Freddy Peralta is 2-0 in two starts, the NL leader in strikeouts, and after two turns through the rotation has turned a pitching staff with two aces into a three-headed monster.
Peralta won the fifth starter job the last week of Spring Training and because of the built in off day in the opening series, his first appearance came in relief during the Opening day comeback win against the Twins. In that appearance Peralta labored through 53 pitches in 2 innings of relief and gave up 2 hits and 3 walks, but no runs and all six of his outs came via the strikeout. Noticeably different for “Fastball Freddy” was the number of sliders he threw. Only 53% of his pitches were the sinking four-seamer he’s relied on so heavily in his three previous seasons as a big-leaguer. 18 of his pitches, or 34%, were the slider. For context, Peralta has never averaged below 73% four-seamers in his career.
It isn’t simply that Freddy is throwing a slider, it is when he throws it, and how good it is.
In his first start this season at Wrigley Field, he was spotted a three run lead thanks to a Travis Shaw first-inning home run. He induced a first inning double play with the slider to Willson Contreras after walking the lead-off hitter on 5 pitches, 4 of them fastballs. In the second inning, with the Brewers still up 3-0 but the Cubs threatening with runners on first and second, Peralta threw David Bote six straight sliders. The only one Bote offered at was the last, when he flied out to center to end the inning. And while we’ve seen Freddy mix in the curveball in the past, I can’t recall ever seeing Freddy throw six straight non-fastballs ever, let alone in a high-leverage spot like that. Yesterday, in his second start of the year, Peralta again faced Bote in a high-leverage situation. In the 2nd inning of a 0-0 game and with runners on first and second, Peralta threw Bote three straight sliders: a ball, a called strike, and a swinging strike. He followed that with three fastballs and Bote fouled off all three, late on all of them. Peralta then finished him off with a slider in the dirt that Bote offered at to end the inning.
The slider also has excellent movement. The statcast data shows that while the vertical movement is 3% less than the average big league slider, the horizontal break is 11% higher than the big league average, evidenced by this swing from the aforementioned David Bote at-bat yesterday.
Peralta’s BB% is an abysmal 17.6% and if they number stays anywhere near that, it won’t be a great season. But he’s only walked three in his last 8 innings pitched and elite strikeout numbers are, of course, a cure all.
I often forget that even though this is Peralta’s fourth season with the Brewers, he’s only 24 years old. The spin rate on his fastball has always been elite and it is why we’ve seen some truly dominating performances before, like his MLB debut 13 strikeout performance against the Rockies in May 2018, or his second start in 2019 in which he recorded a game score of 89 in an 8 inning start that saw him strikeout 11 and give up only two hits. Brewers fans need no reminder of how the rest of 2019 ended up for Peralta as a starter. I’ve fallen off the Freddy hype train before but I’ve hopped back on and I’m holding on tight. With a really good secondary pitch like Peralta’s slider, 2021 could be a very special season for Freddy Peralta and the Brewers.