AnalysisNL West

David Peralta is Pulling His Weight

Diamondbacks fans likely recall each season the franchise’s 162-game-long campaign reached the playoffs, largely in part because of how few there are to keep track of. As a result, the few-and-far-between opportunities to compete in October within the franchise as of late – twice in the last fourteen seasons – can stand as achievements by themselves. The most recent finished in a spiteful three-game N.L.D.S. sweep versus the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Despite its finish, General Manager Mike Hazen, to his credit, assembled a threatening roster in the N.L. West in his second season holding the reins of the organization. 

Since then, however, Arizona has long drifted from its roots, as the contending crew from back then is nearly undetectable to its current setup. In fact, amongst the 46 players – pitchers and hitters – who appeared in at least one game with Arizona in 2017, remarkably just three remain with the organization today: David Peralta, Nick Ahmed, and last but certainly not least, Ketel Marte, who inked a 5-year, $76 million extension that’ll retain him under club control through the 2027 season. Arizona’s once fully intact core has been mostly pulled apart and left to the trio as the last ones standing since the organization’s 2017 postseason run. In fact, Peralta was the sole full-time player out of the three in 2017, as Ahmed only played in a third of the season while battling hamstring issues. Ketel Marte – who’d been acquired the prior offseason – was just getting acquainted with the bigs and spent the majority of the season in AAA.

The Diamondbacks’ once lofty expectation of consisting fielding a competitive roster has obviously shifted in wake of some transformative deals, as represented in the club’s dismal overall regular-season records the last two seasons. However, the Diamondbacks’ most optimal roster in a long time has not been entirely dismantled just yet, as the trio remains embedded in its lineup when healthy. Marte’s recent extension will hopefully ensure he’ll serve as the backbone for the up-and-coming prospects in the long run. Nick Ahmed, on the other hand, just last week underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in his penultimate year until free agency. That leaves Peralta, whose status and relevance to the Diamondbacks’ current and long-term plans remains not as clear as the other two for the time being. Peralta, who is making $8 million this year, is slated to hit free agency this offseason for this time in his career. However, he might change uniforms before then, as Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported the organization would entertain trade offers for David Peralta, as well as for starters Zack Davies and Madison Bumgarner. Peralta is a no-doubt trade candidate, as his fairly low salary and ample experience in the bigs make him an intriguing bat for many teams, especially for several right-handed heavy lineups. 

Peralta’s Career

This season is Peralta’s ninth with the Diamondbacks in the bigs, and he’s pulled his weight in nearly everyone when healthy. Some can argue that Peralta’s been one of the most underrated bats in the league for years now, albeit he’s won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award along the way for some recognition. In close to a thousand games in the majors, Peralta’s batted .285/.342/.463, accumulating a 111 OPS+ and an average of 32 doubles and 18 jacks per a 162-game season. For the Diamondbacks, Peralta’s contributions have surely been recognized and valued, as he stood as the right-hand man to former Diamondback and future Hall of Famer, Paul Goldschmidt, for many years. After the latter was dealt to the Cardinals in December 2018, Peralta remained the organization’s second-best bat and sidekick in the lineup to a star in Ketel Marte. 

Peralta’s ability to hit for extra base hits while maintaining discipline and a low K% for a slugger made him an under-the-radar threat at the plate. In fact, amongst the 443 batters from 2014 through 2021 who had at least 1,000 MLB plate appearances – generously set to fewer than half as many as Peralta – only 37 players – less than 10% – posted an equal or better K% (19%) and ISO (.178) than Peralta, including current and probable Hall of Famers like David Ortiz, Joey Votto, and others on the exclusive list. However, after batting to career lows in ISO in consecutive seasons – 2020 and 2021 – concerns arose if the 34-year-old has begun to succumb to the inevitable decline in power after nine years in the bigs. When digging deeper into the two recent seasons, however, the overall results can be less concerning – or even to the extent of being encouraging – about a possible transformation and resurgence to his power this season.

What’s Changed About Peralta?

In his MLB career, a leading aspect of Peralta’s offensive profile has been his ability to consistently hit the ball hard like most sluggers in the game. Each season, his “Hard-Hit rate” (batted-ball events hit at an equal or greater exit velocity of 95 mph) usually hovers around 40 percent, whereas the league average is around 35 percent. In addition, he has ranked within the top 15 percent of qualified batters in the league in 2015 and 2018. 

