“Jose Peraza is the worst player in baseball.”
-Me, April 2018
In hindsight, it was a pretty terrible take. But at the time, there was some truth behind it. Peraza was coming off of a 2017 season in which he posted an NL-worst 62 wRC+ and walked in less than 4 percent of his plate appearances. And it looked even worse at the start of this season. Through the first three weeks, Peraza was batting .239 with only one walk. It appeared pitchers had figured him out, and that he would never repeat the success of his 2016 rookie season. But over the past few months, something has changed. Peraza, still only 24, has developed into a solid hitter, and perhaps Cincinnati’s shortstop of the future.
Let me show you a pair of slash lines, accurate as of 8-24-18.
Player A: .294/.336/.410, 99 wRC+, 0.50 BB/K
Player B: .269/.336/.409, 101 wRC+ 0.48 BB/K
While these numbers don’t factor in baserunning and defense, they do show us that these two players have been roughly equal to each other on offense. Player A, as you may have guessed, is Jose Peraza. Player B, on the other hand, is Trea Turner, the Nationals’ young shortstop who is viewed as a potential cornerstone of the franchise. While Peraza’s lackluster defensive numbers leave a 1.4 WAR gap between the two players, the similarities on offense should not be ignored, especially since Peraza is a full ten months younger than Turner.
When you start the season off in a hole like Peraza, it takes a massive effort to work your way up to the numbers of a league average hitter. And that’s exactly what he has done. Since June 1st, Peraza has hit .324 with a 125 wRC+, placing him in the company of Lorenzo Cain and Shohei Ohtani. During that time, he has struck out in just 9.7% of his plate appearances, good for 4th lowest among qualified NL hitters. While the walks are still low, Peraza’s .370 OBP during the 3-month stretch would be his highest in a full season at any level. Over what amounts to nearly half a season, Peraza has been an exceptional baseball player.
So what has made Peraza such an effective hitter? His walk rate is still among the lowest in the league, and his average exit velocity of 83.7 MPH is 5th lowest out of all qualified hitters (but still ahead of Billy Hamilton). Though he hasn’t made the hardest contact, he has made the right kind of contact, namely line drives. Peraza this season is 12th in the NL in line drive percentage, and he has seen his rate rise by 4% from last year. It’s worked well for him, as he has a 1.614 OPS on line drives, compared to just .444 on fly balls. Last year, Peraza’s rate of soft contact, as measured by Fangraphs, was a league-high 26.6%. This year, it is a much more respectable 18.5%, the exact same rate as both Jose Ramirez and Javier Baez. Additionally, his infield fly ball rate of 7.6% is much lower than the rate of both players. While Peraza may not hit the ball as hard as some of the game’s stars, he has been just as good at avoiding the worst types of contact.
Despite his strengths, Peraza’s future in the Reds’ crowded infield is very much up in the air. With only a limited number of infield spots, and a number of worthy players and prospects, there simply may not be room for him in the lineup. Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez have first and third base locked down for the foreseeable future, and second baseman Scooter Gennett has declared his interest in an extension. Top prospect Nick Senzel has experience all over the infield, and he should be up in the majors early next season as well. And that’s not to mention Jonathan India, Shed Long, and Alex Blandino, the latter of whom started 26 major league games this year before suffering a season ending injury. Peraza has played all three outfield positions in his time with the Reds, so it’s possible his future is in a super-utility role. Regardless of where and how often he plays, Peraza has been a revelation the second half of this season, and he should only continue to improve.