One thing the Detroit Tigers fans really know about is being taken on some wild roller coaster rides. It’s not just because of the proximity to Sandusky Ohio’s amusement park Cedar Point either. We’ve endured some of the most frustrating “closers” in the past 10 years or so in Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney. We have also endured teams that start seasons slowly climbing a great height to the top, only to hit the peak in early July and plummet towards the bottom in September. It’s often exhilarating, but can often leave you with a case of nausea as well.
Such is the case with Jhonny Peralta‘s career.
Okay. Raise your hand if you thought that Jhonny Peralta was going to be one of the better shortstops in the game in 2011. And I mean before 2011. I follow the message boards around Detroit, and I am pretty comfortable in saying the expectation level for Peralta wasn’t all that high after the Tigers signed him to a two year deal instead of just picking up his option. Since I can’t see any hands raised, I am going to assume that you were just like me, and were mildly shocked at the season Peralta put together. After all, he made his first All-Star appearance in 2011, and had to have been legitimately considered for a glove of gold, despite the lack of sizzle from a position that almost requires it to be considered good.
For the first four months of the season in 2011, Jhonny Peralta made David Dombrowski look like a genius. Offensively, he put together 3 months between May and July that could’ve been considered the best in the game for the position. I’m not exaggerating either. We are talking .330 BA and .900 OPS type stuff from a guy that is a career .268 hitter with an OPS of .758. Peralta faded down the stretch in August and September, finishing the season with a .299 BA and an OPS of .824, a quality season by any measure.
That doesn’t take into account his defense either. Nobody is going to argue that Jhonny Peralta is Ozzie Smith out there. Yes, his range is pretty limited. What people, including myself, didn’t give him credit for is his hands, and his tremendously accurate throwing arm from the shortstop position. Essentially, if Peralta got to the baseball in 2011, he made the out almost all the time. You couldn’t have convinced me that he would’ve been a defensive plus from the shortstop position prior to 2011. Now, after eating the crow, I can honestly say it doesn’t taste like chicken at all.
Looking back at it now though, I don’t think myself, or any of you that were skeptical of signing Peralta for 2 years, should be all that surprised. Peralta’s career path is much like the 9th inning of many of those Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney saves. It’s been up and down. In fact, over the course of Peralta’s career, a quality offensive season is almost like clockwork.
I don’t know why, but for me an OPS of over .800 is some sort of magic number. Regardless of how a player arrives at that number, to me it just means production, whether it is on base driven or derived from slugging the baseball. Typically the average OPS in baseball tends to be in the lower 700′s, so players who reach an OPS of over .800 are much more productive than the average, and kind of in an elite class. Only 34 American League batters had an OPS of over .800 in 2011. That’s only about 2.5 per team, or a little more than 25% of the lineup. I bring this up because Jhonny Peralta has three of these seasons in his career. 2011 was obviously one of them.
The clockwork portion comes in at the occurrence of the plus .800 OPS seasons of Peralta. In 2005, Peralta had his best offensive season of his career, posting an OPS of .885. Three years later in 2008, Peralta once again topped .800, but barely at .804. Last season, he once again managed the feat, and of course did it on his timeline of every three years.
Now, that isn’t to say that he hasn’t had another quality offensive season. He did in 2007 as well with an OPS of .771, but it just wasn’t to the same level he showed us last year. And while the peaks are high, the valleys of Peralta and his output have gotten quite low. In 2009, Peralta posted a sub .700 OPS, and twice he has barely topped that mark in 2010 and 2006 as well. Guys are entitled to off years here and there, but Peralta has been about as up and down as they get, rarely putting back to back seasons together.
The nature of his career, and his downturn the last 2 months of 2011, should caution fans against great expectations from Peralta in 2012. He hasn’t put back to back seasons of quality since 2007 and 2008, so there is likely going to be a regression in his numbers overall from 2011. Still, that isn’t to say that Peralta still can’t have a good year. There could be a variety of factors in the mix that could help Peralta repeat.
One, he may just be happy in Detroit. I don’t think that I can say with 100% certainty that a player plays better when they are happy, but I imagine that it can’t hurt. Peralta has a comfort level in Detroit that he may not have had in Cleveland, and that stability might help lead to a repeat of 2011′s success. Secondly, Peralta is in the prime of his career now. With experience comes the knowledge of how to approach the game on a day to day basis, and how to approach the ups and downs of a season. And lastly, if focus has been an issue of Peralta in the past, I would imagine the Tigers stature of a contending team for the playoffs would help keep Peralta interested on a day to day basis. All of these factors make me hopeful that Peralta can produce again in 2012 like he did last year.
I do know this. The Tigers are going to need a quality offensive and defensive season from Peralta if they hope to dominate the Central once again. Despite adding Prince Fielder, he essentially just replaces the bat of Victor Martinez. If the offense is going to maintain it’s ability to score runs, it is going to need guys like Peralta to perform consistently. Defensively, he isn’t going to have much help on the infield, so he is going to have to be more steady than ever.
In 2012, let’s hope that Peralta gets off of his career roller coaster and has had enough amusement for now. It’s time for him to embrace boring old consistency.