At the start of the season, even the most optimistic of Cincinnati Reds fans saw the shortstop position as one of need moving forward. The Reds themselves saw it as a position of need, signaled by moving Nick Senzel to shortstop heading into spring training.
The incumbent, Jose Peraza, had flashed just enough potential to warrant another chance, but it was coming with caveats. It would likely be his last chance as an everyday starter if he continued at his current rate, and that was only made possible because the Reds were in the midst of a rebuild. Peraza did himself no favors, going hitless in his first 14 plate appearances of the season.
Fortunately, though, Peraza not only busted out of his cold streak but has become an important enough member of the rebuild that the Reds can look at their future differently.
Since the opening four games of the season where Peraza had one hit in 16 plate appearances, the 24-year-old has a wRC+ of 102, meaning he’s been a slightly above average shortstop, a huge change from what the Reds thought they had.
If you zoom in even closer, since May 22, Peraza has a 121 wRC+ in 228 plate appearances. The only National League shortstops ranked ahead of Peraza in that span are Trevor Story, Chris Taylor and Jean Segura (and technically Manny Machado now).
Peraza showed flashes like this in seasons before. In 2016, he finished with a 103 wRC+. However, that came in just 256 plate appearances on the season and also saw Peraza have an unsustainable .361 BABIP, meaning he was getting an awful lot of good bounces on balls in play.
This season, that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is at a far more reasonable .312, which indicates Peraza’s not just getting lucky but is having an objectively good season.
The change is pretty evident when looking at his batted ball percentages. Peraza’s soft-contact percentage is down over eight percent and that has translated almost directly to hard-contact percentage, which is up over eight percent. Statcast backs up the FanGraphs data as his exit velocity is up and his launch angle has improved.
On top of his batting, the other big difference for Peraza has been his on-base percentage. He has always struggled at drawing walks in the majors, holding a career 4.2 walk percentage.
This season, he’s sporting a .333 on-base percentage and over the previously-mentioned sample size since late May, his on-base percentage of .383 is tops in the majors among shortstops in that span. To his credit, Peraza’s walk percentage is at a career-high 5.4 percent this year and over the aforementioned span, it stands at 7.9 percent.
All that prefaces Peraza’s defense, which has been up-and-down this season. Overall, though, Peraza grades out to an average to slightly above average defender which, given his position, is more than acceptable and something the Reds would be pleased with.
This season is the best Peraza has played at short and is also the most he’s played at the position by a large margin. Considering it’s arguably the hardest position to field, it’s an across the board solid season for Peraza.
It’s also important to point out that Peraza turned 24 at the start of the season and is in his third full-time season in the majors. That makes him 13 months older than Nick Senzel, for context. He’s younger than the large majority of players who make their way to the majors on a normal schedule. There’s no reason not to believe he won’t continue to improve.
Because of his play, the Reds can afford to keep him in the lineup so he can develop. No longer is the shortstop position seen as an area of need, which is incredibly valuable for a small market team. Having a prospect emerge in a position of need like Peraza has can drastically change the rebuild. Instead of needing to spend valuable and finite cash in free agency on a player, the team can take that cash and apply it elsewhere.
It’s more money the Reds can spend on a frontline starter, the team’s most glaring need. Or it’s more money they can spend on an outfielder. Or it’s more money the team can use in a buyout of Homer Bailey, if it comes to that. But when small market teams get unexpected returns from prospects, it has drastic effects on the franchise. Peraza’s season appears to be more than just a flash in the pan and it could have big effects on the team’s future.