More unique to his profile – as many batters can hit the ball hard – is not simply the frequency of his hard-hit contact but also the location. Peralta has been adept at spraying hard-hit batted-ball events across the field at the plate. From 2015 (when the Statcast era began, which includes electronically tracking BBEs) through 2019 – in those five seasons – only 30% of his hard-hit BBEs were pulled, where the league average is a hefty 10% higher. To put in perspective, amongst 364 batters who had at least 200 hard-hit BBEs within that span, Peralta ranked 327th – in the bottom 10th percentile per that category. “Pushing” the ball can be beneficial because of the opponent’s struggle to align a defensive shift given the diverse horizontal direction of a batter’s batted-ball events. Such skill is even more important for a left-handed batter, where the unconditional defender at first-base to receive grounders adds flexibility in regards to where a defense can position its three other infielders against a lefty like Peralta.

While the horizontal angle to Peralta’s batted-ball events suited him for many years, the vertical angle hasn’t nearly been as favorable. Peralta’s offensive ceiling has always been restricted by a consistently above-average groundball rate throughout his career. Amongst the aforementioned 443 batters with 1,000 plate appearances from 2014 through 2021, Peralta’s 52% groundball rate ranked 32nd highest – in the top ten percent. His tendency to hit balls on the ground rather than in the air – perhaps the greatest Achilles heel for a batter nowadays – has suppressed his chances of fully tapping into his push-hitting abilities at the plate. 

In 2020, Peralta seemingly began to change his power approach altogether rather than trying to rectify the longstanding one at hand. At first glance, however, the last two full seasons brought the same hitter that preceded the years prior. In fact, a 53.3% GB% across the 2020 and 2021 seasons was as a matter of fact (slightly) higher than his 51.3% career groundball rate, per Fangraphs. In addition, his low 36.8% pull rate was in line with his average each season. The shift can be displayed when looking into his optimal contact at the plate. While “hard-hit rate” certainly holds its weight as an indicator of a batter’s power, it doesn’t take into account the launch angle of batted-ball events like other stats.

Baseball Savant classifies batters’ quality of contact into six categories, where Barrel% is the most optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle. Peralta has always posted a mediocre Barrel% – around league average – each season. His Solid Contact%, which is categorized as the second-best quality of contact, per Baseball Savant, similarly has been around league average in his career. Despite a decent hard-hit rate, he’s never been able to tap into big-time power because of his consistently subpar launch angle. His Barrel% and Solid Contact% have remained unchanged throughout his career, but the horizontal direction of it has shifted to more optimal areas on – or out of – the field. From 2015 through 2019, only 33.7% of his “Barrels” and “Solid Contact” were pulled. The vast majority of his optimal batted-ball events were hit straightaway or to the opposite field. In 2020 and 2021, 55% of those types of batted-ball events were pulled despite hardly any changes to his approach at the plate. He seemed to take matters into his own hands regarding the shift to his power direction. Below is an illustration of the transformation, per Baseball Savant’s search tool. 

Left: Peralta’s Barrel and Solid Contact BBE’s in 2015 – 2019. Right: Peralta’s Barrel and Solid Contact BBE’s in 2020-2021.

Until 2020, Peralta was ripping his best contact to left and center field – to the opposite and straightaway field, respectively, for a left-handed batter like Peralta. However, such contact simply has a higher hit probability if its trajectory is in a different direction. 

In the Statcast era, roughly 80% of “barrels” and “solid contact” batted-ball events from a left-handed batter that resulted in outs were hit straightaway (center field) or the opposite direction (left field). Conversely, 20% of those ideal BBEs are pulled, per Baseball Savant. This is no secret, as pulled batted-ball events lead to more favorable outcomes. This occurrence is especially relevant at Chase Field and to a lefty like Peralta. Per Baseball Savant’s search tool, barrels at Chase Field have the sixth-worst chance of resulting in a homer amongst all 30 MLB ballparks when hit straight away or in the opposite direction by a left-handed batter – 10% below league average. This is contributed to a variety of factors, but perhaps the most noticeable is the actual tangible dimensions of its outfield fence. While the shape of Chase Field and its distances aren’t out of the ordinary, especially compared to some whacky and ancient stadiums, hitters remain disadvantaged at times as a result of its dimensions. Being the highest center-field fence certainly has its drawbacks for hitters like Peralta, and is probably the factor most attributed to the lack of success for batters squaring one up to center at Chase Field. 

Potential Resurgence?

