss team, a record the Brewers figure to improve on in 2014 with a lineup that should have some punch. If Peralta can provide halfway decent results, he could very well pick up 13 or 14 wins.

Which isn’t to say Peralta is a dependable mixed league starter, just that he’s got upside, which is more than what could be said for many of his contemporaries at the late stage in the draft. Some owners will be scared off by his 2013 season’s overall line, but I’m always encouraged when a guy with Peralta’s talent shows improvement in the second half. As the season dawns, it’s hard to recommend him beyond spot starter duty in mixed leagues, but even if his ADP creeps up as March progresses, it seems safe to pick Peralta as a guy who will outperform his cheap price on draft day.