The other day, we heard that former Rays closer Troy Percival is interested in returning to the major leagues in a coaching role. It will be interesting to see whether the Rays could come calling. Percival had a good rapport in the organization, and the fastball-curveball-changeup combination he utilized to achieve success as a major league closer goes right along with what they have been teaching their young pitchers the last several years. But when hearing Percival’s name again, the first thought that has th corss your mind isn’t his future as a coach but the way his playing career ended. That is especially the case given how it compares to what happened to Joel Peralta this season.
The Rays signed Troy Percival in the 2007 offseason to give them a veteran presecne at closer, and for the first two and a half months of the season, it looked like a genius move. Through 24 appearances, Percival had a 2.70 ERA, converted 15 of 17 save opportunities with 24 strikeouts against just 4 walks. But from there, it all fell apart. Percival made just 26 appearances the rest of the year, and his ERA jumped to 6.45 with 23 walks against just 14 strikeouts in 22.1 innings pitched. A lower back injury that eventually led to surgery took him out for the Rays’ postseason run, but it’s hard to picture that the Rays would not have bypassed him with David Price nevertheless. Percival was 38 years old and appeared to still be going strong, but without warning, his career went into free-fall. It ended in May 2009 after shoulder inflammation. After how rapidly things went downhill for Percival, could Joel Peralta be in for the same fate?
Troy Percival from 2008 and Joel Peralta now have a lot of things in common. Aside from the fact that they share the first three letters of their last name, Percival and Peralta were both signed by the Rays after a surprise resurgent year after seasons of struggles. They both used to throw hard, but both saw their velocity wane once they got to Tampa Bay, making their changeups (in Peralta’s case, his splitter) and curveballs far more important than ever before. Peralta did have two effective seasons with the Rays before coming apart, but his 2013 season showed the same type of pattern as Percival’s 2008. Peralta’s 2.51 ERA on June 18th is almost identical to Percival’s 2.59 ERA on June 17th. Percival’s 6.75 ERA the rest of the year was certainly more extreme then Peralta’s 4.15, but take away a pair of blow-ups in early September and Percival’s ERA drops to 4.50. Peralta is a couple years younger than Percival, and the slope of his decline may not be quie as sleep, but the comparison fits on the whole.
The critical difference between Troy Percival and Joel Peralta is that Percival dealt with a series of injuries while Peralta has worn down but not to the point of getting injured. By the time Percival arrived in Tampa Bay, his career was already on the decline–before 2008, he hadn’t made 50 appearances in a season since 2004. Peralta, meanwhile, has seen his career reach its highest point these last three years, both in terms of performances and number of appearances. Peralta could very well be due for a decline, but instead of going from fragile reliever to finished reliever, Peralta may still have that state of being more fragile but still showing effectiveness left in his system. Peralta had two years between arriving in a Rays uniform and showing signs of wilting, and there is a real chance he will have the same experience between the onset of his decline and the end of it. Maybe Peralta will be following in Percival’s footsteps and see his career move closer towards its end in 2014. However, accounting for his stronger durability should mean that his fall from grace will be more gradual and he will still have something to give the Rays.