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Can Jose Peraza be a long-term solution at shortstop?

He was a terrible hitter last season. What can he do to improve?

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Back in late July, I asked the question “What if Jose Peraza doesn’t get better?” At the time, he was hitting a feeble .249/.275/.322 and I figured the Reds might be in a position to review his role in this here rebuild. He lost some playing time at 2B to Scooter Gennett, but he did hit better over the last few months of the season. From July 28th on, he slashed a stomachable .285/.354/.331. That was apparently enough to convince the Reds to stick with him as the starting shortstop (for now, anyway) and close the book on the Zack Cozart chapter of our story.

I’m still not convinced, though. His glove seems to be good enough to play passably well around the keystone, but his bat is very much in question. He is really, really good at putting the bat on the ball, as evidenced by his 13.5% strikeout rate (23rd-best in all of baseball). His thin 3.9% walk rate is also pertinent. But while he doesn’t swing and miss much, he was too often getting the bat knocked out of his hands. He led the leagu in soft contact percentage, an ignominious superlative. 26.6% of the balls he hit were hit weakly. His .324 slugging percentage was tied for second-worst in the league. A sharp skill for making contact isn’t really worth much if you can’t make hard contact. A harmless pop-up to the first baseman is an out nearly as often as a strikeout is.

The good news is that I don’t think he has to make a million drastic changes to get to good. His hitting profile looks very similar to that of the recently traded Dee Gordon. Here are his relevant numbers: He had a 13.4% K rate, a 3.6% BB rate, and a 24.7% soft contact rate. Those numbers are startlingly similar, but here’s the kicker: Gordon slashed .308/.341/.375. That helped create 2.1 offensive runs as opposed to Peraza’s -22.2. Gordon was two full wins better with the bat than Peraza was.

How could their component numbers be so similar while their results were so dramatically different? Let’s take a look at all that soft contact these guys are making. For speedy little fellas like Peraza and Gordon, the absolute worst thing they can do is pop the ball up. Harmless infield flies turn into outs more than just about anything else whether you are fast or not. Peraza’s infield fly percentage was a demoralizing 13.2%. Gordon, meanwhile, popped out to an infielder just 2.9% of the time. He kept the ball on the ground so much last season that he led the league with a 2.93 GB/FB ratio. Peraza’s was just 1.5. Gordon accumulated 40 infield and bunt hits, while Peraza did it just 20 times. Dee Gordon is one of the best in the business at hitting the ball on the ground and legging out base hits. Peraza is not, but I think he can get better.

A lot of folks wear themselves out yelling about how guys like Peraza and his teammate Billy Hamilton could be MVPs if they hit more grounders and bunted more. Of course, those skills are much harder to develop than these folks will let on, but that doesn’t mean they are completely wrong. Now, it would probably be impossible to teach a guy like Brian McCann to beat the ball into the ground and run out some base hits. Guys like him are way too slow to make it work. Peraza, on the other hand, is fast enough to open up the possibility. If he can fix his swing to trade a good number of those pop-ups for ground balls, it very well could be the difference between “Jose Peraza, Above-Average Major League Shortstop” and “Jose Peraza, Fastest Guy on the Tulsa Drillers Roster.”