On Tuesday, seemingly out of the blue, the Yankees dealt backup outfielder Mike Tauchman to the Giants for the left-handed reliever Wandy Peralta, in addition to a player to be named later. At first, it might seem odd that the Yankees would choose to marginally add to their greatest strength at the expense of their greatest weakness.
To date, no team other than the Yankees has gotten more than 1.6 fWAR from their relief corps, while the Yankees have already cleared two wins of value. The current iteration of the Yankee bullpen is already fairly loaded, especially considering the fact that they’ve been this good without their second-best arm, Zack Britton, who will miss at least the first half of the season. Aroldis Chapman has somehow gotten even better in his age-33 season, Jonathan Loaisiga’s emerged as a legitimate fireman with strikeout stuff, and Lucas Luetge’s feel-good spring has extended into the Yankees’ most pleasantly surprising reliable contributor.
However, the Yankees have the sixth-worst fWAR total from their left fielders among all big league teams. Tauchman struggled mightily at the dish for the second straight season, but he certainly wasn’t alone. Dealing away Tauchman doesn’t solve that problem, but it certainly suggests the Yankees didn’t have much faith in him as a solution. Comparatively a relative equal to Frazier and Gardner on defense, the club no longer needed him as a defensive replacement, and they apparently trust Frazier to figure it out, or else they would have given Tauchman more than 16 plate appearances in 2021 to attempt to play his way ahead of either of his main competitors in the pecking order. To be fair, it’s not like Tauchman’s performance did himself any favors, as he recorded just two singles, a double, and a walk, for a .552 OPS to start the season.
Even though his peers have been just as bad or worse, Tauchman’s underwhelming performance and inferior upside made him an afterthought in the Yankees’ season-long plans. If the Yankees have a chance at contention, it’s with Clint Frazier peaking in the fall as an All-Star caliber slugger, not hoping that Mike Tauchman figures out how to become an average hitter again. Even in 2019, by far Tauchman’s best season of his career, his .504 slugging percentage buoyed an .865 OPS, but shouldn’t have ever been counted on to hold water due to a .407 xSLG from that same season. With Tauchman gone, the Yankees will roll with Frazier in left, at least against lefties, dependent upon the variant level of heat emanating from his and Gardner’s respective bats. Without a utility for Tauchman’s inferior stick, the team decided to cash in his value for yet another lefty out of the pen.
Although he’s currently rocking a 5.40 ERA from his 8.1 innings in San Francisco this season, Wandy Peralta’s xERA is a sparkling 2.81. Despite some bad luck, he’s limiting hard contact with a Hard Hit percentage and opponent average exit velocity within baseball’s best eight percent of pitchers. At 29-years-old, Peralta’s having the qualitatively best season of his six-year big league career, even if the standard stats haven’t caught up to the expected ones just yet.
Possessing a solid enough fastball with above average velocity, and offspeed pitches with sharply opposing breaks, Peralta has a three-pitch repertoire capable of handling batters from both sides of the plate. While he lacks the elite swing and miss fastball of the game’s best relief pitchers most capable of stranding inherited runners, he’s attacked the zone this year to a career-low walk rate, and a strikeout rate on par with his previous best seasons.
If there is one thing to watch out for with Peralta, it’s the average spin and historical lack of command with the fastball. He’s been better on both fronts this season, but has mostly generated extremely pedestrian whiff rates with his four-seamer around or below 20 percent. Also, opposing batters have slugged .500 against his heater this year, but have struck the baseball to an expected mark of .618. Last year, opposing hitters’ xSLG against Peralta’s fastball was an ungodly .831. Hopefully, for his sake, the mile per hour gained in fastball velocity holds, and he’s able to avoid getting shelled when he throws it.
Either way, Peralta’s plus slider and changeup should make him at least a solid arm out of the pen for the Yankees, giving Justin Wilson and Lucas Luetge a solid run for their money as the Yankees’ second lefty out of the pen, after Aroldis Chapman, of course, at least until Britton comes back. For an afterthought of an outfielder in Mike Tauchman, Peralta seems like a worthy investment, especially come playoff time when bullpen depth matters more than ever.