Fantasy baseball season is nearly here, so to kick-start your 2016 draft prep, SI.com’s fantasy baseball expert Michael Beller will give a snapshot of certain players who may not necessarily be a breakout, a sleeper or a bust (all of which we’ll preview in the upcoming weeks), but could still prove influential this season.
The player: David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
• The 2015 stats: 517 plate appearances, .312/.371/.522, 17 homers, 26 doubles, 78 RBI, 8.5 BB%, 20.7 K%, .368 BABIP, .210 ISO, 138 wRC+
• The two-year sample (162-game average): 592 plate appearances, .301/.351/.492, 18 homers, 26 doubles, 78 RBI
• The SI rank: No. 112 overall, No. 39 OF
• The consensus rank (FantasyPros): No. 141 overall, No. 41 OF
• The skinny: By now, you probably know the story about how David Peralta broke through to the majors. He started his professional career as a pitcher in the Cardinals organization, but flamed out after multiple injuries and shoulder surgeries. Unbowed, Peralta headed to the Independent League to remake himself as an outfielder, and it took him all of two seasons of independent ball before he caught on with the Diamondbacks.
In 51 games at High-A Visalia in 2013, he hit .346/.370/.534. In half a season with Double-A Mobile the following year, Peralta slashed .297/.359/.480, forcing his way to the majors. He quickly made himself into Arizona’s starting left fielder, hitting .286/.320/.450 with eight homers in 348 plate appearances as a 26-year-old rookie. His meteoric rise, however, could not possibly portend what was to come in 2015.
Peralta started nearly every game for the Diamondbacks last season, and was a key part of what became one of the league’s most potent offenses. He hit .312/.371/.522 with 17 homers, 26 doubles and 78 RBI in 517 plate appearances. His 138 wRC+—a catch-all stat that measures how much better a player is than average (with 100 being neutral)—had him tied with Buster Posey for 14th in the majors, ahead of Kris Bryant, Yoenis Cespedes, Manny Machado, and teammate and fellow 2015 breakout player A.J. Pollock. If the numbers didn’t catch your eye, the four names looking up at Peralta on the wRC+ leaderboard definitely should.
Also, Peralta made major strides last year that suggest there’s still further growth in his bat. Let’s first look at his batted-ball rates, courtesy of FanGraphs.
All of those moved in the right direction. You could dig into him trading fly balls for grounders in relation to the efficacy of his power numbers continuing to climb, but we know grounders have a better chance of going for hits than fly balls. That helps to explain his BABIP spike to .368, which may seem high, but his xBABIP was still a robust .346. Luck had nothing to do with Peralta’s breakout campaign.
His lower share of fly balls as a percentage of balls in play also helped drive his increased HR/FB ratio. That, too, is good news. A doubling of HR/FB ratio without a change in batted-ball rates is one of the surest signs that a player enjoyed an anomalous season with respect to power. In Peralta’s case, it wasn’t just that his power grew, evidenced by an average fly-ball distance that jumped to 298.1 feet from 289.6 feet, and an average true home run distance that gained two feet (403.2) despite having nine more data points than it did the previous season. It was also thanks to the change in his batted-ball profile.
Peralta’s plate discipline similarly improved in his first full major league season. Yes, his strikeout rate ticked north of 20%, but he shaved his o-swing percentage, the rate at which a hitter swings at pitches outside the strike zone, to 33.5% from 37.2%. That’s a 9.9% cut. Unsurprisingly, his walk rate grew to 8.5%, which is about league average and nearly twice where it was in his rookie season.
If there’s one issue in Peralta’s game, it’s his performance against left-handed pitching. Peralta slashed .325/.384/.552 with the platoon advantage last season, but just .250/.311/.375 against same-siders. He also doesn’t have the sort of opposite-field power that would suggest he can still be a weapon against lefties, with just two of his 17 homers last year going to left field. Ugly platoon splits are a much more workable problem for left-handed hitters, however, given the preponderance of right-handed pitchers in the majors. This isn’t something that should depress Peralta’s draft stock.
Peralta is expected to be Arizona’s cleanup man, hitting immediately behind Paul Goldschmidt and three spots after Pollock. Chase Field remains one of the ideal offensive environments in the majors, and Peralta is going to have plenty of RBI opportunities this season. He remains criminally undervalued at an average draft position of 118.43, according to National Fantasy Baseball Championship data. Make sure his name is highlighted on your cheat sheet on draft day.
• The best-case scenario: Peralta’s power is indeed still growing as he enters his age-28 season. He gets into the mid-20s in homers to go along with the sterling rates he posted a season ago, and threatens the 100-RBI threshold.
• The worst-case scenario: Peralta played over his head last year, especially in the rate categories. Those numbers come crashing down, though he still does hit for modest power and, given his spot in Arizona’s lineup, contributes solidly in RBI and runs scored.