The Tampa Bay Rays have seen their fair share of bullpen realignment in the past few days. On Sunday, Heath Bell was designated for assignment, and Nate Karns was called up to give the bullpen some rest. Karns would not pitch in the game, and was subsequently sent down after the game. Brad Boxberger was then recalled prior to Tuesday’s game, and it seemed the bullpen finally had found their seven pitchers for the long haul. The Rays still had only one left-hander in the bullpen in Jake McGee, and the fact that their bullpen looked to be set for the long-term with only one lefty seemed worrisome. But, despite there being talk that the Rays have needed a second southpaw in the bullpen ever since Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard joined the rotation, they have never needed to bring in another lefty because of Joel Peralta.
Peralta is a right-hander, so naturally one would assume that his specialty is getting right-handed hitters out. However, this is not the case. In 2013, righties hit Peralta to a .213/.303/.324 (.627 OPS) line, while lefties hit him to just a .163/.263/.293 (.556 OPS) line. Even in 2012, lefties hit him to just a .556 OPS while righties put up a .708 OPS against him. While Peralta’s numbers against righties are solid enough, his ability to get lefties is what makes him stand out. Thus, in the absence of a second lefty in the bullpen for most of this year, Joe Maddon has used Peralta to come in and get tough outs when the opposing team sends a left-hander to the plate. The Rays bullpen has increased flexibility because of it, and they do not have to carry a traditional lefty-specialist that is useless against right-handers. Peralta’s ability to get left handers out is a hugely valuable, and is an underrated part of this Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.
Thanks to Peralta, the Rays were able to call up Brad Boxberger. Boxberger was the Rays best Triple-A reliever, and he is good enough to where he could quickly establish himself as a late-innings option for the Rays. If the bullpen was built on pure skill alone, Boxberger likely would have found himself with a permanent job out of spring training, but roster considerations led him going down to Triple-A. Without Peralta’s ability to get lefties out, the Rays would likely have been forced to call-up left-hander Jeff Beliveau instead of Boxberger. Don’t get me wrong, Beliveau is a capable reliever, but he does not come with the late-innings upside that Boxberger does. With Peralta serving as the Rays second “lefty”, they were able to bring up Boxberger rather than Beliveau, and that alone could be the difference in a couple of wins this season.
The Tampa Bay Rays only have one true lefty in their bullpen, but Peralta’s ability to get out left-handers with ease means they do not need any more than that. Not only does having Peralta keep them from having to use a lefty-specialist that is incapable of getting out right-handers, but it also allowed the Rays to call upon righty Brad Boxberger instead of a lefty, something that could pay huge dividends down the road. Joel Peralta gets credit for being a good reliever, but the flexibility that he adds to the bullpen extends his value well beyond that.