When you take a look at Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta you can tell you're not looking at your average shortstop. This is a guy who has been worth 11 WAR over the last three years, the fourth highest total among major league shortstops. However, when you are just looking at Jhonny Peralta it is fairly unlikely that he will be wearing a shirt saying, "I'm a guy who has been worth 11 WAR over the last three years, the fourth highest total among major league shortstops". So, what you're really seeing that's unusual is his physique. Peralta is listed at 6'2" 215 lbs and, not to be unkind in any way, he is not the spitting image of a Greek God. While shortstops tend to be elite athletes that range from lithe to chiseled, Jhonny Peralta sort of looks like he drives a bus. I'm not ragging on bus drivers; it's just the first inherently sedentary profession that came to mind.
Long story short, it is hard to mentally reconcile the visual of Jhonny Peralta and one's own mental image of a major league shortstop. That being said, Mr. Peralta is pretty good at his job. As I mentioned before, he's been the fourth best shortstop by WAR in the last three years and he hit a stellar, albeit fairly BABIP fueled, .305/.358/.457 last season. That landed him a four-year, $53 million contract from a franchise with a pretty sterling track record for making smart decisions. The purpose of this article is not to analyze that contract or the PED controversy surrounding it. Much like John Mozeliak I don't have much interest in a role with the morality police. While PED's are a real issue in baseball, it's one far too consequential to sit in my wheelhouse. Instead, today I mean to discuss what makes Jhonny Peralta truly unique: his immobility.
The idea of a slow shortstop is not one that is very intuitive to baseball fans. Not only are those who follow baseball used to seeing their shortstops display superhuman range, but some of the best base runners in the game are shortstops. Guys like Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus have been dynamic on the base paths for years, and last year Jean Segura emerged as the premier base stealing threat at the position. Being a threat on the bases is not something that is very familiar to Jhonny Peralta. Since Peralta became a regular in 2005 the following chart shows the worst base running shortstops by FanGraphs base running runs, or BsR:
Not only is Jhonny Peralta the worst base runner among shortstops, he's the worst by a mile. No shortstop is touching Peralta when it comes to ineptitude on the base paths. Over this time period, Peralta has been the 21st worst base runner in all of baseball. He's slightly better than an aged Kevin Millar and slight worse than a glacial, even by catcher standards, Dioner Navarro. It's unfair to compare those players directly because Peralta has so many more plate appearances and has actually been better on a per 600 PA basis. However, just to give you an idea of how bad Peralta has been, I decided to line him up against one of the most famous sloths in all of baseball: Adam Dunn. I chose Dunn because the idea of Dunn outrunning anyone is a very amusing image to me and also because he has a similar number of plate appearances to Peralta since 2005.The following chart shows how the two compare over the last nine seasons:
|Player||Plate Appearances||Stolen Bases||Caught Stealing||Stolen Base%||BsR|
From this comparison we can gather that Jhonny Peralta probably isn't as slow as Adam Dunn, but he is an absolutely dreadful base stealer which makes him cost his team more runs with his legs. Also we should give credit where credit's due and acknowledge that Dunn has stealthily stolen bases pretty well for a man of his dimensions.
Although a lot of Peralta's lack of base running value comes from his boneheaded attempts to steal, it's clear that this is a guy without much in the way of speed or quickness. How is a guy is like that supposed to man a position as athletically demanding as shortstop? Apparently, reasonably well. Since Jhonny Peralta's debut in 2003 his UZR of -2.8 rates 21st among 40 shortstops with 5000+ innings in the field. Peralta is pretty much exactly your average shortstop, slightly below average perhaps, although -2.8 runs over 9990.2 innings hardly seems that significant.
Things get more interesting when we break that UZR down into its base components. For shortstops UZR is made up of "Double Play Runs", "Range Runs," and "Error Runs". Looking at these individually we can see where Jhonny Peralta's strengths as a defensive shortstop lie. The answer won't surprise you. Beside each value I've put in brackets Peralta's rank among the sample of 40 shortstops that I specified above.
|Double Play Runs||Range Runs||Error Runs|
|5.4 (8th)||-33.1 (35th)||24.8 (5th)|
Peralta has pretty terrible range compared to his peers, but he compensates by being sure handed and turning the double play well. Jhonny Peralta has the skill set that Derek Jeter apologists claim that Jeter possesses. To be fair to Jeter, he is sure handed and turns double plays, but unlike Peralta his range is calamitous as opposed to merely poor. The brand new fielding spray chart tool from FanGraphs only goes back to 2012, but it does an excellent job of capturing Jhonny Peralta's defensive abilities:
Peralta makes all the routine plays but he doesn't make a lot of the difficult ones. That doesn't sound like a good defensive profile for a shortstop, but he's done enough with it to become essentially a league average defender at an incredibly difficult position. And to his credit, the metrics say his range has improved with age as he's learned to position himself more effectively and get better reads off the bat.
In his eleven year career Jhonny Peralta has a wRC+ of 102 and a UZR/150 of -3.1 including his work at third base and in left field. Those numbers suggest that he's pretty much league average at hitting and defending. That description is slightly disingenuous because being a league average hitter and defender as a shortstop makes you far more valuable than the average bear. It's for that reason that Peralta will be hauling in the big bucks for the next four years. However, nothing in his basic statistical profile is truly unique. That doesn't mean that he isn't a unique player.
There is no player like Jhonny Peralta in the major leagues today. No shortstop can match his lack of ability on the bases with his lack of range in the field. Jhonny Peralta looks like an unorthodox shortstop because he is an unorthodox shortstop. Not that there's anything wrong with that. When St. Louis Cardinals fans found out their team was signing Jhonny Peralta, they probably knew that they were getting a pretty good player at a pretty good price. What they might not have known is that they were getting a player who was one of a kind.
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Nick Ashbourne is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.