When you think of the weapons on what should be a high-powered Reds offense in 2019, your mind likely wanders to Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Yasiel Puig, Scooter Gennett, or even Jesse Winker. The lineup could become even more powerful if the team acquires J.T. Realmuto. With big names stealing the attention, it’s easy to forget about the shortstop who has long been considered a light hitter.

But is that stigma still fair for Jose Peraza?

Coming into 2018, Peraza had a lot to prove to become the shortstop of the future. He had hit just .259/.297/.324 with a 61 wRC+ the previous season, lacking both the patience and power of an impact player at the plate. This wasn’t necessarily anything new; Peraza’s calling card was always his hit tool and speed. In his entire minor-league career, he hit only 11 home runs in 2,343 plate appearances. He knocked only eight long balls in his first two-plus big-league seasons. A power breakout seemed improbable at best.

Then 2018 happened.

Jose Peraza out-homered Joey Votto. That’s a sentence nobody inside or outside the organization ever thought would exist unless Votto was injured for a long period. En route to a .288/.326/.416 slash line and 97 wRC+, Peraza hit 14 home runs, nearly doubling his career major-league total. He added 31 doubles, an enormous leap from the nine he hit in 487 plate appearances in 2017. While the power output seems meager compared to other sluggers around the league, it changes the view on Peraza — if he can sustain it. Even if he’s a league-average hitter moving forward, that’s certainly better than being a liability.

It’s easy to look at his career numbers and assume last year was a fluke. But that would ignore the fact that Peraza was only 23 last year and sometimes players — especially contact hitters — just don’t develop power until later in their 20s. The best current example is Jose Altuve, who never hit more than seven home runs in a season before breaking out for 15 in 2015. He followed that up with a pair of 24-homer seasons. It’s wishful thinking to believe Peraza will top the 20 home run mark at any point, but writing his 2018 outburst off because of his past alone is negligent.

Still, just because other players have found their power stroke after a few years in the big leagues doesn’t mean Peraza will. Examining the batted ball data can provide a better idea about whether his performance is repeatable.

Several changes jump off the page right away. First, Peraza put the ball in the air far more often. In 2016 and ’17, his ground-ball rates were 43.5% and 47.1%, respectively, while his fly-ball rates were 29.0% and 31.3%. In 2018, he hit more fly balls (38.0%) than ground balls (36.5%) for the first time at any point in his career. His average launch angle increased from 9.9 degrees to 13.3. However, that change is only helpful for someone like Peraza if he hits the ball harder. And he did — at least according to Baseball Info Solutions.

His hard-hit rate took a significant jump from 21% in both 2016 and 2017 to 29%. While it still puts him well below the league average, it takes him out of the territory of Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon, two hitters who rarely go deep. It puts him into the range of batters such as Andrew Benintendi and Willson Contreras who can pop between 10 and 20 home runs in a season.

Statcast, however, did not record as high of a jump in hard contact for Peraza. This tracking system recorded Peraza’s hard-contact rate at 23.5% in 2018 compared to 20.0% in 2017 and 23.2% in 2016. That said, it’s not a one-for-one comparison between the BIS and Statcast. BIS has not publicly revealed what exactly constitutes hard contact. Statcast designates any ball with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more as “hard” contact.

Predictably, the Statcast data is underwhelming in terms of exit velocity as well.

  • 2016: 84.2 mph
  • 2017: 81.9 mph
  • 2018: 83.9 mph

While he did hit the ball harder than he did in 2017, it wasn’t even an improvement on 2016, a year in which he hit just three dingers. His average exit velocity still put him in 315th out of 332 hitters with 150 balls put into play.

It’s worth noting, though, that Peraza’s power didn’t really show itself until the second half of the season. He hit only five homers in 403 plate appearances before the all-star break; he mashed nine of them in only 280 plate appearances afterward. Did he make a change midway through the season that helped him tap into his power?

