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Friday, August 8, 2014
Wily Peralta knows how to win

By David Schoenfield

I admit this one kind of snuck up on me: Wily Peralta became the majors' first 14-game winner in the Brewers' 3-1 victory over the Giants on Thursday (Adam Wainwright later matched him). Peralta has won his past five starts and has pitched well in that span -- 1.64 ERA, .203 average allowed. He fanned a season-high nine batters against the Giants, inducing a season-high 15 swings-and-misses and 25 swings on pitches outside the strike zone.

It seems like a good time for a little Q&A about Peralta.

Who is Wily Peralta?

Signed way back in 2005, we heard about Peralta and his monster fastball for years and the big-boned right-hander finally arrived last year for his first full season, pitching with mixed results (11-15, 4.37 ERA, 183.1 IP, 187 H, 73 BB, 129 SO). The strikeout rate was a little disappointing for a guy who averaged 94.8 mph with his fastball and touched 99, but he made all 32 starts and showed signs that he could develop into a durable middle-of-the-rotation workhorse. He's now 14-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 2014.

How come his strikeout rate is mediocre?
Peralta has 108 K's in 144.2 innings, with a strikeout rate of 17.8 percent that ranks 64th among 92 qualified starters. His average fastball velocity of 95.6 mph is tied for third among starters with Nathan Eovaldi of the Marlins, behind only Yordano Ventura and Garrett Richards. So why not more strikeouts? Well, for starters, strikeouts more often come from breaking balls or changeups, not fastballs. Peralta is a fastball/slider guy with a changeup he throws about 5 percent of the time. One reason his K rate isn't higher is that along with his upper 90s four-seam fastball he throws a hard two-seam sinking fastball, a pitch that doesn't necessarily register a lot of strikeouts but does generate groundballs. He's seventh among starters with his 56.5 percent groundball rate.

Against the Giants, he got five strikeouts with his slider, showing good downward tilt. That's the closest thing he has to a wipeout pitch.

Is he better than his peripherals suggest?
His FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching -- is 4.19, in part because the strikeout rate isn't higher. But he does make up for that with that excellent groundball rate. He has held batters to a .197 average with runners in scoring position compared to .258 overall, however, so it's possible that number could eventually fall in line with his overall hit rate and his left on base percentage decreases and his runs allowed increases. On the other hand, his rate of home runs per fly ball is fourth-worst among starters, which could be a product of bad luck and pitching in Milwaukee, or a product of pitching up in the zone with his four-seamer. In short: I guess we don't really know if he's better than his peripherals, as we see numbers in both directions. That makes Peralta hard to evaluate simply on the numbers: He's a groundball pitcher who also gives up home runs.

But does he know how to win?
I heard one analyst on Thursday describing Wainwright as a "guy who knows how to win." Well, Wainwright wins a lot of games because he's been a terrific pitcher who pitches deep into games and has a good team supporting him.

As for Peralta and his 14 wins, it comes down to some decent pitching and good fortune.

The old definition of a quality start -- at least six innings and three runs or fewer -- doesn't necessarily hold up as well in this day of lower scoring. I also like to look at we'll call a Felix, in honor of Felix Hernandez's record-setting stretch of such starts: Seven innings or more and two runs or less.

Here's how often major league pitchers get wins in those situations this season:

6+ innings, 3 runs: 33 percent
7+ innings, 2 runs or fewer: 65 percent

Peralta has thrown five "Felixes" this year -- and won four of those. He's won two of the three games where he pitched at least six innings and allowed exactly three runs. But where he's been most fortunate is when he hasn't had a good game: He's won three times when allowing four runs; only Madison Bumgarner and Hiroki Kuroda can match that total.

So does Peralta know how to win? I think you already know the answer to that. He's a young pitcher having a good year with some good luck and it's certainly fun to see him name atop the leaderboard. At least we've come a long way in recent years to understand that just because he's leading the league in wins he's not necessarily a Cy Young contender.