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Jhonny Peralta and the 2017 Cardinals infield

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Does it make sense to try to dump Jhonny this winter?

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For not playing much, there’s been a lot of talk about Jhonny Peralta this year. After missing most of Spring Training and the start of the year with a thumb injury, as well as a second D.L. trip for the same thumb, Jhonny has produced some lackluster results. He’s currently sitting on a 90 wRC+. He also has some negative scores according to the advanced defensive metrics, which we shouldn’t take seriously over such a small sample. My look at Jhonny’s contact quality has him pretty similar to last year, albeit slightly worse. His lowered walk rate and raised strikeout rate is to blame for the lower numbers

Most years on most teams, 182 PA of slightly below average production wouldn’t be enough to consider benching someone. This year is different though. The Cardinals have quite a bit of infield depth even with Aledmys Diaz recovering from his own thumb injury. Jedd Gyorko came into the year as a bench player, but is running a 112 wRC+ even with a .242 BABIP. Jhonny probably plays a better shortstop than Jedd, but Gyorko is fine at third and second and hits from the same side of the plate.

Greg Garcia is also an option on the infield, but is slumping a bit himself. After a hot start to the year, Greg sits at a 89 wRC+. His superb 13.1% walk rate and below average strikeout rate doesn’t currently outweigh his minuscule power and below-average BABIP at .289. A week and a half ago I used an xBABIP calculator and found that Greg Garcia’s batted ball profile suggested that he should have had (at the time) a .321 xBABIP, so there’s reason to believe he’ll be better than that going forward.

As bad as Wong’s season has been, there’s reason to believe even he’s as good an option as Peralta. Wong has a putrid 78 wRC+ on the season, but it’s at 93 since returning from his Triple-A demotion in June. However, that’s also only because he’s posted better strikeout and walks numbers than he ever has before, at a 10.5% walk rate and 11.2% strikeout rate. Those 143 plate appearances came in way better than his 2015 numbers of 5.9% and 15.5% respectively. The public projections remain unconvinced, with a combined Steamer and Zips projection of 6.8% walk rate and 15.2% K rate.

Matt Adams has struggled as well, though before hitting the D.L. he has hit at a 101 wRC+, better than Peralta, Garcia, and Wong. However, he’s also only a first baseman, whereas the other three can all play second and/or third, with Garcia being a capable defensive shortstop.

So to review: in 2017, you can count on Aledmys Diaz starting at shortstop, and Matt Carpenter starting...somewhere on the infield. I’ve been a big supporter of Jedd Gyorko lately, so in my book he’d be starting somewhere too. So that leaves Wong, Garcia, and Adams to fill out the last starting spot and two bench spots. It would appear that Jhonny isn’t really needed.

And yet, Peralta does have some bounce-back potential. Last year, he averaged 88.7 MPH Exit Velocity, this year, 87.6. You could say that’s just age-related decline, as he did turn 34 a couple of months ago. Or, you could alternatively say that it has to do with his bad thumb, which has had a rough year with two injuries.

Thumb injuries are known to sap power, same with lower body injuries. Brandon Moss had right hip surgery after the 2014 season, and could have been the explanation for his struggles in 2015. Brandon talked about how the hip wasn’t the problem, but instead the fact that he couldn’t work out his lower body during the off-season. It’s the same concept though, a player not performing as well because he’s not up to strength.

There are similarities. Many Cardinals’ fans were not happy that Moss and the team agreed to a $8.25M deal for Moss’ last year before free agency. It seemed to some to be way too much to pay for a player without a starting role. But the Cardinals saw that bounce-back potential and didn’t want to just give it away. Moss has since hit himself into the everyday lineup, and seems pretty likely now to turn down a qualifying offer in lieu of free agency, which would net the team a draft pick for their risk.

That’s how I currently see Peralta. There’s not really a clear role for him, but he’s likely not as bad as he’s shown this year. The problem is, there’s even less room for Peralta then there was before for Moss. Garcia will be out of options next season. Gyorko is performing too well to demote him. Diaz is the team’s best bet at short and Carpenter isn’t going anywhere. The only reason the team has been able to carry everyone this year is because of all the D.L. trips.

So part of me sees the bounce-back potential for Peralta, the other part sees that there’s no room on the roster for him. He also has the least years of control left, and will make the highest salary of any of these players in 2017. Peralta will have one year and $10M remaining on his deal at the end of the year. Garcia still offers five years of cheap control after this one. After accounting for some salary relief from the Padres, Gyorko will be owed $21.5 over the next three years, with an option for $12M over the buy-out in 2020. That extra two years for just $11.5M extra makes him a better asset that Peralta, especially considering Jedd is seven years younger.

The Cardinals don’t have the option for trading Peralta and getting value back. A team would be buying for bounce-back potential, and for just one year. An interested team is going to be advantageous, and looking to scoop him up for very little. Peralta’s $10M is cheap compared to free agent prices, and I’d bet on him to be worth that price in 2017 when the thumb has healed. While the Cardinals don’t need Peralta, that doesn’t mean they should just throw away value.

And that’s why I think the Cardinals should shop around this off-season. Diaz and Carpenter probably aren’t going anywhere, but the team could consider trading any of Peralta, Wong, Garcia, Adams or Gyorko. Those aren’t the greatest assets, but some team out there could like one of them enough to part with something the Cards would like in return.

Of course, it’s likely the Cardinals can’t find anyone willing to trade anything of value for any of those five. In which case I think the Cardinals should hold onto everyone. Injuries are inevitable, in fact that’s why all these players plus Brandon Moss hasn’t already created a logjam on the infield. If there’s no injury to the Cardinals, perhaps another team suffers an injury to an infielder in Spring Training, and then is motivated to get one from a team with extra infield depth.

The Cardinals stockpile depth for a reason: it’s made the team reasonably injury-proof. Even not counting injuries, sometimes a presumed starter struggles. The team’s depth stopped them from even being connected to a position player this trade deadline, which was fantastic considering the outrageous seller’s market.

So, Peralta is probably the weakest asset in a crowded infield. However, that’s more a testament to the Cardinals’ great options than Peralta being that bad. If the only option is selling low on Peralta, I’d like to see them keep him around. Demote Adams or Wong at the start of the season, whatever you got to do. This season is a welcome reminder that it won’t be very long for someone to get hurt. Doing so with Moss will likely earn the team a compensation pick. Perhaps that could happen as well with Peralta.