According to Peraza, he simply started using his legs to generate more power:

“[Hitting coaches] Tony [Jaramillo] and Don Long asked me, ‘How many home runs did you hit in the Minor Leagues?’ My best one is [four] homers. [They said,] ‘You can hit, I think, more, because now you’re working to use more of your legs.’ I think that’s the reason.”

When you compare Peraza’s swing from the month of April to one from September, the difference is clear. First is a swing from a game on April 27:

Spoiler alert: the result is the same in both at-bats. He hits a home run to left field. The approach, however, is quite different. In the April homer, it’s clear his swing relies more on arms rather than his lower half.

Now look at the difference between that swing and one from August 18, when he hit one of the hardest balls of his big-league career (105.9 mph):

You can see a clear effort to bend his knees and drive off his back leg more. This shifts more weight to the front leg and results in an even harder-hit ball. He also appears to start his stance with more bend in his knees — perhaps as a way to remind himself to load up and use his legs more during the swing.

The camera angles are a bit different in each ballpark, but it appears he maintains more bend in his knees as the pitch comes to the plate in the August video. He keeps more weight planted in his back leg and can drive through the ball with more power.

Notice how his stance at the start of the pitch is lower. This also helps him keep the weight on his back leg earlier in the at-bat, giving him more time to get his plant leg down and put a good swing on the ball rather than trying to do it all as the ball is halfway to the plate.

The change seems to have started in June. His average exit velocity sat at 81.7 mph in April and May combined and bumped up to 85.0 mph from June through September. From June on, he managed a 31.5% hard-contact rate per BIS and a 25.6% rate per Statcast. That’s quite a jump from 25.6% and 19.6%, respectively, in the first two months of the season.

As logic would tell you, he started barreling the ball up more often. Prior to June, he put the barrel on only 1.5% of all balls he put into play. That jumped to 3.0% the rest of the season. Yes, he had just 14 total “barrels” the entire season. That rate of barrels per batted ball still ranked 170th out of 186 players with 300+ balls put into play. But over half of those (9) came in August and September alone. That put Peraza at a 4.6% barrel rate for those two months, which was 121st of 190 batters with at least 50 batted ball events — a much more respectable placement.

Still, that’s a small sample size and his hard-contact rates ranked in the bottom half of the league. While he hit the ball harder more consistently, he didn’t become Aaron Judge. The improved-but-still-not-great hard-contact data could point to a fluky home run total. But it again doesn’t tell the whole story. Namely, it leaves out the fact that Peraza shows far more power when he pulls the ball or goes up the middle.

All 14 of his home runs in 2018 went to left or left-center. In fact, he doesn’t have a single opposite field home run in his big-league career. Here’s the spray chart:

That’s no coincidence, either. Peraza hits the ball significantly harder when he pulls it to the left side of the field — as most hitters do. Take a look at his average exit velocities and hard-contact rates in each area of the field in 2018:

While the difference is stark, the exit velocities aren’t particularly exciting until you look at the way they went up as the year moved on — especially to the pull side.

This isn’t to say Peraza needs to start pulling everything. That’s not his game. Despite the power surge, he didn’t alter his approach and start trying to put every pitch over the left-field fence. His pull rate stayed fairly level (around 32%) throughout the season until an uptick in September. But this improvement does show that he’s more than capable of hitting the 15-homer mark every year with his newfound swing.

Considering where Peraza was two years ago — he had the lowest isolated power in baseball in 2017 — this is an enormous development for the Reds. Peraza looked like a clear weakness in the lineup at the beginning of last year. He went on to post a 97 wRC+ for the season, which is slightly below the overall league average but better than the average shortstop (95 wRC+). From April 5 through the end of the season, he was an above-average hitter (101 wRC+). From June onward, he took it up another level (114).

And there’s still room for Peraza to get even better. He’s only 24 years old and won’t turn 25 until the end of April. He already made the adjustment to get more power out of his swing. He’s also among the hardest hitters to strike out in baseball. Hitting the ball harder more consistently will only improve his game given his high contact rate. The next step is learning to lay off pitches outside the strike zone and take more walks. Being more selective will also allow him to wait on pitches he can drive, which may help him further tap into his power.

For a No. 7 or 8 hitter, the Reds would certainly take that.

40 Responses

  1. Dave

    Good read Matt. You can see from the pictures he is generating more rotational power. Getting his back hip through and, like you said, reaching less, lets him hit the ball deeper in the zone, increasing both launch angle and exit velocity. This is exactly what Ted Williams preached and eventually put in The Science of Hitting. Nice to see the improvement – we definitely win the Frazier trade, lol.

  2. TurboBuckeye

    Good lord…the pop up videos are annoying. All the new ads are bad enough!

    • Doug Gray

      We are doing some testing this week. The videos may replace most of the other advertising on the site at some point in the future. We’re trying to find the best mix of things right now.

    • JayTheRed

      I have to say I am not liking the videos either. I’m ok with the Ads.

      • Doug Gray

        The videos, or the fact that it scrolls with you unless you close it?

      • Doug Gray

        Thanks. We will be testing the function without that some day(s) this week, to see how it effects things.

    • Ownership

      The monetization of RLN continues!

      • Doug Gray

        Unfortunately it costs money to make websites work and continue. Got to find ways to monetize them or they disappear. Advertising is one of them. Paywalls are another. Memberships are another. We’re exploring the ones that don’t take money out of the users pocket right now.

      • TurboBuckeye

        I think we should go back to funding RLN via a fund drive and ditch the ads.

      • Doug Gray

        Without diving too deep on this: It’s unlikely to happen. The advertising is significantly better/easier than the fund raising aspect in terms of what is needed to do the things with the site that I’d like to be able to do with it.

        One option that may eventually be on the table is something like Fangraphs has, where for, $XY a year, you can get the site ad-free.

      • TurboBuckeye

        I believe the owner(s) of RLN should run the site irrespective of cash flow, ditch the ads, and pay for operating expenses that are in excess of cash flow generated out their own “wealth.”

        Sorry…couldn’t resist based on some of the recent articles 🙂

        I would vote for a FanGraphs style soft paywall. Anything is better than the ads I’ve seen so far. Good grief, they may ESPN look like a charity site!

      • Doug Gray

        Just remember: the ads you see are based on the things you search for on the internet…. so what you see is based on what you are looking for…

        And I’ll tell you what – if I ever become a billionaire like the owners of these baseball teams, I’ll run this website at a financial loss. For now, I’m going to try to find ways to actually make money.

      • Doug Gray

        Those ads definitely shouldn’t be showing up as they are *supposed to be* blocked. I’ll look into that.

        As for the insurance – it’s not necessarily based on you looking for insurance, but something else that may be related to insurance (car/home for example).

      • TurboBuckeye

        Our ads must’ve gotten switched around. I’ve really been looking for a Russian bride lately!

        Language, man….

  3. Stock

    I disagree with this for at least three reasons.

    1. Most hitters have more power with pitches middle in and Peraza is no different. Pitchers have to go inside to keep hitters honest. If a pitcher doesn’t throw inside, suddenly the outside corner is the middle of the plate and a pitcher will get destroyed.

    2. The pitch in the video looks down the middle of the plate. I am pretty sure many of Peraza’s HR were on pitches down the middle.

    3. Peraza should continue to grow into his body. He may not have hit a HR to the opposite field yet but my thinking is he will hit several in that direction this year. I would not be surprised if Peraza showed up in camp this year at 210. If so 25 HR (including 3-6 to the opposite field is very plausible.

    • Stock

      The top 5 pull hitters in baseball last year per Fangraphs were Simmons, Jose Ramirez, Hoskins, Dozier and Yadi Molina. The slugging % of each of these players was much higher on pitches on he inside of the plate (but in the zone) than they were on the outside. Does that mean pitchers caught onto this and refused to throw inside strikes. No it didn’t and it will not happen with Peraza. Here are the stats

      Simmons – 24.9% of the strikes he saw were on the inside part of the plate.

      Jose Ramirez – 24.0%
      Rhys Hoskins – 29.7%
      Dozier – 24.6%
      Molina – 26.5%
      Peraza – 28.2%
      Peraza (2nd Half) – 28.0%

      I could see this percentage dropping to 25%. But any change will be minor and certainly not drop to 0% (or even below 20% for that matter).

      If pitchers decided to never throw inside strikes Peraza would be in heaven. He would crush the balls in the middle like he crushes the ball currently inside. He would crush the balls on the outer part of the plate like he currently crushes balls thrown down the middle.

  4. Stock

    One thing this article did not bring up is Peraza was more selective in 2018 vs. 2017. His Swing % outside the zone dropped from 36.8% in 2017 to 34.4 in 2018. His Swing % in the zone dropped from 67.1% in 2017 to 64.6% in 2018. Improving your selectivity helps for several reasons.

    1. It is better to swing at the pitches you can drive and lay off the others. This appears to be true in Peraza’s case.

    2. You force the pitchers to throw strikes and hence you get more pitches to choose from. In 2017 47.5% of the pitches Peraza saw were strikes. In 2018 49% of the pitches Peraza saw were strikes. This improvement makes sense.

    If Peraza comes into camp a little bigger this year (hopefully add another 10 pounds of muscle) and knocks his Swing % to pitches outside the strike zone down another 2% he should hit 25 HR with several of them of the opposite field variety.

  5. Tom

    I think he has put on 30 lbs of lean mass. The report I’ve heard is that he’s getting very strong. You can’t use your legs if your legs don’t already provide a solid foundation. He appears to have built a solid foundation.

    I hope some of this strength translates to body control on defense. He seemed to make marked improvements on both offense and defense in the second half of 2018 to the eyeball test.

  6. Dave

    I came to the comments to see of someone else has noticed this. I agree completely, adding that almost all of them are not only inside, but low and inside. Could these pitches “force” him to use his legs (and turn)?

  7. Big Ed

    Good article, Matt.

    One thing that you consistently hear about Peraza is that he works very hard on his game. I was among his biggest detractors early last year, because his swing just was completely upper-arm. But he got better and better.

    I hope the continued hard work will result this year in more balls hit hard in the RF gap. He is getting real close to be a pretty good shortstop offensively, and I understand that he has spent his off-season working on his defense.

  8. David

    Speed at the top of the lineup is an asset, but not at the cost of basic offensive skills, such as On Base percentage, etc.
    Speed anywhere and everywhere in the lineup is an asset, but not at the cost of Billy Hamilton getting 500 AB’s and hitting 0.230 with a miniscule 0.620 OPS (or less).

    Last year was Peraza’s first full year at SS, since Bryan Price thought it was better to play Cozart to exhaustion in 2016 and 2017. Comparing his fielding chances and errors, etc, he is about the same as Concepcion and Larkin in their first “full” year (+500 AB) in the ML. He is not a natural SS as those two, and I expect his fielding to be much better this year, with more experience, better footwork, better positioning on each pitch and better reads of the ball off the bat.

  9. Stock

    You make it sound like he is a terrible defensive player. His defensive WAR last year was 3.2. That means he is slightly better than average. His overall WAR last year of 2.7 trailed only Trey Turner and Trevor Story among full time SS. Turner and Story are also the only two full time SS who had a positive offensive WAR and a higher defensive WAR than Peraza.

    • Doug Gray

      His defensive WAR was not 3.2. That would mean he was a +32 run defender.

  10. Matt Wilkes

    Fair point. I’ll see what I can dig up.

  11. Original CP

    I think the average exit velocity is skewed a little because, like Votto, Peraza is willing to “give up” hard contact in certain situations. Where Peraza is frustrating is that sometimes he is a little too willing to give up hard contact on balls out of the zone, whereas Votto seems like he sticks to borderline pitches in strikeout situations.

