About a month ago, Matt Wilkes did a wonderful deep dive on Jose Peraza’s power and whether or not it could be sustained. I won’t rehash Matt’s insights, but I will offer a comparison as a footnote to his comprehensive breakdown.
Those of you paying attention likely have deduced that our own Jose Peraza is Player A. Player B is Peraza’s closest intra-positional peer, and still clearly better than Jose this past season.
Except, not actually by all that much. Yes, Player B’s AVG and OBP are about 15 points better than Jose’s, but BABIP accounts for most of the difference. Player B walks a touch more than Jose and holds the edge in the field, but Jose equals him in slugging. Oh, and of note, Player B is four years older than Jose.
Here’s another comparison, this time age-controlled, for your viewing pleasure:
Through the same point in his major league career that Jose just reached, Player B posted nearly identical stats. Jose was the better hitter by a touch; Player B the better fielder by the same margin. BABIPs the same. K- and BB-rates in similar proportion. Have you figured out who Player B is yet?
That’s right! Player B is Jean Segura, new Phillies’ shortstop and ninth-best shortstop in the MLB in 2018 by fWAR!
Okay, okay, I know: This isn’t as exciting a reveal as Manny Machado or Trea Turner would have been. Jose Peraza himself was the 13th-best shortstop by fWAR in 2018, so comping him to Jean Segura isn’t that much of a jump. But consider this, 2018 was a breakout year for Peraza, one in which he finally developed his power stroke. Segura did not developed his power stroke until his age-26 season, two years after Peraza. That season, Segura hit 20 home runs and posted a 5.1 fWAR.
More than anything, this comparison is meant to remind you that Jose Peraza is about to be 25 years old. 25! Barring a Nick Senzel call-up, Peraza is the youngest everyday starter for the Reds, six months younger than Jesse Winker and a year and a half younger than his presumed backup Alex Blandino.
Over the past decade, Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs has done deep and continued research on aging curves. Generally, he’s found that hitters begin to enter their peak around age 24, sit at peak from 25 to 27, and begin to fade out of peak around 28. Peraza has just begun to enter his peak years, showing the same early returns that Segura did around the same age and beginning to demonstrate a power stroke equivalent to Segura’s.
Going a bit deeper: When Segura had his big coming-of-age season in Arizona, his soft contact% dropped from 25.6 to 16.2, with nearly all of the difference going to his hard contact%. Something shifted for Segura, be it an approach or finally having enough seasoning at the major league level. Part of it had to be a change in approach: His pull% jumped 6 points and his opposite field% dropped by 5.
And most importantly, Segura just started swinging less. He went from swinging at 53.2% of the pitches he saw in 2015, to 46.5% in 2016. Segura waited for his pitch and made sure to hit when he got it. By no means was it a Joey Votto like patience, but it was an improvement. Regardless of what prompted Segura’s shift at the plate, it unequivocally allowed him to measure up the ball and hit it with authority.
Peraza last season saw some strains of similar transformation. His soft contact% dropped by 8 points and his hard contact% picked up the difference. He pulled pitches a touch more, but not nearly like what Segura did. There’s room, in other words, for Jose to think up the middle and turn some of his oppo field contact into line drives hit hard back to center or to his pull side.
Also, Peraza has consistently swung at 50% of pitches he’s seen throughout his career. If he could wait a little more, be a touch more selective, that extra power reserve that Segura tapped could be unlocked. If that happens, Peraza will go from a dependable, league-average player to a top-10 shortstop. Think about that:The presumed weakest Reds starter still in the top-10 of his position.
At heart, both Segura and Peraza are contact hitters. Both strikeout little and walk less. But Segura made an adjustment, right as he entered his peak, to be more selective and swing at pitches he could drive. Peraza has started to make that shift but could still stand to do more.
At this point, I’m just repeating Matt’s post:
[Peraza] 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.
The lesson here: Everything Matt wrote about the theoretical continuation of Peraza’s power is not only feasible, but it’s been done before. And a good deal of it has to do with a player’s maturation and coming into his own.
Peraza has just hit the point of his career where we can expect the pinnacle of his abilities to shine. We saw some of it last year. Another mechanical tweak or two, and Jose Peraza goes from lineup afterthought, to feared hitter. We all know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but don’t forget Peraza’s still a puppy.