The Kansas City Royals will enter the 2019 season with Wily Peralta as the clear candidate to close games. That could be very good, or very ugly.
Last off season, Wily Peralta signed a one year deal with a club option for 2019. He then pitched his way into the back end of the Kansas City Royals bullpen, and ultimately into a closing role. Shortly after becoming the closer, he was quoted talking about how much he liked it.
The fun did not stop, he collected 14 saves without blowing a single opportunity. It seems to be Peralta’s job to lose heading into Spring Training.
In a recent mailbag response, Kansas City Royals beat writer Jeffrey Flanagan listed the bullpen as a point of concern. That is not exactly a stunning revelation, but nonetheless it is true. The stat Flanagan gives is perfect, 51 blown leads in 2018.
Can Peralta Anchor The Bullpen?
There is a lot in Peralta’s past that says he will collapse. For starters his FIP of 4.73 last year is his third highest mark of his career in the MLB, despite posting the third lowest ERA of his career. Also, his 6.03 BB/9 is almost cringe-worthy.
To be fair though, he got the job done. Peralta was statistically at his best in high leverage situations, according to Fangraphs. This is a sample size of 9.1 innings, but his BB/9 was 2.89 with an FIP of 2.63. The 34 opposing batters hit under .200 against him in these situations.
Whether he can or not might be irrelevant, because barring an unforeseen, and extremely unlikely signing of Craig Kimbrel (again, not happening), Peralta is the best choice. With more experience in the role, he might be able to pull it off.
When Milwaukee Brewer fans hear Peralta’s name, they laugh. He was not good while he was with the Crew. For him to find a degree of success with the Kansas City Royals would logically mean something is different. Which is true.
The one thing Peralta never was in a Brewer uniform was a full time reliever. With the Royals he has landed in that role and it is helping his career. That simple fact is what is giving Peralta’s career its second life.
Reliever vs. Starter By The Numbers
The first main difference to note is something that happens with every pitcher in this situation. There is almost always an uptick in velocity as a reliever because the shorter appearance means more effort into each pitch. For Peralta, is apparent in the form of 94-95 average velocity on his fastball in years past to 96.2 in 2018. And yes, one or two miles an hour matters.
Another difference for Peralta in 2018 is that he relied less on his fastball, per Fangraphs. Last year was the first time his fastball usage dipped below 50 percent. It was also the first time his changeup usage was above seven percent (it was 11.1 percent).
That changeup proved a valuable weapon for Peralta. A simple comparison in the difference in a season shows that. On that one pitch, a whiff percentage of 17.6 in 2017 turned into 31.7 in 2018. Furthermore, the strikeout rate rose from 16.7 percent to 38.1 percent.
Peralta also saw a fairly significant increase in his slider’s spin rate. Per Baseball Savant, his 2017 slider averaged 2,109 RPM. In 2018, that number was 2,236. The higher the spin rate the better that pitch performs, usually. To give some context here, Josh Hader’s fantastic slider averaged 2,493 RPM in 2018.
Wily Peralta, Closer
The peripheral numbers certainly point to his ability to succeed as the closer of the Kansas City Royals. The way he has been used has certainly helped him find success with his new team, but there is no telling what can happen over the course of the season. Like I said before, it is his job to lose.
Baseball is not far away. That means we will see what the bullpen is made of very soon, and Peralta will hope to remain a reliable anchor to the Kansas City Royals bullpen.