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Wily Peralta’s time with the Milwaukee Brewers may be running out

The former top prospect has struggled with his conversion to relief.

San Francisco Giants v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

“Frankly, it’s getting tough.”

That was Craig Counsell’s response when asked after Monday’s ballgame about staying patient with starter-turned-reliever Wily Peralta. After opening the year with a 6.08 ERA through his first 8 starts, the organization made the move to put Big Wily in the bullpen. Many fans and pundits thought this decision was long overdue, especially in light of the fact that he really only throws two usable pitches - the fastball and slider - and Peralta’s significant struggles across the last three seasons (outside of a 10 start stretch to close out 2016) since his “breakout” in 2014. The answer to the former top prospect’s issues would be to let him loose in the bullpen, where he could rare back and let his “great stuff” do its magic. Surely he could succeed in shorter stints, right?

After he punched out 5 Cubs in two scoreless innings during his bullpen debut, there was plenty of optimism around Bullpen Wily. Unfortunately, the transition to relief hasn’t worked out as well as anyone has hoped. In 9 relief appearances spanning 13.2 innings, Peralta has coughed up a 10.54 ERA and has walked (11) nearly as many batters as he’s struck out (14). He has yet to give up a home run as a reliever, but he isn’t generating grounders like he used to; his 44.1% ground ball rate this season is below the league average and is more than 7 percent below his career mark. He’s throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone than ever before, and as a result his walk rate (11.3%), WHIP (1.71), and ERA have soared to career-worst levels. Peralta has given up at least one earned run in his last 7 appearances, and he allowed multiple runs in five of those contests.

Peralta does throw hard, but his raw “stuff” isn’t really that great any longer. Brooks Baseball has a neat feature that compares a pitcher’s movement and velocity to the rest of the league, and scales it to fit on the 20-80 scouting scale (where 50 is average). Here’s how his three most-used pitches - four-seam, sinker, and slider - fit on the scale this season:

Four-seam: 66 Velo || 45 HMov || 54 VMov
Sinker: 70 Velo || 46 HMov || 60 VMov
Slider: 54 Velo || 48 HMov || 51 VMov

Peralta does indeed have plus velocity on his four-seam fastball and sinker, but both have below average horizontal movement and are therefore relatively “straight” offerings. The slider features slightly above average velocity, but only roughly average vertical and horizontal movement. Wily may be able to run the ball up to the plate with the best of them, but his stuff doesn’t have much “life” when compared to other pitchers. (And before you say that ‘a pitcher throwing hard won’t get as much movement,’ keep in mind that Jimmy Nelson (70 Velo/54 HMov/54 VMov) and Jacob Barnes (75 Velo/52 HMov/58 VMov) both throw much harder sliders that get more break.) This data falls in line with Peralta’s frustration over his pitches being “flat” out of his hand. When you don’t have great command or plus movement on your pitches, you’ll get hit around as Big Wily has out of the bullpen.

Manager Craig Counsell knew there would be a transition involved moving Big Wily to relief, but it sounds as though he (along with much of the fanbase) is running out of patience with the once-promising right hander. The 28 year old is out of minor league options, though if he were to be DFA’d his high salary and poor results make him a good candidate to clear waivers and be sent outright to AAA Colorado Springs (he would not be eligible to elect free agency). Who knows, maybe something clicks for Peralta in the minor leagues and he could come back to Milwaukee later in the year. Either way it seems rather unlikely that the Brewers will tender him to an arbitration contract this coming winter, where he’ll looking for a raise building off his $4.275 mil salary from this season.

The Milwaukee Nine possess a winning record at 38-35 and are still clinging to a half-game lead for 1st place in the NL Central, making it all that much more difficult to stick with a struggling Peralta. Maybe Wily becomes a useful reliever someday, and for the sake of his career I hope that he does figure something out. He’s simply exhausted just about all the chances this organization can afford to give him. With several other bullpen options in the minors waiting for their chance (including recent signee Tom Wilhelmsen), we are probably getting near the end of the line for Wily Peralta with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs