It’s no secret that changes in approaches, and more specifically swings, have been taking over since 2015. We’ve seen unlikely players, like Jose Ramirez, develop into offensive forces at the plate. Some players are more documented than others, but no one flies under the radar quite like David Peralta.
Beginning this article, it must be stated that David Peralta simply being a major leaguer, and a productive one at that, was never supposed to happen. He was signed in 2006 for $35,000 by the Cardinals. As a pitcher. After two shoulder surgeries, in addition to a litany of other injuries, he was released in early 2009. The next few years, he bounced around independent baseball, converting himself to an outfielder. He was signed by the Diamondbacks in 2013, and made his Major League debut in June of 2014.
In 2015, Peralta accumulated a remarkable 3.9 fWAR, slashing .312/.371/.522 and chipping in 17 home runs. He wasn’t very good in an injury-shortened 2016, but in 2017 was roughly a league average player slashing .293/.352/.444. What we saw was a perfectly serviceable player; what we’re seeing is a bit more than that.
With another season of the Diamondbacks playing competitive baseball late into the season, Peralta has continued to be a great asset for the Diamondbacks. So far he’s been worth 2.3 fWAR, but has looked like a different player than years past. In 2015, Peralta hit 17 home runs. In 2017, he hit 14. So far he’s at 16 with two months to go, but his profile looks significantly different. So let’s take a look.
Peralta is currently hitting .285/.345/.485, good for a 121 wRC+. His walk rates and strikeout rates are not particularly different from his career figures, but his ISO is .201 compared to a .181 mark. His plate discipline stats are also eerily similar to his career marks, and usually a swing change will coincide with a change in approach. So how has he changed?
Of all players in baseball who have 150 batted ball events, Peralta is tied for 28th in baseball at 91.3 MPH average exit velocity. To give you some context, Mike Trout is at 91.4 MPH. It’s a very impressive figure. With Peralta’s career batting average of .291, and a career BABIP of .338, it’s clear Peralta can make quality contact. Last year? Peralta sat tied for 133rd with an average exit velocity of 88 MPH.
One of the things you might have assumed about David Peralta is that he’s small, or more of a slap hitter. That was my first thought, anyway, especially for a guy who only hit it 88 MPH on average last year. Peralta is actually quite physically imposing, standing at 6’1″ and weighing 210 pounds. The power has always been in the frame, it just took a mechanical adjustment to tap into it.
With the huge increase in average exit velocity, this has led to a better hard hit rate. He’s sat at 35% for his career, but is hitting almost half of everything hard, the owner of an impressive 43.9% figure this year. His launch angle, surprisingly, hasn’t moved too much, but his improvement has largely come in the form of more barrels. He’s increased his barrel percentage by 1.4% over his carer mark (7.5% this year), rivaling his excellent 2015 season (7.7%). It may not seem particularly impressive, but the MLB average is 6.1%, the same as his career mark.
As I mentioned before, Peralta makes pretty good contact, but despite in improvement in his overall line this year, a lot of the underlying approach metrics remain the same. Here’s what’s different.
Here’s a screenshot from 2017. You can see his hands are in a fairly normal position with an open lower half, despite his upper body seeming somewhat turned away from the pitcher. This next picture is a screenshot from 2018.
The difference here is fairly jarring. The pitchers are in roughly the same position, but Peralta is immediately more closed off in his lower half, open in his upper half, and with his hands much lower. He’s also more upright than what we saw. His launch angle increased 2.1% from last year, and we can probably see why. With a lower starting position for his hands, this allows him to get under, and through the ball much easier, leading to his bat staying in the zone longer, increasing his quality of contact.
Does this make sense given everything we know with his barrel increase? It does. An 18.4% HR/FB rate is mostly unsustainable, but when you’re hitting the ball as hard as he does it’s not ridiculous to think a lot of it will stick. He’s still growing and evolving, but most of the stats this year actually align very closely with his excellent debut year. Last year he may have been feeling the lingering results of the previous year’s injuries, as well as a league adjustment. It looks like he may be adjusting back.
And what is an adjusted back David Peralta? Very, very good. He has a case for being one of the most underrated players in baseball who is still evolving at 30 and who has reinvented himself in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Peralta ended up being one of the biggest offensive forces in baseball over the next five years if he continues to improve. You might think it’s completely improbable, but his entire career has been completely improbable.
The Diamondbacks are a very fun team for a lot of different reasons. David Peralta is one of those reasons. He’s also kind of an incredible story. I’d say we should all be David Peralta fans, because that’s one of the things I love most about baseball. The untold stories and journeys of what seem to be the most marginal of players can be transformative and new, no matter how long we’ve been following this great game.