Monday, October 24, 2011

Gr8: #8 Jhonny Peralta, Career Reborn

The “Great Eight of 2011” will be a look at the eight Tigers that impressed me the most in 2011. The order I am choosing these players in is not necessarily who the best overall player was. No, these guys are simply the ones that made me say “wow” more than anyone for whatever reason.

For 12 straight years (1981-1992), an icon to anyone reading this site, Alan Trammell, was the Tigers’ Opening Day starting shortstop. He would do so later, as well, in 1994 and 1996. Since then, the position has been in a constant state of flux, it seems. Travis Fryman, Chris Gomez, Deivi Cruz, Billy Ripken, Shane Halter, Omar Infante, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria, and Adam Everett would all be Opening Day starters since Tram’s streak at short. Only Guillen would truly be effective, despite being a constant injury risk. (Fryman would fare much better as a third baseman in Detroit.)

So call me a pessimist, but I wasn’t THAT excited when Dave Dombrowski traded minor league pitcher Giovanni Soto to Cleveland for a struggling, .246 hitting, apparently already past his prime Jhonny Peralta in July of 2010. Great, I thought. Another crappy stopgap until we call up yet another mediocre Quad-A player “ready” to play shortstop (Cale Iorg, I presumed).

Peralta hit .253 with 8 homers in 57 games in Detroit, enough to convince Dombrowski that Jhonny was worth signing to a 2 year, $11.25 million deal, with an option on a third. I didn’t really expect much out of him, myself. Why in the blue hell would I?

I am glad to have been proved very wrong.

There are three things to do in Cleveland.

1. Eat.
2. Drink.
3. Pray for death.

Jhonny Peralta appeared to be doing all three as his weight grew and his numbers shrank his last two years with the Tribe. See?
But in 2011, Peralta showed up to spring training in great shape in order to be the Opening Day shortstop for the Tigers. And it paid off. At the age of 29, his career was seemingly reborn.

His .299 batting average was a career high. 21 homers were his most since 2008, as were his 86 RBI. His .345 OPP and .478 slugging percentage were each the second best numbers of his career, only trailing his breakthrough 2005 campaign totals. And though he struck out 95 times, it was the lowest total of his seven full seasons in the bigs.

Even more surprising was his defense. Unhappily moved to third base in Cleveland, the Tigers decided to put JP back at shortstop, his preferred position. We were all told that his range was terrible, and though it wasn’t Omar Vizquel-esque out there, Jhonny more than held up his end of the bargain in 2011. He was 4th in the AL in putouts, 2nd in fielding percentage (to JJ Hardy), and only committed 7 errors all year in 608 chances. His fielding WAR was the best of his career.

And he came out swinging. In the first half, he hit .312 with 14 homers, enough to make the All-Star team. He tailed off a bit as the season wore on, but not enough to hurt the ballclub down the stretch. He even hit 2 homers in the ALCS against the Rangers. Sadly, they were both solo shots.

Yes, the solo homer. That was Jhonny’s calling card this year. For whatever reason, 16 of his 21 dingers were of the solo variety. But he wasn’t a slouch with runners on base, either. He hit .307 with runners in scoring position, and .380 with RISP and 2 outs.

The scary thing, for opposing teams, is that there’s room for improvement. Peralta only hit .240 against left-handed pitching in 2011 (compared to .312 vs. righties). If he can improve against southpaws and stay in shape, there’s little reason to think that Jhonny Peralta won’t be an All-Star again in 2012.

So overall, Jhonny makes this list for doing something that I never expected. He brought his career back from the dead. He made shortstop a position to be admired in Detroit again. And I think it’s safe to assume that without him in this lineup every day, the Tigers would not have won nearly as many games as they did in 2011.

Whell dhone, Jhonny.


momotigers said...

How on Earth did you find a picture of Peralta actually praying for death?  This photo actually looks like he may have just finished eating and is just praying for death before he starts drinking.   

Jay Hathaway said...

Agreed.  Brilliant pic.