    That said, I see no reason his power can’t continue to develop. His HRs were not strictly GABP-specials…he hit several fairly prodigious home runs last year, and out of his 22 homeruns, 7 have came out of pitcher friendly stadiums (2 @ Target, 2 @ Petco, 1 @ SunTrust, PNC and Nationals)

  12. Doug Gray

    Jose Peraza isn’t demonstrably any faster than Scott Schebler or Phillip Ervin.

    • wkuchad

      Really? I’ll take your word on this, but it was mentioned (during broadcasts and in comments) multiple times last year that he would be fastest on the team if not for Hamilton.

      However, regarding broadcasts, guess I need to consider the source. 🙂

    • Matt Wilkes

      Yeah, Peraza definitely has above-average speed, but it’s not elite. Statcast has his max. sprint speed from 2018 at 28.8 feet per second.

      Peraza is faster, but Schebler and Ervin aren’t far behind:

      Schebler: 27.7 ft/s
      Ervin: 28.0 ft/s

      For reference, league average is 27.0 ft/s.

      • Doug Gray

        Home-to-first times: Peraza and Ervin are tied. Schebler isn’t behind by a tenth of a second. Sprint speed, for me, isn’t as accurate as the 90-foot split.

    • Streamer88

      Sorry Doug for my ignorance but are home to first times standardized righties and lefties? Schebler still being slower to first tells me Peraza is demonstrably faster…

  13. Original CP

    Have you seen sprinters before? Do they worry about gaining muscle?

    So long as Peraza comes in lean, it doesn’t matter.

    • David

      Sprinters (real sprinters) have great twitch muscle reflex. You are born with it. You can train it up, but it’s not something you can learn.

      I think Schebler is pretty fast, and so is Puig.
      Don’t know how fast Peraza is in comparison. And then there is “outfield speed” and sprinter’s speed. Cesar Geronimo, CF for the BRM, had great outfield speed (long strides) but didn’t have great “twitchy” base runners speed.

    • CP

      Yeah, we’re not talking about what distinguishes elite sprinters versus good sprinters. The point is that muscle is not the enemy of speed or agility. You can look up and down any sport which relies on short-burst of speed (sprinters, NFL, NBA, Hockey), and the people competing at the top are bigger,stronger, and faster (yes, some of these sports have an endurance element as well). The average NFL CB is something like 193 lbs, and requires much more agility than a MLB SS over the course of a game.

      Only the old men watching the MLB are stressing out over a 6 ft, 195lb SS putting on muscle. Now, if Peraza was putting on substantial bodyweight or fat, it is another story. If he keeps that BF % low, its unlikely he’ll suddenly be too big to play SS. People comparing him to Suarez is weird…Suarez is one inch shorter and has 20 lbs on him.

  14. Matt Wilkes

    Was able to dig into some more tape of his swing tonight and tried to compare more similar pitch locations and swings to pick out the differences. I’ll admit I definitely fell into the trap of cherry picking video to suit my point the first time around. Appreciate you pointing that out. Updated post should go up shortly.

    • Matt Wilkes

      Thank you. Always up to hear any constructive criticism! We’d all love to get it right the first time, but it doesn’t always happen. Glad the new video illustrated my point a bit better.

  15. doctor

    Well, I hope Winker is also mentally preparing to be batting 7th most days or maybe 8th(if for some crazy reason Reds do get Realmuto). Assuming a Winker/Schebler/Puig OF, and the infield offense is still status quo, not sure how Winker bats any higher than 7th at least initially in the season. Hopefully, he is over his injury and hits like last year plus shows a bit more powoer and forces Reds to consider it.

    • wkuchad

      If we get Realmuto, then I would bat either Schebler or Kemp (whichever is playing that day) 8th. Solid lineup when that’s your #8 hitter.

  16. doctor

    As others have posted, hopefully the Peraza’s new power is legit/sustainable but also concerned if he has bulked too much in trying to add strength and then having it impact him on defense, as I have seen implied about Suarez.