There are analytics darlings, then there is Wandy Peralta.
Without getting too deep into the mind-numbing stats that made the Yankees fall in love with him, Peralta induced a ground ball on over 53% of his batted balls, held lefties to a .155 average with just two extra-base hits all year and ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in whiff percentage, hard-hit rate and average exit velocity.
Peralta also allowed just two home runs, tied for the fewest of any left-handed reliever who logged at least 50 innings. He was an indispensable part of the Yankees’ bullpen, even more so as the season progressed and they lost Chad Green, Michael King, Ron Marinaccio and Scott Effross to injury.
But relievers are always the hardest players to forecast from one year to the next. With a 1.05 WHIP — boosted by a ridiculous 0.83 mark at Yankee Stadium — there is a lot of room for Peralta’s numbers to turn on him. Right now, there’s no way to know how good Peralta will pitch in 2023, which will be his eighth season in the big leagues. What is already abundantly clear, though, is how important he’ll be to his team’s overall wellbeing.
Now that Lucas Luetge is with Atlanta, Aroldis Chapman is a Kansas City Royal and Zack Britton is in free agent limbo after more arm troubles, Peralta is one of just two lefty relievers on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. The other is Matt Krook, a 27-year-old who’s been in the minor leagues for his whole career and doesn’t figure to be part of the Yankees’ game plan this year. Barring some injuries that throw Krook into the blender, or a transaction, it’s very possible that Peralta will be the only left-handed reliever to throw a pitch for the 2023 Yankees.
That’s not exactly a bad thing, as Peralta kept left-handed hitters to a .211 slugging percentage last year, striking out 24 of them while allowing just 11 hits. The three-batter minimum for relief pitchers has also led to teams employing fewer southpaw relievers altogether, as their managers can no longer plug them in for one at-bat against the other team’s most fearsome lefty. So, the Yankees probably won’t be the only team to roll into Opening Day with just a single lefty in the pen. Trading Luetge showed some confidence in the rest of the relievers being able to stifle lefties, and when you look at some of Peralta’s teammates’ splits, that starts to make more sense.
Despite being right-handed, Marinaccio was death to lefties last year, with his wipeout changeup proving very difficult to opposite-handed hitters, who he limited to a .146/.247/.232 slash line. Lefties had a lower batting average against King than righties did, too, and during his long career, lefties have had a tougher time getting on base against Tommy Kahnle than right-handers have. If, say, the Yankees use Peralta for a pivotal plate appearance against a lefty in the sixth inning, there are people who can come in for the eighth inning to get that same guy out again.
That situation may present itself more often than you think. The average pitcher completed just over five innings per start in 2022, and even though the Yankees ranked sixth in average start length, the smart money is usually on taking out the starter before it gets ugly rather than afterward. Having an ace in the hole like Peralta can make manager Aaron Boone much more confident in a decision to yank a starter with two outs in the fifth, or when he needs an inning-ending double play in the sixth, rather than watching through his fingers hoping the starter can gut through it.
Because of starting pitchers’ shortened workload, the middle innings are where many games are won and lost now. The Yankees won a ton of regular season games last year because of people like Peralta, King and Marinaccio locking down the sixth and seventh innings. Middle relief has never been more important, and if those three are able to replicate their success from last season, the Yankees should be wearing the AL East crown for the second straight year.
But as the going gets tough and the team reaches the stage of the season that has recently doomed them, the Peralta-types become even more essential. Looking at some of the other American League playoff contenders, the Blue Jays’ and Mariners’ lineups skew very right-handed. While this is obviously getting very far ahead of ourselves, a hypothetical playoff series against one of those teams would likely feature a lot of Clay Holmes, Lou Trivino and Jonathan Loaisiga, who specialize in demonizing right-handers.
Then there’s the Astros, and let’s be real, that’s the team that keeps the Yankees up at night. Lefty swingers Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker have each already had indelible postseason moments and could theoretically get even better, as neither one has celebrated their 27th birthday yet. Those two aren’t going anywhere, and Houston should also have a healthy Michael Brantley back, adding another tough lefty to their deep starting nine.
It’s certainly not out of the question to say that a Yankees-Astros postseason showdown could come down to the bullpens, particularly how the Yankees’ unit deals with the heart of Houston’s order. They’ll need Peralta for those situations, just like they’ll need him to even get there in the first place. As the roster starts to take shape in advance of a fast-approaching spring training, the Yankees can feel pretty good about the often-overlooked, but nevertheless vital portion of the team that will be tasked with getting the ball to their closer.
With a stout, tireless lefty (who they acquired in a trade for Mike Tauchman) holding down the game’s second act, the Yankees are in great shape.
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