Explaining Why the Rays Picked Up Joel Peralta’s Option


There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Tampa Bay Rays would exercise Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5 million option for 2015. Their decision regarding Joel Peralta‘s option for $2.5 million, though, was much less clear-cut. $2.5 million is cheap even for the Rays, but Peralta is coming off a rough season and it is unclear whether he can get back to his previous form. Nevertheless, the Rays will pick up Peralta’s option according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and let’s investigate why they did so.

In 2014, Peralta went 3-4 with a 4.41 ERA in 69 appearances and 63.1 innings pitched. He struck out an excellent 10.5 batters per 9 innings while walking only 2.1, but he allowed far too much hard contact on his way to 1.3 home runs allowed per 9. Nevertheless, fielding-independent ERA estimators like Peralta quite a bit as he managed a 3.40 FIP and a 3.11 xFIP. It is not difficult to make the case that Peralta was unlucky. His BAbip was .311 compared to just .236 from 2011 to 2013 while 11.3% of his flyballs left the park compared to just 8.2% in that same span. In addition, his stuff did not suffer any apparent decline.

The other side of the argument, though, is that Peralta was a disaster in everything but the lowest leverage situations. The following table is a little scary.

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When we look at data based on splits, there is certainly chance involved because the sample sizes are smaller. Nevertheless, when we can look at a more luck-neutral measure like FIP and see such a big decrease, that could be reason for real concern.

For further support, we can look at Peralta’s ability to locate his pitches. As alluded to above, a glance at Peralta’s stuff at Brooks Baseball shows little change between the velocity and movement on his pitches between 2014 and the previous three seasons. Even his results on his pitches were quite similar as he generated similar proportions of strikes, whiffs, groundballs, and flyballs (counting line drives). His command, though, is where he may have deteriorated.

Peralta’s zone profile shows that he threw 1.80% more pitches right down the middle in 2014 compared to the previous three years. If that doesn’t seem like much, think of it this way: Peralta through 1091 pitches this season across 69 appearances. On average, he threw 15.8 pitches per game. With that in mind, around every three appearances, he threw an additional pitch that hitters could easily hammer for an extra-base hit, and we know how critical extra-base hits are in close games. Batters hit .418 with a .750 slugging percentage when Peralta threw the ball in that spot, and the fact that he threw more pitches there cost the Rays a few games.

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At the end of the day, there are good arguments both for and against Joel Peralta rebounding. What the counterargument ignores, though, is one of the Rays’ favorite things to exploit: the variability of relievers. Sometimes bullpen arms have bad years for reasons that no one can quite understand, and that could very well have been the case with Peralta in 2014. His command was worse, but the Rays have certainly fixed relievers with bigger issues than his and he could be just fine next season. Finally, even if he does not perform as hoped, the Rays were willing to eat $5.5 million to release Heath Bell and Peralta would cost them much less.

If the Tampa Bay Rays saw Joel Peralta on the market for $2.5 million, they would have signed him. They did not view the situation any differently as they decided whether to exercise his option. The Rays are taking a small gamble keeping Peralta, but the Rays see a chance to get a strong setup reliever for $2.5 million and hold options on him for the future if he can get back on track.