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2020 in Review: José Peraza

The Red Sox took a flier on Peraza, but it didn’t pay off for either side.

Atlanta Braves v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Welcome to our 2020 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we take a look at the 2020 season for José Peraza.

2020 in one sentence

José Peraza was brought in to provide infield depth and potentially take over the starting job at second base, but poor production at the plate eventually lost him a spot on the major-league roster.

The Positives

Unfortunately, we have to be a little generous with the term “positive” when talking about Peraza’s 2020 season with the Red Sox. The former heralded prospect finally wore out his welcome after four punchless seasons with the Reds, and the Red Sox decided to take a chance that he could rediscover the skills that made him such a promising talent.

The very early returns made the Red Sox (and anyone who liked the signing, aka me) look very smart. Peraza went 4-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored in Boston’s 13-2 win over Baltimore on Opening Day. He then ended up hitting .281 across 33 plate appearances in July before the wheels really started to fall off.

Although he couldn’t maintain his July pace the rest of the season, Peraza did make a few positive strides on offense. For starters, he displayed a bit more pop, at least by his standards. His isolated power inched up to a mark of .117, which is far from elite but was the second-best mark of his career, not counting the seven games he played for the Dodgers in 2015. Even more importantly, he set career-highs in hard-hit rate (31.9 percent) and barrel rate (4.3 percent). In fact, that latter number nearly doubled his previous best. As he squared up more balls, Peraza also became much more of a pull hitter, lifting his pull rate above 40 percent for the first time in his career. In addition, he had some relative success when the count ran full, batting .429 with a 278 wRC+ in such situations. Of course, that is a bit of cherry picking since he only got into that spot 10 times.

Outside of the batter’s box, Peraza was still a threat with his legs, rating in the 84th percentile among MLB players in spring speed, according to Baseball Savant. In addition, he wasn’t a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, but he was neutral at best and if you just look at his 82nd percentile finish in outs above average, you could say he was even better than that.

Atlanta Braves v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Negatives

The problem with Peraza’s improved hard-hit rate was that he made contact less frequently than usual. For a player with just one season with a wRC+ over 100 in his career, that’s saying something. Peraza struck out 15 percent of the time in 2020, which isn’t horrendous, but was the worst mark of his career. A lot of that was powered by a tendency to flail at pitches outside the zone. In fact, Peraza chased 42.2 percent of the time pitches sailed outside the strike zone while taking one of his most aggressive approaches since he broke onto the scene, with a career-high in swing rate (55.1 percent) leading to a career-high swinging strike rate (10.4 percent). Such aggression was a poor strategy because Peraza saw fewer pitches in the zone than any time in his career (39.6 percent).

Peraza was particularly susceptible to swinging and missing against right-handers, with a 17.1 percent punch-out rate against righties. However, he was worse at actually getting hits against southpaws, batting .196 with a 49 wRC+ against lefties and .246 with a 73 wRC+ when he faced a pitcher throwing with the right arm.

As you can probably put together, Peraza’s swing-heavy approach did not lend itself to much in terms of walks, drilling his on-base percentage down to an abysmal .275. Peraza walked 4.2 percent of the time, which matched his output from 2019 and 2018. If that wasn’t good enough for the Reds to stick with him, it’s obvious that it wasn’t the best way to ingratiate himself with a new team.

When you boil it all down, Peraza’s small gains on offense were woefully outnumbered by the issues he continued to have at the plate. He produced a .225/.275/.342 slash line with a 63 wRC+. Of course, he could have made up for that to a degree with some of his other strengths, but despite his above average speed, he produced -1.1 base running runs above average, and as I mentioned above, you could build an argument for his defense, but it would take some acrobatics to convince anyone that he was anything more than a decent fielder.

The Big Question

Can José Peraza get on base at an average rate?

No. The league average OBP in 2020 was .322 and Peraza didn’t come close.

Looking ahead to 2021

Once he was sent to the Alternate Site, it seemed clear that Peraza didn’t have much of a future with the Red Sox, especially since he was only on a one-year deal. That’s why it’s no surprise that he’ll be trying again next year with a new team. This time it’s the Mets.