Jhonny Peralta was added to the 25-man roster Friday. To me, the only surprise here is that so many people were surprised. Or outraged in some way.
There was never any chance of the Cardinals designating Peralta for assignment — dumping him — before first bringing him back from the DL to see what, if anything, he can contribute.
And that’s the only mystery here.
How much will Peralta play?
Where will he play?
And who takes a seat to make room for Jhonny?
Is there a legit reason to believe that Peralta, nearly 35, can improve his diminished fielding range, poor base running, and restore a healthy amount of power to his swing?
Good luck with all of that. I’m not rooting against the guy. But when an aging player has suffered erosion in virtually every phase of his game, I’m hesitant to sign off on the “Jhonny Was Hitting Line Drives in Spring Training” narrative.
When and if Jhonny begins to shoot many line drives in real MLB games against real MLB pitchers in real MLB ballparks … then I’d be happy to holler about his resurgence.
For now, this is what we know, based on stats and facts:
— Peralta turns 35 on May 28.
— In his last 608 big-league plate appearances, Peralta has a .301 onbase percentage and .359 slugging percentage.
— And that among the 225 MLB hitters that have 600+ plate appearances since the 2015 All-Star break, Peralta ranks 203rd in slugging … 196th in OBP … 209th in OPS … 178th in home-run ratio … and is No. 196 in isolated power. (One word: weaker.)
–We know that Peralta was minus 7 in Defensive Runs Saved at third base, and minus 1 at shortstop, in 2016. We know that since the start of the 2015 season, he’s minus 8 in Defensive Runs Saved … and is minus 15 overall in DRS. (One word: yikes.)
— We know that Peralta is a minus 6 in Base Running Runs over the last three seasons, putting him near the bottom of the Cards’ list for base-running effectiveness. (One sort of word: slowwwwwww.)
— We know that Peralta’s overall offense is 22 percent below the league average in his last 158 games. (That, based on weighted runs created plus, or wRC+)
— We know that since the ’15 All-Star break Peralta has been below the replacement level in all-around performance according to Wins Above Replacement.
Optimistic souls would at least consider the possibility of a positive turnaround for Peralta because of what he’s been dealing with the last two seasons. The broken thumb that hindered him in 2016. The respiratory ailment (and bad reaction to meds) that had Peralta batting .120 with a 33 percent strikeout rate and a 6.3 hard-contact rate before the team put the patient was transferred to the DL on April 17.
I don’t think there’s much to cling to here if you are looking for a best-case, or even a decent-case, scenario to unfold. Maybe he’ll surprise me. Maybe the “Jhonny Looked Good In Spring Training” narratives will have new life and credibility.
For now, I’m curious to see the plan for Peralta.
I don’t know how much of an opportunity Peralta will receive to show he’s deserving of additional playing time. And if Peralta is mostly sitting — starting a game every seven days, with pinch-hitting ABs thrown in — then what’s the point?
Peralta won’t play ahead of the current starting infielders. Not Jedd Gyorko at third base, Aledmys Diaz at shortstop, Kolten Wong at second base, or Matt Carpenter at first.
Best-case scenario: If by chance Peralta outperforms expectations and hits for hard contact at a solid rate, I could see him getting some starts at shortstop or third base … especially if Diaz remains relatively dormant offensively. After the weekend series vs. the Giants, Diaz has a wRC+ of 81, meaning that he’s 19 percent below league average offensively. But while Diaz is no wizard defensively, Peralta can’t match Diaz’ range at shortstop.
Peralta can be a second utility infielder, but what would that mean for Greg Garcia’s role?
Garcia, who bats left, doesn’t hit for power. But he has a career .377 OBP in the majors. Excellent. Garcia takes very good at-bats, as evidenced by a walk rate that’s over 14 percent in the last two seasons. Compared to Peralta, Garcia is a far superior base runner and defender.
Despite limited playing time, Garcia has been worth about 2.2 WAR to the Cardinals since the start of last season. That’s exceptional for a bench guy. So why would the Cardinals play Garcia even less when he provides more value than Peralta?
This is the final season of Peralta’s four-year contract.
If inclined, the Cardinals can eat the remainder of Peralta’s $10 million salary for 2017.
There isn’t a one percent chance that happening until after GM John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny give Peralta a trial run to see if there’s any fuel in the tank.
Update: the Cardinals traded Adams to Atlanta on Saturday, and that means a couple of things for Peralta: (1) More frequent pinch-hitting appearances; (2) Peralta could get some time at first base when Matt Carpenter is given a day off. The plan is for Peralta to start taking grounders at first before games, to see how he handles it.
Peralta could also receive starts at third base if Gyorko plays first on a Carpenter day off. When he returns from the DL, Jose Martinez could reenter the first-base picture. But barring injury, Carpenter won’t out of the lineup much, so Peralta’s time at first, if any, will be limited.
For those ticked off by Peralta’s return because he’s taking a roster spot that could be going to a better option, I understand. There’s resentment because exciting young outfielder Mags Sierre was sent to the minors to make room for Peralta’s activation.
I also understand why the Cardinals feel compelled to have a look at Jhonny.
And it’s up to Peralta to make the best of the at-bats that come his way.
Peralta had a terrific weekend against the Giants, going 4 for 5 (all singles) with a walk. After his pinch-hit singles on Friday and Saturday, Peralta started at third base in Sunday’s 8-3 win. He went 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
It was the first inspection in the Cards’ attempt to see what Peralta can do.
Or can’t do.
If there’s nothing left …
If Peralta continues to be a liability offensively, defensively and on the bases …
If playing time is being wasted on a lost cause …
If a better player is sitting and the Cardinals decline to put their best team on the field…
I’ll borrow some of your outrage.
Thanks for reading …