First of all let me get this out of the way, this trade hurt… A LOT. Nothing to do now but wish Mike Tauchman farewell and the best for San Francisco. Now, to what we came here.
The Yankees completely out of nowhere traded the aforementioned Tauchman for 29 year old Dominican reliever Wandy Peralta. Nicknamed “La Grasa” (Spanish for “The Grease”). Peralta is arbitration eligible in 2022 and the Yankees have control for his contract rights through 2024. He also has an option left so can be stashed in the minors if need be.
Having said that, Peralta has thrown 192 innings across 6 MLB seasons. In that body of work he has accumulated a career 94 ERA+, along with a career 4.84 FIP and a career -0.2 WAR. The numbers have definitely not been good. Are there any signs for a possible change in results in the future? Let’s take a look.
The Pitching Repertoire
Wandy is a hard thrower who has used 4 different pitches over the course of his career, throwing both a 96 mph 4-seamer and sinker, an 88 mph slider, and an 88 mph changeup. He has kept a healthy use of both his slider and changeup over the course of his career, but the trend since 2020 has been to scrap his sinker in favor of his 4 seamer. To bear:
He likes throwing that slider down and in to righties, the changeup down and away to righties, while elevating his 4 seamer. This might seem like a prototypical new age reliever package, especially when you take into account the velocity of his pitches. The issue here is that Wandy doesn’t really have the high spin rates usually associated with those high fastballs thrown for strikeouts.
Peralta averages 2300 rpm for both his sinker and 4-seamer for 2021, a value that would represent around the 45 percentile of the league. And that middle ground is exactly where you don’t want to be. High spin rate fastballs correlate well with K’s, while low spin rate sinkers correlate with grounders. Middle of the ground does neither of those.
There are also two interesting trends here: his spin rate is actually up from his ~2200 rpm career value, and the aforementioned scrapping of the sinker in favor of a middle of the pack spin rate 4 seamer.
It’s almost as is San Francisco was doing the complete opposite of what analytics driven teams like to do with their pitchers with Wandy. There might be an interesting potential here with a change in his pitching plan. The recipe would be to scrap the 4 seamer, embrace those low spin rates, and pound the bottom of the zone with sinkers for groundballs while tunneling those with his sliders and changeups for whiffs.
The Pitching Results
We’ve already highlighted that his run prevention for his career hasn’t been good. But let’s try to dissect those number much more to see if there are promising signs here.
If we look at his BB and K percentages we can see some interesting trends:
His walk percentage has been trending down from an awful 18% to an average 8% for this season. His K-rate has been trending up to an still bellow average 22%. That low value for the K-rate is even more interesting when taking into account that he’s getting both a 35.6 Chase rate and a 34.8 Whiff rate, those values are good for the 94th and 86th percentile for the majors in the young season. And here are a few examples of his slider generating whiffs for him:
As Max said, that Slider whiff percentage is a really good value and keeping that up will certainly make him an useful reliever. The 4 seamer is getting an also healthy 28.6 Whiff percentage, but that pitch was absolutely rocked for an .519 xwOBA (!!!) in 2020 and this season it’s still a bad .345 xwOBA value. This further reinforces my previous hypothesis that he should be leaning more on his sinker than his 4 seamer.
The last part I want to highlight is where Peralta shines the most, and that his his ability to prevent hard contact. Since 2020 opposing batters have averaged around 85 exit velo on batted balls, good for around the 90th percentile of the league. In terms of Hard Hit rate he has hovered around 30% in his career, a decent value, while in the young season he is allowing a 90th percentile value of 26.9%. His barrel rate on balls in play also hovers around a measly 4% in his career and that would also represent a (you guessed it) 90th percentile value for the league.
It is also worth mentioning that Peralta doesn’t show any concerning batter handedness splits. For his career he has been just slightly worse against righties (.335 wOBA) than against lefties (.322 wOBA). In the new era of the 3 batter minimum rule, this is important for any good bullpen piece.
The Yankees love soft contact inducing pitchers (Wilson, Britton, O’Day and Loaisiga are all examples of this). And this is certainly where they will look to the most in terms of improving Wandy’s production.
I must start by saying that Wandy’s profile is one of the weirdest I’ve seen lately for a reliever. From the results, to going through the strategy deployed by what I consider a new good front office in SF, to the disparity on his Whiff and K percentages: it’s weird all around.
There is certainly potential for Wandy to be better. I think his pitching M.O. will be changed as soon as he arrives to one of two options. Either he goes full Diego Castillo, throwing absolutely everything on the lower half of the zone and letting the sinker an slider opposing actions do the work. Or they try a 2021 Loaisiga approach with him throwing sinkers, changeups and a breaking ball (the slider in Wandy’s case) low in the zone as well.
The problem with those approaches is that he neither has the raw sinker velo and high spin rate braking ball Loaisiga has, nor he has the absolutely low sinker spin rate (good for groundballs) that Castillo has. This is not bad per se, he doesn’t have to become the 2.0 version of those guys to be good (because they both are amazing relievers). It is probable that a slightly diminished version of those guys will still be a really useful reliever.
It all becomes a question if the early season command improvements are for real, if the Yankees can indeed create a better pitching strategy for Wandy, and if Wandy himself can adapt to that change in short notice. Quite a lot of ifs there, but they are not like totally unfeasible each on their own.
I like the lack of a career split disparity, I like the knack for getting soft contact, and I also like the potential for more strikeouts. What I don’t like is the trade itself, Tauchman is a personal favorite of mine and a player that I think is just straight up better than Peralta (especially right now).
Maybe they finally find the optimal way to use Peralta and he becomes lefty Diego Castillo for them. Or, maybe they don’t and next year they miss the option of having Tauchman as a solid 4th Outfield who can play CF, can play good defense, and also be an above average hitter in terms of wRC+. My hope is obviously for both of those guys to be their best version and become solid pieces for both teams.
Also “La Grasa” goes straight to my favorite Yankee nicknames right now. And that is the only upgrade we are already sure to have over Tauchman’s Sockman nickname.