There's no two ways to describe it: Wily Peralta has been bad this season. Not even just bad, he's literally been the one the worst starting pitchers in baseball in the season's early going. The Brewers' Opening Day starter is now 0-3 and has been shelled in each of his three appearances so far in 2016.
Peralta's 10.13 ERA ranks dead last among the 98 pitchers that have thrown at least 10 innings this season. His 7.49 FIP beats only the 8.49 mark posted by Shelby Miller, and Miller is also the only pitcher who holds a worse fWAR total than Peralta's -0.2. Peralta's allowing hard contact at a 42.6% clip and he has already served up four home runs in 13.1 innings pitched. He's walking batters at an 11.9% rate. Batters are hitting .345 of Big Wily, and lefties in particular are lighting up Peralta to the tune of a .367/.469/.800 slash line in the season's early going.
This alarming lack of success isn't anything new, either. Since returning from a trip to the disabled list with an oblique strain on July 28th last season, Peralta has posted a 6.35 ERA and 5.50 FIP in 14 starts covering 68.0 innings. He's walked nearly as many hitters (31) as he's struck out (36) while posting a 1.74 WHIP and 1.32 HR/9 rate. In nine of those fourteen starts, he's lasted 5.0 innings or less.
Patience with Peralta is running thin among the fan base. To this point he has failed miserably in delivering upon his once considerable promise. Many thought Peralta could be a possible front of the rotation type starter, but these days it's looking more and more uncertain that Wily is even able to be your run-of-the-mill innings eater type at the back of the rotation with any consistency. He's always had great "stuff" with his 95+ MPH sinker and hard, sharp-breaking slider, but below-average command and a lack of confidence in his changeup have kept Peralta from coming close to reaching his ceiling. So what do the Brewers do?
The more immediate answer here is nothing, of course. He's making $2.8 mil this season in his first year of arbitration eligibility and given that he's already accrued three-plus years of big league service time, he cannot be optioned to the minors without first clearing revocable waivers. Because of the money and development time that the club has invested in Peralta they'll surely want to give him every opportunity to succeed. Given that wins and losses don't really matter for anything in this rebuilding year, expect the leash to be relatively long.
If Wily doesn't figure it out soon though, one would have to wonder how much being run out there every five days only to get shelled is damaging his confidence. Zach Davies is slated to enter the starting rotation on Sunday until Matt Garza returns, which is tentatively thought to be sometime in late May. Depending on how well Davies performs the club may be wary to yank him out of the rotation. Unless Peralta starts showing glimpses of the pitcher he was in 2014, it might soon be time to consider relegating him to the bullpen.
Since his days coming up through the system there have been some scouts that have maintained that a relief role may ultimately be where Big Wily could have the most success. Relievers don't need great command or a third pitch in the same way that a starting pitcher does and can more easily be shielded from opposite handed batters. That somewhat negates the fact that Wily can't get out lefties and that he doesn't have a usable changeup. If he was only throwing an inning at a time then he could really ratchet up his potentially dominant fastball-slider combination a couple of miles-per-hour, as well.
Ultimately this is a make-or-break season for Wily Peralta. Now that the soon-to-be 27 year old has entered arbitration, his salary will continue to rise and his performance needs to justify the money he's being paid. Though he's likely to improve upon an ERA of up over 10, Peralta hasn't been very good as a starter for awhile now and he may only have another month or so worth of starts to show something before the club is forced to make a decision. A conversion to relief may be the best course of action for hoping to salvage some value out of Peralta at this point, and if he continues to struggle throughout the season he could begin hearing his name whispered as a non-tender candidate heading into this upcoming winter.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs