The Yankees’ relief corps suffered a lot of injuries in 2021. Darren O’Day and Zack Britton, for example, were lost for the season, and they were expected to be major players. Positive COVID-19 cases and other physical ailments took valuable playing time from other contributors in the bullpen, too. As a result, the team needed some unsung heroes to step up.
That’s precisely what Wandy Peralta did. He was acquired from the San Francisco Giants on April 27, when the Yankees flipped outfielder Mike Tauchman to get the 30-year-old lefty. He saw some highs and lows, but overall, his first season in pinstripes was really, really solid.
2021 Statistics: 56 games, 51 IP, 3.35 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 3.99 xFIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Second season of arbitration eligibility
In a way, Peralta was Britton-lite — not the vintage version of Britton that could dominate and earn All-Star consideration, but instead the reliable one that could deliver a good ERA in the 3.00 range with a commendable ground-ball rate and a respectable number of strikeouts. Without being truly overpowering, Peralta managed to give the Yankees a legit late-inning weapon.
Peralta was called upon to get some huge outs down the stretch. Who can forget, for example, when he replaced a struggling Aroldis Chapman and got Atlanta Braves slugger Freddie Freeman to fly out with the bases loaded to preserve a crucial road win in late August?
The Yankees really love their ground-ball guys in the bullpen, and Peralta certainly fits the description. Overall, between San Francisco and New York, the lefty had a 57.9 percent ground-ball rate that would have been beautifully reflected on his ERA had the Yanks’ infield defense been better.
From a run prevention standpoint, Peralta really improved after being traded to the Yankees. With the Giants, he had a 5.40 ERA in 8.1 innings, but with the Bombers, he finished with a 2.95 ERA in 42.2 frames.
However, Peralta’ FIP (3.89 with San Francisco, 4.39 in New York) and xFIP (4.02 and 3.98) indicates that he was about the same pitcher, with only a few differences. The Yankees made it a priority for him to attack hitters with his changeup, a pitch he used at a higher rate (48.1 percent) than ever before.
Seeing how batters teed off his four-seam fastball with an .882 slugging percentage and .854 expected slugging, Peralta had to keep that pitch limited to around 15-percent of the time, relying instead on his change (.258 xwOBA, 34 percent whiff rate) and sinker.
Peralta made it work with that approach, and instead of depending on punchouts to survive (his 19.6 percent strikeout rate was well-below average), he relied on soft contact. His 85.7 mph average exit velocity was in the top five percent in the league, and his 29.8-percent hard-hit rate was in the top four percent.
Peralta’s best attribute as a pitcher is getting hitters to make contact out of the zone: he did it at a 40.6-percent rate in 2021 as a whole, and was in the 97th percentile in chase rate. That explains the routinely soft contact.
Peralta seems like a pitcher who needs to maximize his strengths to have a chance at finishing with mid-to-high-3.00s ERAs. In other words, his ceiling is capped due to the low amount of strikeouts. However, he does have a high floor, knows how to pitch, and doesn’t have any problems taking the ball at any moment of the game.
The Yankees found a good one in Peralta, and he should once again be an integral part of the 2022 bullpen. He is no strikeout specialist, but is a reliever who every steady bullpen should have.