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Freddy Peralta showcased a new approach in his return to the rotation

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Fastball Freddy? Far from it.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, Freddy Peralta made his first start since July 26 of last season. While not the most efficient outing (four walks and 91 pitches in five innings), Peralta kept the Chicago Cubs off the board while limiting them to just one hit. It was not the first successful start of his career, but it was perhaps the most notable one since his debut in 2018. The hurler commonly referred to as “Fastball Freddy” threw 44 breaking balls out of his 91 pitches. That is easily the most breaking balls he has thrown in a start, and the 48.4% usage rate is also the highest of 72 career appearances. In fact, it was the first outing of Peralta’s career that saw him throw more secondary pitches than fastballs.

Not only was the raw total of sliders thrown significant, but so was Freddy’s confidence in using them in any count. He threw the same number of breaking balls as he did fastballs when behind in the count (17). In two strike counts, Peralta threw just eight fastballs compared to 17 breaking balls. He faced 18 hitters and started half of those plate appearances with a slider or curveball. Those situational breaking ball totals were all the highest of his career to date.

The most telling moment came in a second-inning showdown with David Bote. The Brewers held a 3-0 lead, and Bote represented the tying run at the plate. In 2020, he teed off on fastballs (.414 wOBA) and struggled against breaking stuff (.172 wOBA). Peralta proceeded to snap off exclusively sliders for Bote’s six-pitch at bat. After falling behind 2-0, he fired in another slider for the first strike. When the count ran to 3-1, Peralta did not return to his signature fastball to get back in the count, instead dropping in another breaking ball for a strike. Finally, he got Bote to fly out. When the old Freddy needed a strike, he almost always went to his fastball. This time, he stuck to the secondary stuff, and it was successful.

The success was not limited to that moment, as Peralta’s breaking stuff was effective for his entire start. It generated 11 swings and misses, good for a 55% whiff rate, and a 39% Called Strike + Whiff rate. Of Freddy’s eight punchouts, seven of them came on sliders, the most he has ever recorded with the pitch in a single outing.

Peralta has been putting in work on a new slider behind the scenes for quite some time now, but Tuesday night was the first time that it functioned as a legitimate weapon. Prior to this outing, he had used his fastball 78% of the time in 23 career starts, a stark contrast from the 47% rate against the Cubs. This is the first notable instance of Peralta changing his approach in an effort to be a more effective starting pitcher. While his fastball has always produced whiffs, it has yielded a subpar .343 wOBA in his starts. When opponents were squaring up the heater, Freddy had no other offering to turn to; for his career, his slider and changeup both had negative run values, and his curveball was worth just 0.8 runs. His first start of the 2021 campaign may be an indicator that those issues will be less of a problem moving forward.

The Brewers have played just six of their 162 scheduled games, and Peralta has pitched a grand total of seven innings, so the small sample size warning is in full effect. The young right-hander still needs to prove that he can have consistent command of his slider. He could very well take the hill for his next start completely unable to locate it. However, the version of Freddy Peralta seen a few nights ago is one that has never been seen before in regular-season game action. That should be enough to generate optimism that the 24-year-old is one step closer to realizing his potential.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant, and FanGraphs