Peralta’s newfound ability to pull the ball with power couldn’t have come at a better time, as his ability to spray the ball across the field seemed to reach an impasse that same season. In 2020 and 2021, all of his batted-ball events hit straightaway or to the opposite field combined to a .447 SLG% and an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph – both in line with the average across baseball, per Baseball Savant. From 2015 through 2019, however, he was a more productive bat on such BBEs, as he hit a striking .554 SLG% and an average exit velocity of 89.6 miles per hour within that span. 

Going into 2022, Peralta has seemed to take notice of and prioritize his new pull-hitting capabilities. Although it’ll surely regress throughout the season, Peralta – so far – has hit a whopping groundball rate 20 percentage points below his career average – around 30% so far. Per Baseball Savant’s Year-to-Year Changes Leaderboard, Peralta has posted the largest decrease in groundball% from last season to 2022 amongst 183 qualified batters. To put in perspective the gravity and rarity of Peralta’s sudden improvements, the difference in percentages from first place (Peralta) to third is an equal difference from third down to 85th. Also, per that same leaderboard tool, only five batters in the Statcast era (since 2015) have posted a better year-to-year improvement to their groundball rate in a full season than Peralta has managed to maintain so far this season. Over the course of this season, Peralta will clearly try to maintain to lift the ball as much as possible, although his launch angle is destined to somewhat regress to what he’s shown throughout the majority of his career. 

Looking under the hood this season, his success pulling the ball has strongly been attributed to his raking has changed. From 2015 through last season – even in wake of his two pull-hitting seasons – 60% of the barreled and solid contact BBEs from Peralta were versus heaters. This season, 21 out of 29 of such BBEs, 72%, were from such pitches – a noteworthy increase. As induced, Peralta is generally hitting all fastballs more skilled than ever, indicated by a career-high .400 wOBA and .548 xSLG across 117 plate appearances that ended in fastballs so far in 2022. Overall, a 10% Barrel rate (on all BBEs) this season is nearly double his average in years prior. 

His proclivity for hunting fastballs is having its drawbacks, however. Because he’s aiming to crush fastballs at the plate this season, he’s getting fooled by the opposite kind: breaking and off-speed pitches. So far, Peralta is whiffing at both breaking and off-speed pitches at the highest rate of his career, both above 35%, along with overall subpar results on non-fastballs. In roughly 100 plate appearances versus breaking and off-speed pitches, Peralta is batting to a career-worst .200 wOBA and 36% K rate, which is certainly not aligned with the .315 wOBA and 24.6 K% that he averaged the eight prior seasons in the bigs. More specifically, his struggle on non-fastballs is located on pitches on the bottom half of the box. On all non-fastballs not in the strike zone on the bottom half (Gameday Zones 13 and 14, per Baseball Savant), Peralta is chasing 45% of them – the highest rate in a full season in his MLB career. In fact, amongst 163 qualified batters (150 total min. pitches), Peralta’s chase rate of 45% within that zone and pitch-type criteria ranks 13th highest, within the worst 10% of batters.

Left: David Peralta’s whiffs on non-fastballs in 2022. Right: Peralta’s Barrel and Solid Contact BBE’s vs. fastballs, per Baseball Savant

On the left figure attached above, per Baseball Savant, is a pitch chart of Peralta’s whiffs on non-fastballs this season – a persisting weakness of his. On the right is a pitch chart of perhaps his greatest strength this season: all of the barrel and solid-contact BBEs on fastballs that Peralta’s ripped this season. While the vertical location of his whiffs clearly doesn’t resemble the figure on the right, their horizontal similarity can fool a batter, like in Peralta’s case. In fact, the average horizontal distance of the pitches in the two figures – arguably his greatest strength and weakness this season is separated by .05 inches (-0.07 Plate X and -0.12 Plate X, respectively). To put it simply, he’s swinging at pitches on the left because he wrongly thinks they are pitches on the right.

Peralta has demonstrated a plate-recognition ability before, so now it’s a matter of putting it all together. If he can manage to iron out his whiff problems, largely in part by greater plate recognition, Mike Hazen will have a valuable trade chip in his hands leading up to the trade deadline. Even if Hazen decides to hold onto Peralta throughout the 2022 season, Peralta will try to continue to hit for power however he can in his contract year.

Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more throughout the season!

Featured Photo: @Dbacks / Twitter

Paul Beckman

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Paul Beckman graduated from Arizona State University in 2022.

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