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Pitching in relief brings out the best in Freddy Peralta

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The Brewers may view him as a starter long-term, but Fastball Freddy is best utilized out of the bullpen for now.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Since debuting in 2018, Freddy Peralta has filled a variety of roles for the Milwaukee Brewers. The 24-year-old has started 23 games and made 36 appearances out of the bullpen, both in long relief and in shorter stints. In each role, Freddy has had both spectacular outings and some real clunkers, an inconsistency that is common for young pitchers.

Peralta was one of the main stories on Friday evening with a pivotal relief outing against the Cubs. Inheriting a bases-loaded, one-out mess from Brandon Woodruff with the Brewers trailing 3-1, Peralta punched out Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber to end the threat. He would face seven batters, retiring five via the punchout and one on a popup. The only batter to reach base against Peralta was Jason Heyward on a double. His work on the mound kept the game within reach and allowed the Brewers to come back on a Christian Yelich three-run blast. It also confirmed what was becoming apparent last season: Freddy Peralta belongs in the Brewers bullpen.

Take a look at Fastball Freddy’s performance as a starting pitcher compared to his numbers in relief.

Freddy Peralta: Starter vs. Reliever

Role Avg Fastball Velocity IP WHIP ERA FIP SIERA Opponent wOBA K% BB% SwStr% F-Strike% O-Swing%
Role Avg Fastball Velocity IP WHIP ERA FIP SIERA Opponent wOBA K% BB% SwStr% F-Strike% O-Swing%
SP 91.2 112.1 1.32 5.45 4.23 4.04 .318 28.7% 10.7% 11.0% 58.8% 27.9%
RP 94.2 63 1.19 3.29 2.91 3.22 .273 35.4% 11.0% 14.7% 62.7% 34.1%

While Peralta does continue to have some troubles with free passes regardless of what circumstances he is pitching under, he becomes a much more effective pitcher out of the bullpen. In relief, the young righty goes into attack mode, perhaps as the result of the adrenaline rush and intensity that can come with pitching in such situations. His average fastball velocity jumps significantly from the low 90s to the mid-to-upper 90s. He throws more first-pitch strikes, induces more swings and misses, and gets hitters to chase more often.

That more aggressive approach from Freddy also includes pounding the upper third of the strike zone with his signature fastball. The high heater has always been his go-to pitch, but as a starting pitcher, he would often catch too much of the plate with it. That has not been the case as a reliever.

Peralta’s fastball location as a starter (left) and as a reliever (right)

Throwing his fastball harder and locating it better fuels the increased whiffs for Peralta, and it transforms his primary offering from an inconsistent one to a true plus pitch. According to FanGraphs, it has been worth just 0.4 runs above average in Freddy’s starts compared to 9.6 runs in his relief appearances.

All of this jives with the righty’s comments on pitching as a reliever. Describing the contrast between the two roles, Peralta noted the need to pace himself as a starter compared to coming out “to fight and do the best you can” out of the bullpen.

The divide in performance between roles has already been evident this season. In his lone start, Peralta averaged 91.3 miles-per-hour with his fastball and allowed four runs in just three innings. In three relief outings, he has allowed five baserunners, struck out an absurd 57.6% of hitters he has faced, and averaged 93 miles-per-hour with his fastball. The velocity figures to increase further if he transitions to a full-time relief role (he is currently functioning in more of a hybrid capacity). After Peralta made his final start of the last season in mid-June, his velocity truly took off. By September, when he knew for certain that he would be working in shorter stints, Freddy P consistently sat in the upper 90s with his heater.

None of this is to say that the Brewers should give up on their promising youngster as a starter. He has made progress with his secondary pitches, which are necessary for him to keep hitters off balance and be effective multiple times through a batting order. At this point, however, he is better off in the bullpen. When pitching in shorter stints and in big spots, Freddy lets it loose and adopts a more aggressive mentality that works best with his fastball-heavy arsenal. He may still have a few frustrating outings here and there, but Freddy Peralta can be a real weapon for Craig Counsell in relief.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.