MLB's most productive shortstop? Peralta
Cardinals infielder tops 2014-15 WAR leaderboards
Think about the elite shortstops in baseball, and think about the names that come to mind. Troy Tulowitzki, certainly. Andrelton Simmons, of course, and maybe Starlin Castro, Ian Desmond, or Brandon Crawford, depending on where your loyalties lie.
Now, realize that not a single one of the players named owns the title of "baseball's most valuable shortstop" dating back to the beginning of 2014. That crown belongs to a player generally best known for the nearly two full seasons he spent being moved off shortstop to third, or maybe even just the unusual way in which he spells his first name. You might not think of Jhonny Peralta, who turned 33 on Thursday, as among baseball's best at shortstop. But as he keeps proving, like when he was playing a central role in St. Louis' 3-0 win over the Dodgers on Friday night, it's where he belongs.
We're using WAR to quantify calling Peralta the most valuable shortstop over 2014-15, because it accounts for contributions on both sides of the ball. Peralta's been 25 percent better than the average hitter over that span, and despite the fact that he doesn't "look like a shortstop is supposed to," he's been worth approximately 11 fielding runs above average. Though he gets dinged for below-average baserunning, when you put that all together, you get:
Shortstop WAR leaders, 2014-15
1. Peralta, 6.6
2t. Crawford, 5.1
2t. Tulowitzki, 5.1
Obviously, no one considers Peralta to be "more talented" than Tulowitzki, who lags on this list because of his regular time missed due to injury, but health is a skill as well, and Peralta has started 196 of the 210 St. Louis games since he arrived prior to last season. (Interestingly enough, if you push the range back to 2011, Peralta and Tulowitzki are essentially tied on the WAR leaderboards, though it's taken Peralta nearly 600 additional plate appearances to make that happen.)
While a large part of Peralta's value comes from his underrated defense, we can also look at Statcast™ and see just how much the ball is jumping off his bat. Peralta's second double on Friday night, this one coming in the seventh inning off of Juan Nicasio to drive in Kolten Wong with the game's final run, came off the bat at 103.8 mph. That's the sixth-hardest tracked non-homer ball of the season for Peralta, who appears near the top of the leaderboards for hardest-hit average ball among shortstops:
Shortstop batted-ball average velocity leaders, 2015
1. Crawford, 91.97 mph
2. Tulowitzki, 90.83 mph
3. Jean Segura, 90.07 mph
4. Peralta, 89.19 mph
While we don't have that kind of data for previous years, what we can show is that Peralta has taken the interesting path of making himself into a better player as he's gotten older. In his age-27 to age-29 seasons, he was worth 6.7 WAR; from 30-32, that was 11.4. Now, 200 plate appearances into his age-33 season, he's off to the best offensive start of his career.
When the Cardinals gave Peralta a four-year deal worth $53 million coming off of the suspension that cut short his 2013 season, it raised more than a few eyebrows across the sport. So far, it's been a bargain. As the Cardinals have continued to succeed despite the loss of Adam Wainwright and the struggles of Jason Heyward, their underappreciated shortstop is a huge reason why.