With a pretty hefty four-year, $53-million contract signed over the offseason, many people wondered just how much true value Jhonny Peralta would provide to the Cardinals. Would he be an upgrade over Pete Kozma? Absolutely. Would he be worth $13.25 million of average annual value? Possibly, and with only one eighth of the contract complete, many things could still change. However, Peralta's first half of 2014 will be one that fans will remember for a very long time.
At the All-Star break, Peralta has an decent .253 batting average and is third on the team in strikeouts with 66 (17.9 K%). Based on his UBR of -2.5, his base running has been worse than below average with the Redbirds, and the only player below him on the active roster is the not-so-nimble Allen Craig. If you stop at these three statistics and place an increased importance on batting average, you apparently have one of the most disappointing offseason signings, at least according to this unbelievably wacky article by Jon Heyman, baseball insider for CBS Sports.
First and foremost, Peralta's dip in batting average can largely be attributed to the fact that he has hit into some constant bad luck and subsequently leading to the third lowest BABIP on the team (.275). Peralta is barreling the ball like he always has been (21.5 LD%), so Heyman's note about his batting average reeks of ignorance. Continuing with his offensive numbers, Peralta leads the team in doubles (25), home runs (14), and ISO (.204) being the most notable. At times earlier in the season, Peralta appeared to be the only bat in the lineup that provided some punch.
Well, we pretty much knew what we were getting with Peralta offensively, but the pleasant surprise has been his overall effectiveness with the glove. Sure, he was unfairly criticized about his defensive ability, largely due to his body type, but this doesn't take away from the fact that he is currently having the best defensive season of his career. It's not just the best of his career, but it is also near the top of the league as well. He is fifth in all of baseball (and second among shortstops, behind Zack Cozart) with 14 defensive runs saved (DRS). He has the ninth highest UZR at 8.7. He is toward the bottom in "out of zone plays made" with 35, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of making dazzling plays as well.
His contributions with the bat, with the glove, and on the base paths all add up to one solitary value: his fWAR. At the break, Peralta has been worth 3.1 fWAR (which equates to roughly $17.1 million on the free agent market). Dating back to 1974, this is the fourth highest first-half fWAR from a Cardinals shortstop. You read that correctly. Over the last 41 seasons, Peralta has had the fourth highest first-half fWAR, and that includes players such as Edgar Renteria, Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton, and yes, even Ryan Theriot.
As usual, if the graph appears distorted on your phone, click here.
As you can see, only '87 Ozzie, '89 Ozzie, and '03 Renteria had higher first-half fWARs than Peralta. With 3.3 and 4.3 at the break, '87 Ozzie and '89 Ozzie went on to accumulate 6.3 fWAR and 6.7 fWAR, respectively. '03 Renteria had 3.8 at the break and finished at 6.4. Will Peralta reach any of these? With only 66 games remaining after the break, it is highly unlikely, but to be frank, he doesn't have to reach them. As long as he continues to be fantastic in the field and provide some pop at the plate, he will provide value that cannot be completely quantified.
I could see Peralta finishing between 5.0 to 5.2 fWAR in 2014, and that will be more than what the club could have expected from him. Will he be able to maintain a valuable level of play over the course of his four-year contract? I highly doubt it, but to be honest, I don't really care at this point. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy watching a shortstop that is capable of both hitting and playing defense, for the first time since 2005.