If you listen to enough chatter around Redsland, you’ll hear quite often that the lineup is great. Except, the chatters will say, for centerfield and shortstop. Now, as those two positions generally require premium defense, they also tend to be places where teams will absorb some below-average hitting (everyone, after all, can’t be above average).
I’ll be honest: I’ve been there myself. Though I always threw in the caveat that Peraza could develop. So let’s take a look at Player A and Player B and see what we see.
Player A: .222/.278/.276
Player B: .277/.316/.361
Whew. That’s rough, right? Well, I guess that tells us … oh, wait. Player B is actually Peraza’s career numbers. Player A? That’s Davey Concepcion through his age-24 season (Peraza just turned 24).
How about these two:
Player C: .275/.308/.404
Player D: .234/.286/.287
That would be Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith through their age-24 seasons.
Is Jose Peraza destined to be a great shortstop? I don’t know. Probably not. Great shortstops are rare. Yet there have been plenty of phenomenal shortstops who took a while to figure it out. Shortstop is hard to play, and the players who can play it often come up with the kind of slight body that isn’t conducive to hitting 30 homers a year. So the offense can take a hit.
I could, of course, also give you examples of shortstops who came up, didn’t really hit and then … never hit. It happens, for sure. A lot.
But guess what? At this moment, Peraza is hitting .275/.322/.381. Is that great? No. He was an 89 wRC+, which means he’s about 11 percent worse than the average hitter. But his OBP is above average, and historically that 89 wRC+ is actually better than shortstops usually are relative to the league. And while he’s not Cozart with the glove, I’m also confident in calling him well above average at short. According to FanGraphs, he’s been slightly above average so far (1.2 WAR), and according to Baseball-Reference he’s been a bit more above average (1.4 WAR). 2 WAR is generally regarded as average for a full season, and we are, obviously, right in the middle.
But it gets even better. Recently, I was talking to Louisville Bats player Hernan Iribarren as part of a different story. He knows Peraza well, and they keep in touch. We had a side conversation where he told me Peraza made an adjustment after the first three games of the season (when he went 0-12 and looked lost) and then started hitting. Since that moment, he’s actually hitting .285/.333/.395. That’s only four percent below league average and more than acceptable from an everyday shortstop with a quality glove. It’s also better than current Reds regulars Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Tucker Barnhart.
And he’s still so young. Jose Peraza—who feels like he’s been around forever—is only 14 months older than Nick Senzel. He’s nine months younger than Jesse Winker. He is three and a half years younger than Billy Hamilton, with whom he is often lumped.
He is a strange kind of player, though. He doesn’t walk much. Only 21 qualified player walk less frequently than him. But then, only four qualified players have struck out less than he has. We live in an age of strikeouts. Peraza strikes out less than half as often as the average major league player. His 10.5 percent strikeout rate would be equivalent to a 5-6 percent strikeout rate back in the contact-hitting ’80s. He’s a throwback.
My thesis, if you haven’t figured it out, is this: The Reds don’t need a shortstop. They have one. He’s young and good. If he’d come up at 24 and played like this, everyone would be thrilled. But because he struggled at the major league level first, many fans are ready to throw in the towel. They shouldn’t. Young players take time to develop.
Jose Peraza is still four years away from his peak, and this year he’s been an above average player. You don’t get rid of that guy. You send him out there every day and enjoy watching him.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.