Misunderstanding Peralta: St. Louis Made a Smart Investment…Right?

Jhonny Peralta signed his four-year, $53 million deal on Sunday with the St. Louis Cardinals, and it seems like he has been under attack ever since. Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak went so far as to state:

“Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making,” Mozeliak said. “In his case, he admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes, and obviously if he were to make another one, then it would be a huge disappointment.”

This, of course, was a response deemed necessary after Arizona Diamondbacks’ relief pitcher, and the team’s player’s association representative,  Brad Ziegler tweeted:

 

Peralta1Clearly, the signing didn’t sit well with those trying to clean up the game. More shockingly, though, is that so many thought that Peralta would have to settle for a smaller deal due to the unknown that came along with his abilities after being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Jim Bowden, a former GM and now ESPN baseball analyst, predicted that Peralta would get two-years, $20 million in his free agency prediction piece released in early-November, which is eerily similar to the two-year, $16 million deal that Melky Cabrera received after his 2012 PED suspension.

However, Peralta seems to be worth the gamble, and the Cardinals are and were in a position that allowed them to assume a high price tag to make such a significant upgrade offensively at shortstop over Pete Kozma. The club has so many young, talented players, that it seems like the only big splash that they have made over the last several years was the Matt Holliday signing, which, of course, led to the departure (a seemingly wise decision) of Albert Pujols. With so many players under team-control for the next several years, you could wonder if spending big on Peralta now will effectively eliminate a future opportunity to lock-up a player like Allen Craig, Shelby Miller, or Trevor Rosenthal, but Peralta provides a lot of value at the price, even with an annual average value of $13.25 million.

Peralta3Peralta took a lot of flack from observers over the years for his lack of defensive ability. Those apparent issues can be attributed to his weight and lack of range, which ultimately led to the Cleveland Indians moving him from shortstop to third base in 2009 to make room for Asdrubal Cabrera. The funny thing is, though, is that once Peralta joined the Tigers in 2010, he played 446 games at shortstop and had a UZR of 24.2 over that time, fourth among all qualifying shortstops, while Cabrera’s UZR of -37.0, worst among qualifying shortstops (18th overall).

So many folks look at the gaps between the Detroit Tigers starting pitchers earned run averages (ERA) and fielding independent pitching (FIP) statistics and blame the horrific infield defense that Peralta and Miguel Cabrera provided over the last two seasons on the left side of the infield, but that wasn’t the case. Peralta’s RZR since 2010 is .829, which ranked higher than those of defensive wizards like Elvis Andrus (.821), Yunel Escobar (.819), and Alcides Escobar (.796). He wasn’t the problem, regardless of the labels.

Beyond the fielding, Peralta has established himself as an above-average offensive talent at shortstop. His 104 wRC+ ranks sixth among shortstops since the start of the 2010 season, much better than Andrus (86), Jimmy Rollins (94), Starlin Castro (94), and J.J. Hardy (95), and when his offensive value is matched with his defensive value,  Peralta becomes a very solid option at a premium position, which would have made him worth the contract that he received from St. Louis.

Certainly providing a 31-year-old shortstop with a four-year contract seems pretty unconventional, especially when such a highly respected franchise, like the Cardinals, is involved in the signing; however, Peralta has posted the three best defensive value seasons of his career over the last three seasons, upon his return to shortstop, while posting two of the top three OPS’ of his career over the same time period.

Peralta2Peralta could be getting better with age, possibly more intelligent in how he plays his position and taking  advantage of mistakes at the plate, but the unknown that comes along with performance-enhancing drug use and suspensions will continue to hang over the head of his career. Over the next four years, Peralta will have to prove that his inflated BABIP wasn’t due to his connection to Biogenesis and can, instead, be attributed to luck, and while he is busy making his case, Brad Ziegler and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association will make their case in finding new deterrents for cheating and still cashing in via free agency.

Unfortunately for Ziegler, it appears that Peralta was worth the deal that he received, enhanced or not.

 

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