Jhonny Peralta and a Lesson in Context

A decent number of Detroit sports personalities hate Jhonny Peralta. They think he’s a bad defender and unimpressive hitter. But they’re wrong and they’re wrong for an important reason. Position matters.

Peralta has been as durable as they come and hasn’t been on the DL in his entire career. He’s a lock for 145+ games and he’ll hit .250, walk a little less than average, and hit for average power. He’s not rangey, but he’s reliable on defense. He’s consistent. He’s shown the ability to hit .300 with a lot of power, but even if you don’t buy that ceiling, the floor is pretty stable and safe.

So if you look at a .264/.327/.422 hitter, you’re not thinking about a great player. But that actually depends. If that guy is hitting third and playing first base for you, you’re in trouble. But if he hits eighth and plays shortstop, you’re thrilled. This is a lesson in context.

In 2012, by WAR, Peralta was the 14th best shortstop in baseball with 2.6 (probably 13th if we don’t count Ben Zobrist who wasn’t a full time shortstop). Fourteenth is dead on average. In order to improve at shortstop, the Tigers would need to find a way to get a player who’s ahead of him on this list:

Alcides Escobar, Zack Cozart, J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Starlin Castro, Erick Aybar, Elvis Adrus, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond, and Ben Zobrist.

Those are the shortstops who were more valuable in 2012 than Peralta. Those are all big league starters and their teams aren’t giving them away. Those guys were better than Peralta in a down year for Peralta. In 2011, Peralta was third among MLB shortstops in WAR with 5.2, trailing only Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki.

From 2006-2012, Peralta was the 12th best shortstop in baseball. This, remember, is a lesson in context.

The context is the position you play. Peralta is not a great hitter. His .324 wOBA since 2006 is very average. But shortstops are lesser hitters as a group. Peralta’s average-ness is actually quite valuable from the shortstop position. You can’t compare him to everyone, just the players who play his position, and against them, he stacks up well.

He’s an average to slightly above average shortstop. You can’t replace him with Danny Worth or Ramon Santiago and get better. 15-20 teams would be very happy to take Jhonny Peralta from the Tigers and improve their middle infield.

You might think Peralta is lackluster on offense, but you have to realize the bar is lower for shortstops than it is for players on the corners.

His defense is also hotly debated. A lot of people think he’s terrible. The advanced metrics actually seem to love him. He’s posted a 9.9 UZR each of the last two seasons (meaning he’s been a win better than average at short each year). A lot of his critics read these numbers and scoff and say he benefits from good positioning by the coaching staff.

But you can’t deny what UZR is telling you. It might not mean Peralta is great on defense, but it does mean that he is getting to enough balls to be worth a win a season on defense. He might be getting aid from his coaches, but it is happening. Brendan Ryan would outperform him in the same context, but Peralta is performing well, even if someone else could take the Tigers’ coaches and use them even better.

I’ve read other metrics and watched with my own eyes and I think it’s fair to say Peralta is good going to his left and a little less rangey going to his right. He has good hands and generally makes accurate throws. With the help of good positioning, he’s helped the Tigers win on defense. He might not be miraculous himself, but remember, this is a lesson in context. In the situation he plays in, he is doing well.

So while a lot of people complain about Peralta, he’s clearly an average or better shortstop and is very durable. He’s also cheap at $6.5 million a season. Excellent shortstops are rare and expensive. Peralta is cheap, durable, and pretty good. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

The Tigers are a good team with a lot of star power. Peralta is a good compliment. He’s a good, cheap player at a position with few true stars. The people who want to get rid of Peralta need to take a long hard look at the rest of the league.

The league average production at shortstop in 2012 was .256/.310/.375. That looks an awful lot like the Peralta floor. You can’t compare him to Prince Fielder. Fielder plays first base and the league average first baseman in 2012 hit .257/.330/436. Way more walks, way more power. It’s a different position, so it’s a different set of expectations.

Jhonny Peralta is a guy you want to hang on to if you’re the Tigers, not a guy you need to replace.

One response

  1. […] studying the Tigers offensive statistics so far, I spent some time looking into Jhonny Peralta, whom I have generally defended, but decided that his extremely good numbers so far (3rd in SS WAR) are driven somewhat by a high […]

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