Five days after tossing the Brewers’ first complete-game shutout in 407 games, Wily Peralta spun another gem. He surrendered only one earned run over seven innings, including eight strikeouts and two walks. The only damage came on a slider to Miguel Montero, where Peralta didn’t quite get it in far enough on the Diamondbacks’ catcher and he crushed one over the right-field fence. That was it, though. Just the one run.
The 24-year-old starter has only allowed four earned runs in his last five starts, spanning 33.1 innings. He has a 1.08 ERA over that stretch and has really commanded the baseball much better than he had earlier in the season, when he was regularly struggling to get through the fourth and fifth innings.
We’ve seen this before from Wily Peralta. This midseason turnaround is nothing new. In fact, with Triple-A Nashville last season, the massive right-hander had a 6.90 ERA from late April (when he returned from a one-game promotion to the big leagues) through the end of June. From that point, Peralta compiled a stellar 2.92 ERA in 98.2 innings between Nashville and the major-league club, and expectations for his 2013 campaign soared.
To drive the point home a little more directly, here are his month-by-month splits over the last two years.
We’re dealing with small samples — so there’s a solid chance this could merely be coincidence — but last year’s midseason turnaround could bode well for Peralta’s second half in 2013. He’s throwing the baseball much better as of late. The big difference can be found in his strikeout totals, which have jumped dramatically in recent starts. He’s almost struck out a batter per inning over his last three starts and his slider has been much-improved.
The Brewers’ starting rotation desperately needs help. It wasn’t terrible in the month of June, posting a 4.18 ERA in 142 innings, but it’s seen nine different pitchers start a ballgame since the beginning of June. The rotation needs consistency, and an effective Wily Peralta would do wonders to stabilize the staff — especially if Gallardo and/or Lohse are traded prior to the trade deadline. If the right-hander can become a mid-rotation starter at the league minimum, that’s crazy valuable heading into the ’14 season.
NEEDING DEFENSIVE HELP
Earlier this year, I wrote an article that discussed the Brewers’ rotation and their dependence on random variance because their swinging-strike rate was so low. Cliff Notes version: the fewer bats a pitcher misses, the more balls put in play, which then makes that pitcher extremely dependent upon the result of those balls put in play. Thus, if a pitcher does not wish to be subject to the random variances of BABIP, he should work on missing more bats.
That’s obviously easier said than done, but I neglected to mention an important point in that article. The BABIP statistic is affected by many factors — including luck — but a pitcher’s batting average on balls in play can be dramatically lessened with a good defense. And when you’re a heavy ground-ball pitcher, like Wily Peralta, an above-average infield defense becomes very important.
Unfortunately, the Milwaukee Brewers do not feature an above-average infield defense. In fact, they don’t possess a single plus defender around the horn. Jean Segura is roughly average at shortstop, and Yuniesky Betancourt is average at third base. Aside from that, the Brewers have little defensively on the dirt. That significantly impacts the Brewers’ pitching staff and their ultimate results on balls put in play by opposing teams.
Check out the team BABIP on ground balls this season:
The league-average BABIP on ground balls is .229, and the Brewers are 20-points worse than that league-average mark. I don’t think it can be ascribed to luck, either. The Brewers have been brutal defensively on the infield. Their combined UZR at the infield positions is a ridiculous -25.4.
This is not a simple problem of luck. This is a simple problem of having a poor defensive squad, and it’s significantly impacting the Brewers’ pitching staff. They have allowed 23 more hits on ground balls than the average team, and while that may not sound like a jaw-dropping number, that’s one more base hit than needed every three or four games. That’s one more infield hit, one more slow dribbler through the infield. That’s extending the inning, adding more baserunners, and forcing the starting rotation to throw more pitches than needed.
For comparison, the Pittsburgh Pirates have allowed 55 fewer base hits on ground balls this year! That’s more than one every other game.
Considering the Brewers have a bevvy of ground-ball arms coming through the farm system, the fact that the organization features a below-average defense infield is a significant problem. Our own Ryan Topp has previously opined that the organization should target infield defense in the coming years, but to elaborate on his point, here are the ground-ball percentages for some of the starting pitchers who could find their way to Miller Park in the coming seasons.
Aside from Tyler Thornburg, that’s a heavy dosage of ground balls that could potentially be coming to Milwaukee in the next year or two. If the Brewers do not upgrade their infield defense, they are not setting up their young pitchers for success. Now, as mentioned earlier, a part of the problem is the Brewers’ starting pitchers do not miss many bats, but knowing this, the organization should prioritize infield defense more directly than they have in the past.
Guys like Wily Peralta and Johnny Hellweg would be forever grateful.