An Appreciation of Wandy Peralta
Wandy Peralta came over to the Yankees in late-April as a project and finished the 2021 season as one of the Yankees' most reliable relievers.
In order to tell the tale of Wandy Peralta, we have to start in March 2019. The Yankees were in need of an outfielder after Aaron Hicks went down with a lower back strain before Opening Day. They had a breakout lefty reliever in Spring Training in Phillip Diehl, so they shipped him to the Rockies for outfielder Mike Tauchman.
Tauchman really stepped up in that #NextManUp era of the 2019 Yankees, as he hit 13 homers in 87 games, while posting a .361 OBP and 128 wRC+. He also played pristine outfield defense, racking up 19 Defensive Runs Saved in such a short time period. His 2019 season was cut short due to a calf injury in September, so he wasn’t on the Yankees’ roster for their playoff run to Game 6 of the ALCS against the Astros.
Tauchman played in 43 games in 2020, but the offensive numbers weren’t the same. He failed to homer, attributing to his 79 wRC+, but he did have a decent .342 OBP. With Clint Frazier being given the reigns to left field after a breakout season in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Tauchman found himself fighting for playing time with 37-year-old Brett Gardner. He had a 63 wRC+ in 11 games in 2021 and there wasn’t a spot on the big league roster for him.
The Yankees struck a trade involving Tauchman on April 27th that sent the outfielder to the Giants in exchange for left-handed reliever Wandy Peralta. See, we finally made it to Wandy — it just took a few paragraphs.
Peralta didn’t have a great start to his 2021 season in San Francisco, as he recorded a 5.40 ERA in 10 appearances (8.1 innings) before he was dealt to New York. The lefty was never really that good (and especially wasn’t outstanding) with the Giants or the Reds, who he spent parts of his first four MLB seasons with (2016-19).
Peralta had a 5.19 ERA in his first 22 appearances (17.1 innings) with the Yankees across two big league stints following the late-April trade.
The Yankees had their second COVID-19 outbreak of the season (first big one involving players, as Gleyber Torres was the only one who had it outside of the coaching staff earlier in the season) beginning before the All-Star break. Peralta was among the many who tested positive before the Yankees started their second half with a series against the then-first-place Red Sox.
Peralta was placed on the COVID-19 IL on July 15th. He wasn’t activated off it until August 5th before an opener start against the Mariners on August 6th. From then on, Peralta quickly became one of the Yankees’ most reliable relief pitchers.
Peralta had been a four-pitch pitcher in his major-league career prior to joining the Yankees in April, throwing his four-seamer, changeup, and slider over 27% of the time each and his sinker around 17% of the time.
Things would later change in pinstripes, as he became strictly a two-pitch pitcher. He threw his changeup 58.0% of the time and his sinker 33.2% of the time. He would only throw his four-seamer and slider a combined 8.8% of the time the rest of the year.
Peralta’s changeup was his best pitch in the final two months of the season, as hitters were held to a .345 SLG against it.
The Yankees have did a really good job in 2021 with Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta in terms of identifying a pitcher that thrives with 1-2 pitches, making them throw them more and stick to those pitches.
As Peralta started throwing his changeup and sinker almost exclusively (91.2%), his numbers improved dramatically. He had a 1.42 ERA in 24 appearances (25.1 innings) after coming off the COVID-19 IL on August 5th. His 63.4% groundball rate was also fourth among relievers with 20 innings pitched in that span.
His breakout in the eyes of Yankees’ fans was probably when he came in to relieve a struggling Aroldis Chapman in Atlanta on August 24th. He faced one batter (Freddie Freeman) and battled to a nine-pitch at-bat that ended on a fly out to left. In that at-bat, Peralta threw Freeman six changeups… five of them with coming with three balls in the count.
Peralta just became that guy to bring in when the Yankees were in a bind. During that span (since the start of August), he was brought into games with a total of 22 runners on base. He only allowed two runners to score (2.1%).
“He’s pitched in some big spots,” Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone said to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com near the end of September. “That Atlanta game that he pitched in that he got out of was huge. I don’t worry about him handling any moment, any situation. He likes to compete. He’s confident. Whatever the results are, I don’t worry about him in any kind of environment scaring or backing down or anything.”
Peralta was also a topic of discussion during the September 11th weekend series at Citi Field with the Mets when the Yankees’ crosstown rivals accused them of stealing signs via whistling. In the end, it was just Peralta being insanely annoying with his own encouragement whistling from the dugout.
In case you were curious: Mike Tauchman played in 64 games for the Giants, hitting four homers with a .286 OBP and 64 wRC+. He was DFA’d on July 29th and later outrighted off their 40-man roster.
Peralta was part of that long line of reliable Yankees’ relievers down the stretch, most of which were acquired mid-season or were simply breakout guys, though it sadly didn’t amount to anything in the end. Don’t forget: Peralta’s time in pinstripes isn’t over quite yet. He’s under team control for two more seasons through 2023. Hopefully he can continue his late-2021 dominance next season.