31 August 2012
Lynn Henning had a column up on The Detroit News yesterday about the likely roster turnover we can expect between this year and next. It’s actually a good piece in its simplicity – just a list of players with a short blurb on each – but it does a nice job of showing just how different next year’s squad may be.
I suggest reading the full piece if you haven’t already, but here’s the list of guys he’s says won’t be back:
Jose Valverde, RP
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Jeff Baker, IF/OF
Ryan Raburn, IF/OF
Brennan Boesch, OF
Quintin Berry, OF
Delmon Young, OF/DH
Anibal Sanchez, SP
Phil Coke, RP
Ramon Santiago, IF
I think the list is sound in a general sense, although we could nitpick about the roles of Santiago, Boesch, and Berry, but I do have one major gripe and it’s about Peralta being included on this list. In fairness to Henning, he’s not suggesting that the Tigers walk away from Peralta, but he advocates that trading him might help to plug holes elsewhere (namely defensive holes). Here’s what he says about him:
Tigers will make this easy and pick up his 2013 option for $6 million. Question is: Will they then deal him as their best shot at improving an infield's sad defense? There's a market, albeit a small one, for Peralta. The Diamondbacks were interested in him ahead of July's deadline, probably in a swap they later made that sent Stephen Drew to Oakland.
I think Jhonny tends to get lumped in with the “struggling” bottom half of the batting order when we (the fans) complain about lackluster offensive nights (like the last two) and stranding runners on base, but the truth of the matter is that Peralta hits very well for a shortstop even if he’s not producing at the level he was a year ago. The average batting line for an MLB shortstop this season is .255/.308/.376. Jhonny’s line on the year is .256/.319/.410 (and his career line is just slightly above this). So while trading Peralta might yield a play that’s a defensive upgrade, that upgrade would almost certainly come at the cost of a worse hitting shortstop.
And beside, what “infield defensive holes” would they plug? With Victor Martinez due back next year Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will be forced to remain in the field, and Omar Infante has already filled in the second base void nicely (and he’s under contract for next season as well). The only defensive “hole” left in the infield is at shortstop. But I’ve never been convinced that Jhonny is really that big of a problem defensively.
Peralta gets torched by fans and media members for his poor range, and he probably deserves some criticism there, but below average range doesn’t automatically make one a below average fielder. He’s as sure-handed as they come and makes a play on just about every ball he can get to. There’s something to be said about that. Using advanced defensive data at shortstop going back through the last six years (back through 2007) Peralta rates as an average-to-slightly-above defender. He’s exactly even in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), his Revised Zone Rating (RZR) is .001 above the MLB average at the position, and he’s been +1.1 runs according to Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150). His range component of UZR takes a big hit (-13.1 in range runs over the time span), but he makes up for it with his lack of errors (+16.6 in error runs).
Jhonny as an above average defender isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on, but it’s time to put the “he’s horribly awful” sentiment to rest. If he’s below average*, and I’m willing to concede he might actually be, it’s not by a whole lot. His career UZR/150 is ‘only’ -1.8 runs (he had some bad years early on with Cleveland), and his numbers have actually been trending upward. So while he’s certainly not a defensive wizard, he’s not much of a liability out there either (if at all).
*This is the point where it’s important to note that below average isn’t necessarily the same as “bad”. Just by the very nature of things about 15 teams (speaking generally) must field a “below average” player at any position.
But the biggest no-brainer about this whole decision is his contract. The Tigers hold a $6 million team option on Peralta which is a pittance for an above-average player at his position. Here’s some context. Since 2010 (the year Jhonny joined the Tigers), Peralta has been worth 8.6 WAR (FanGraphs) at shortstop. That’s more than Derek Jeter, Starlin Castro, and Asdrubal Cabrera (to name a few). Depending on who you ask (and what data you use), the going rate for one win on the free agent market is in the $4.5-$6 million range. So to buy Peralta’s production, one would expect to spend around $12 million per season (using the low end of the pay scale range at 2.9 WAR per season).
Any way you slice it it’s hard to argue with the fact that Peralta’s contract carries a good deal of surplus value. Henning’s suggestion that a Peralta trade would yield a return in the vein of Stephen Drew (who’s been injured and ineffective recently) shows that his contract probably holds more actual value than it would trade value. You’re just not going to find a better overall shortstop for under $6 million.
So sure, trading Peralta may bring back a marginal improvement on infield defense, but the team would be sacrificing overall value in order to do so. The Tigers are already carrying a heavy payroll and moving one of the friendlier contracts would certainly do nothing to increase flexibility in that department.
Matt Snyder writes about Baseball, Football, and College Basketball. He can be found online as the creator and editor of Forever Faithful, the editor of The Tigers Den, a contributor to Call To The Pen, and a contributor to SideLion Report. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.