Cactus League Game 2, Battle of the Oddly Frustrating Young Fireballers
Taijuan Walker vs. Wily Peralta, 12:10pm
Wily Peralta won’t turn 27 for several months, and has three MLB campaigns with at least 100 IP (he missed a few months last season due to an oblique strain, but had ~ full seasons in 2013 and 2014). He throws a four-seam fastball AND a sinker that *average* in the mid- to high-90s, routinely sitting at 96-97, AND he’s not some walk-prone young chuck-it-and-hope thrower. With restrained walk rates and very high ground ball rates, if you drank enough, you could almost make out a young Felix Hernandez in his profile. Last season, Wily Peralta was essentially smack dab on replacement level by ERA, a tiny bit above by FIP, and over one full win below replacement level by BP’s WARP metric.
Taijuan Walker’s four-seam fastball also averages around 95mph, and he pairs it with a splitter, a pitch that should give him something to throw opposite-handed batters…a problem Peralta’s still trying to solve. After some command lapses in the minors and early in 2015, Walker’s established himself as a guy who can reliably limit walks, and if his fly balling ways will ensure HRs are always a worry, his K:BB ratio is good enough that this won’t be a fatal flaw. In just under 170 innings last year, Walker surrendered a staggering 92 runs. Yes, his FIP was much better than his ERA, and ERA is dumb for a variety of reasons, but as we all remember, Walker occasionally surrendered runs in bunches, and if he’s going to make the leap that his second half hinted at, he’s got to get better at stranding baserunners.
Both of these phenoms have shown flashes of real, tantalizingly sustained success, and both have the raw stuff that makes it easy to dream about the dominance that lies in wait once they mature/make a mechanical tweak/fiddle with a third pitch. Comparing them in this way isn’t a slam on either, and pointing out that they’ve been disappointing isn’t to say they were overhyped or that further development isn’t coming. Moreover, I’d say (as you’d probably expect) that Walker’s got the much better projection in 2016 *for good reasons* and that he’s clearly closer to whatever his ceiling is than Peralta, whose confounding (and injury-plagued) 2015 must make Brewers fans wonder if he’ll ever figure it out.
Basically, for two organizations who’ve dramatically remade themselves with new GMs and busy offseasons, these pitchers represent critical test cases for their new player development coaches. It’s one thing to take a top prospect and build his skills over the course of a multi-year march through the minors. It’s one thing to help a veteran pitcher improve his command or to help a utility IF go from having a .350 slugging percentage to .400, as important as that is. It’s rarer to have the opportunity to take a pitcher with below league average (or worse, in the case of Peralta), apply whatever magic that Andy McKay or Scott Servais or Jamie Moyer or Mel Stottlemeyer can conjure up, and turn them into a 5-WAR monster. Is that unlikely? Sure, everything in baseball is unlikely. But the potential gains are so high, and in this era of parity, so crucial, that you have to imagine the entire M’s PD group is giddy about this opportunity. I’d expect that same giddiness, that same “do this right, and you shave literal years off of the rebui-uhh, I mean, retooling” applies on the Brewers’ staff. After an utter collapse in 2015, and after watching two of their most prized players – Ryan Braun and Matt Lucroy – shed value alarmingly quickly, the Brewers have restocked the farm with intriguing prospects. A leap forward from Peralta would go a long way towards making the years before that new group is ready to become big league stars a bit brighter, a bit less painful, than it could be.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Martin, CF
3: Navarro, 1B
4: S. Smith, RF
5: Iannetta, C
6: Sardinas, SS
7: Zunino, DH (!)
8: Taylor, 3B (!)
9: O’Malley, 2B
One of Peralta’s big problems is his platoon splits, as he became sinker/slider dominant last year. In previous years, he threw more four-seam fastballs, which is something he may want to explore again, just to give all batters a different shape pitch to contend with. Despite the flurry of sinkers, Peralta’s GB% didn’t improve. To be fair, it was already sky high, but that’s important: he can still post great (53%) GB rates despite throwing plenty of four-seamers. The shift to a sinker-heavy repertoire didn’t alter his batted ball profile, and everything he threw got hit harder in 2015. Seems like an easy thing to try, any way.
Speaking of Walker, and his potential to break out, the Times’ Matt Calkins wrote this great profile of his 2015 and what he’s looking to do differently this year.
Stefen Romero came out of the game yesterday after a weird plan, in which a Jon Jay one-hop smash caromed off of his knee, right to SS Tyler Smith at the 2nd base bag, who then completed an odd 3-6-3 double play. Sounds like Romero’s fine.
Robbie Cano addressed that weird Andy Van Slyke rant in an interview on 710am radio today. Read about it here.
Efren Navarro entered in the middle innings of yesterday’s game, and is a recent waiver-wire claim from the Angels organization. As Mike Curto details here, he’s been an absolute beast in the PCL, but has struggled in a few call-ups to the big leagues. Given the competition as the right-sided half of the 1B platoon, I’d imagine Navarro will start the year in Tacoma.