Rookie sensation Freddy Peralta made history on Monday night at Miller Park.
Per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Peralta became the first pitcher since at least 1908 to give up three or fewer hits with five or more strikeouts in each of his first four career appearances. While that is a mouthful, it represents something else for the Brewers and their front office – a very tricky situation.
Peralta no doubt has proven that he belongs in the Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation thus far. Through 4 starts, the 22-year-old has worked to the tune of a sterling 1.59 ERA with nearly 14 K/9 and a 3-0 record. He has given up only 7 hits over 22 innings of work, which ends up being good for a .093 opponent batting average. Yep, you read that number right.
However, the Brewers have a bit of a log jam at starting pitcher – imagine having thought that coming into the season. Jhoulys Chacin and Junior Guerra have emerged as solid options and currently lead the rotation in WAR, while Brent Suter has risen out of the bullpen as a sneaky good back-end contributor. Presumed #1/2 combo Chase Anderson and Zach Davies (soon to be off the DL) have been disappointing thus far, but they have the experience and pedigrees to warrant rotation spots. In addition, Brandon Woodruff has been more than serviceable in his spot starts thus far, and Wade Miley’s return from the 60-day DL is looming in the near future. By my count, that is 8 capable starting pitchers that the Brewers have to pick from when you include Peralta.
Chacin and Guerra are locks to remain in the rotation at this point. Chacin has no minor-league options, is performing well, and has a sizable contract, so it is safe to say he is going nowhere barring catastrophe. Guerra has been the Brewers most effective starter, and although he can be optioned to the minors, he will stay in the rotation unless his performance drops off considerably. After those two, the picture gets a little shakier.
Suter has done all you can ask for and beyond as a back-end guy. He’s amassed an 8-5 record with a 4.28 ERA, all with a fastball that ranks among the slowest in the MLB. He’s performed especially well lately, as his 3.45 ERA and 4.5 K/BB ratio since the start of May have made him an integral part of the rotation. However, Davies and Anderson likely have seniority, and with Suter having bullpen experience, odds are he will probably end up back there once Davies returns – mostly due to Peralta’s emergence.
That’s not to say Suter’s removal from the rotation is a certainty – if there’s anything this year has proven thus far, it’s that David Stearns is pragmatic in making player personnel decisions and is not afraid to ruffle feathers in order to give this squad the best chance to win. Examples of this include the demotions of Domingo Santana and Orlando Arcia to Triple-A, the constant carousel of relief pitchers going between Milwaukee and Colorado Springs, and quite frankly, the off-season acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich despite having ample outfield depth already present.
With that as evidence, it is clear that as long as Peralta keeps performing, he will remain in the rotation. His performance certainly warrants it thus far, and he clearly amplifies the Brewers chance at winning when he toes the rubber.
Some of the more advanced statistics illustrate how truly dominant Peralta has been. One such statistic is wOBA, which stands for “weighted on-base average”. Per Fangraphs, it is the best way “to measure a hitter’s overall offensive value, based on the relative values of each offensive event”. In regular English, that means that it is OPS on steroids. It is extremely precise mathematically in assigning the correct weighted value to each offensive “event”; for example, a double is not actually worth twice as much as a single, and WOBA accounts for that. If you want to read more, you can here, but I’m going to get on with how this applies to our friend Freddy Peralta.
Among pitchers who have faced at least 50 hitters, Peralta has the lowest opponent wOBA in the entire league. Pretty amazing, right? Now, I will admit that 50 hitters is a pretty small sample size, but the fact that Peralta has displayed this level of dominance over any stretch is remarkable. It isn’t a fluke, either. A different version of the stat, xwOBA, gives Peralta the 5th best mark in the MLB (xwOBA is the same as wOBA, but uses the results expected by quality of contact as its data instead of actual results, therefore controlling for any discrepancies in fielding, stadium environment, etc).
While Brewers fans are surely appreciating this dominance, few outside of the diehards likely even knew he existed at the outset of the 2018 season. Peralta has always been regarded as a solid prospect, but until now he never entered the top-100 conversation. Scouts were skeptical (and probably still are) of Peralta mostly due to his size and command. The long run will tell if he successfully puts their concerns to shame – he’s sure doing a good job at it right now.
Scenarios for Peralta exist outside of the starting rotation, as well. The Brewers’ usage of Josh Hader this season makes that possibility loud and clear. If Peralta does happen to falter in the rotation but the Brewers still deem him as a valuable asset to the major-league club, he could be utilized in a “fireman” role like Josh Hader has, giving the Brewers a dominant right-handed pitcher that can shut down offenses for multiple innings. We obviously would like to see Peralta continue to flourish in the rotation, but this is just to say that opportunities to utilize his talents exist outside that avenue as well.
All in all, Peralta has given Brewers fans quite the ride thus far. He’s provided a flair factor that no other starting pitcher on the current roster possesses (sans Brent Suter’s Oscar-worthy acting skills). Let’s hope he can continue his ascent as the Brewers sort out their messy rotation situation in the coming weeks, looking for the 5 that can lead Milwaukee to its first playoff berth since 2011.