Last week when writing the report card for Ron Marinaccio, I noted how despite an overall strong performance from the unit as a whole, several Yankees relievers took sizable steps backward from 2022 to 2023. Marinaccio’s alarming regression earned him a D grade on the year, and while not as steep a decline as his bullpen-mate, Wandy Peralta deserves mention among that list of backsliders.
2023 Statistics: 63 games, 54 IP, 2.83 ERA (154 ERA+), 5.05 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, 22.5 percent K%, 13.2 percent BB%, -0.5 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Free agent
I had mentioned how a fair chunk of Marinaccio’s success in 2022 came from an unsustainably low home run per fly ball rate. It was the same story for Peralta, and when both pitchers saw those rates normalize back toward the league average in 2023, the value they produced correspondingly plummeted. The difference between the two pitchers is that while Marinaccio has had issues with the free pass in both his big league seasons, 2023 saw Peralta’s walk rate almost double from 2022 to 13.2 percent, equaling Marinaccio’s rate for the ninth-worst among qualified relievers.
For Peralta, this boiled down to simply not throwing enough pitches in the zone. His 29.7-percent in-zone rate was the worst mark of his career and placed him dead-last among the 162 qualified relievers. Throw on top the fact that hitters were making more contact with his pitches both in and outside of the zone and it’s evident how at-bats would get extended, ending in a higher rate of walks or with the batter doing damage against a mistake.
2023 was a truly bizarre season for Peralta. In fact, there are few better representations of the divide between the old school and new school ways of evaluating a pitcher than the campaign he just completed. Among 162 qualified relievers, Peralta’s 2.83 ERA ranks as the 35th-lowest. However, his 5.05 FIP ranks as the eleventh-worst on that list, giving him the sixth-worst fWAR (-0.5) of those 162 pitchers. Furthermore, the gap between his ERA and FIP (FIP 2.22 runs worse) was comfortably the widest gap among relievers, meaning in some respects he experienced the greatest luck in his game-level results versus the actual quality of his pitching.
All this being said, there was still a lot of good in Peralta’s season that elevated him two letter grades above Marinaccio. He finished at or above the 80th percentile league-wide in offspeed run value, average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and chase rate while also placing in the top quartile in fastball run value and whiff rate. His fastball maintained its velocity, placing in the 80th percentile at 95.8 mph. He also continued to induce grounders at an elite rate, his 57.4-percent ground-ball rate the 13th-highest among qualified relievers — behind only Clay Holmes on the Yankees — and good enough for the 94th percentile among all pitchers.
And that is where we see the clash between old and new school play out. Peralta is the type of pitcher that FIP-based models of pitcher evaluation don’t love: a high-contact, ground-ball pitcher with run-of-the-mill strikeout rates. A player of that profile does not project very favorably into the future; however, we cannot deny that far more often than not he got the job done when his name was called.
As he hits free agency for the first time, it’s fair to question whether we’ve seen Peralta throw his last pitch in pinstripes. He just earned $3.35 million in his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility and will likely be looking to parlay two-and-a-half decent seasons with the Yankees into a multi-year pact. We’ve seen the Yankees shy away from expensive deals for relievers after getting burned by the over $100 million they committed to Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Adam Ottavino, instead stocking the major league bullpen with cheap, internally-developed rookie arms. So while we won’t rule out a reunion with Wandy, chances are looking slim.