2013 Rankings: Replacing Wily Peralta | Disciples of Uecker

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By the middle of June, Wily Peralta accumulated 80 innings on his right arm, but he also allowed 63 runs in those innings. A couple of good starts at Philadelphia and Miami were offset by an end of May that saw 17 runs allowed over 11.7 IP, and a rough June 6 outing against Philadelphia at Miller Park. Peralta’s struggles in May mimic the overall narrative for the Brewers’ season, and not surprisingly, he was also one of the catalysts for an improved rotation. Peralta opened July with one run allowed in nearly 30 innings, showing flashes of brilliance that guided his overall improvement. Significantly stronger strike out rates cancelled out a slight increase in walks, and Peralta posted a 3.83 runs average from June 21 through the close of the season.

Peralta IP R K% BB% HR% BF
Through June 16 80 63 12.1 8.6 2.4 373
June 21 and after 103.3 44 19.6 9.6 2.3 429

In May and June, Peralta stood anywhere between 25 to 30 runs below average at any given time. In such a short number of innings, that type of performance is extremely below average, and certainly worthy of rotational replacement. Yet, Peralta’s case with the 2013 Brewers is an excellent example of how clubs cannot adhere to the replacement value of their players, even when they’re obviously replaceable. Moreover, Peralta’s ability to improve raises questions about how a replacement of the righty would have worked for the Brewers. If Peralta had worked from the bullpen, or in the minors, he certainly could have improved, but one might argue that improvement would not have been as striking as improvement in the big league rotation.

Rummaging through the Brewers’ transactions in April, May, and June, it becomes clearer as to why the Brewers did not replace Peralta:

April 9: Chris Narveson placed on the disabled list.
April 18: Mike Fiers optioned to minors.
April 23: Mark Rogers placed on rehab assignment.
May 8: Retroactive date for Tom Gorzelanny on disabled list.
May 24: Retroactive date for Hiram Burgos on disabled list.
May 26: Mark Rogers transferred to 60-day disabled list.
May 30: Chris Narveson assigned to minors.
June 3: Mike Fiers optioned to minors.
June 5: Marco Estrada placed on disabled list.

One might argue the merits of each of these pitchers, but the simple fact of the matter was, the Brewers were struggling with their replacement depth arms. Within the same of two months, the Brewers dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness of five potential replacement starters in their organization. Estrada’s injury solidified the Brewers’ need for Peralta in their rotation. In that regard, Peralta’s performance is difficult to judge, since his role was to eat up starts during a difficult time for the Brewers. His ineffectiveness took a back seat to the injuries and ineffectiveness of a half dozen pitchers.

Replacement Theories
2013 NL Replacement Pitchers
2011-2013 NL Rotations
2013 NL Pitching Rankings

Labor scenarios such as Peralta’s make replacement theory difficult to apply. Certainly, we can say — in a very real sense — that Peralta was worse than a replacement pitcher for an extended period of time in 2013. Yet, when no replacements are available, or the organization is struggling with replacement issues, stability, regardless of performance, becomes the key. Furthermore, at a certain point, an organization just cannot replace any more pitchers. Nine 2013 NL clubs suggest this theory, as the Brewers (12), Mets (12), Dodgers (11), Rockies (11), Cardinals (10), Giants (10), Nationals (10), Padres (10), and Phillies (10) all had at least one regular starter below replacement level while using at least 10 total starters. Only the Cubs and Diamondbacks featured below-replacement regular starters without using 10 starters; they used nine total starters, each.

In the 2013 National League, clubs used 68 regular starters, 76 replacements, and 12 emergency starters (one start pitchers). These numbers ballooned from the previous seasons, as clubs used notably more replacements than regular pitchers in 2013. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a scenario where many replacement pitchers were quite good, and replacement pitchers were actually better than at least 16 regular starters with 100+ innings. In 3746 IP, replacement starters boasted a 4.74 runs average, which is notably below average, but better than more than 23% of regular NL starters in 2013. Normalizing runs allowed based on runs prevented and league runs average, the following pitchers were below replacement level:

Pitcher IP Runs Below Replacement
J. Nicascio 157.7 1
D. Haren 169.7 2
C. Capuano 105.7 3
J. Marquis 117.7 4
W. Peralta 183.3 6
K. Kendrick 182 7
T. Chatwood 111.3 7
T. Lincecum 197.7 8
J. Hefner 130.7 9
J. Westbrook 116.7 9
I. Kennedy 124 12
E. Jackson 175.3 13
R. Vogelsong 103.7 24
B. Zito 133.3 30
E. Volquez 142.3 31

At a certain point, one wants to argue that pitchers ought to be replaced at any cost. Yet, the practices of MLB rotations simply show that pitchers cannot always be replaced; in fact, the 2013 NL shows that in some cases, many replaceable pitchers cannot be replaced (or, are not replaced), for whatever reason.

One wonders whether the reality of 10-man pitching rotations, replaceable starters, injuries, and other issues will eventually impact how clubs approach the five-man rotation. It appears that if clubs approached their rotations with a small core, and a group of several replacements that are ready to work, that club could potentially succeed against other clubs that are less-prepared to replace their starters. Yet, if anything, the 2013 Brewers prove that this isn’t the case, given their own issues with their replacements. A sizable portion of their rotational depth was out of commission by May, which changed their ability to replace ineffective starters. Furthermore, one might ask, if clubs always aggressively replace replaceable starters, how many Wily Peralta’s would emerge? Peralta’s improvement adds yet another difficulty to replacement theory and roster construction.

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