There are 27 days until Spring Training and 27 reasons why you should be comfortable with Jhonny Peralta as your starting shortstop in 2013. OK, maybe there aren't 27 reasons, but he's still the man for the job.
What happened last year?
Peralta struggled offensively in 2012, and that's putting it lightly. Coming off a career season in 2011 in which he hit .299/.345/.478 with 21 home runs and 86 RBIs, Peralta hit just .239/.305/.384 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs last season.
Peralta's production perked up in the playoffs, where he hit .260/.288/.460 with three home runs -- two of which, you may remember, came in Game 4 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. Like most of the offense, however, his bat disappeared in the World Series. His lone hit in the four game sweep was a two-run homer in Game One.
One possible reason for the down year? Peralta had a BABIP of .275 last year, which in itself isn't particularly eye-popping. However, when you consider that his career BABIP is .310 and he has been at .324 or above four times in his career, a .275 BABIP is fairly significant. He also had a .275 BABIP in 2010, a figure that was even lower (.263) in his 57 games with the Tigers. A low BABIP over a course of an entire season is probably due to a combination of bad luck and poor pitch selection (leading to bat contact and weak outs). Let's hope that both aspects of this trend reverse for Jhonny in 2013.
What needs to happen in 2013?
Peralta needs to figure out what happened in the second half of 2012 and never do it again. His production nosedived over the last couple months of the season, crash-landing into a .171/.250/.257 September/October with two home runs and just nine RBIs. His best month? A robust June in which he hit .299/.347/.425, but had zero home runs. Add a couple dingers into the mix in June and you're basically looking at his 2011 numbers for a month's time.
While I would like to see his maintain the increased walk rate he had during 2012, I hope that it's not at the expense of his power. Two of Peralta's best seasons of his career came in years with his lowest walk rates: 7.2% in 2008 and 6.9% in 2011.
As for his defense? Defensive metrics show what we have come to understand: his range is limited, but he makes the plays that he gets to with resounding efficiency. More of this would be much appreciated.
2012 stats and 2013 projections
*abbreviation for "Random People on Fangraphs" who don't seem to like Peralta very much. But hey, bigger tables are cool.
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does (and tell those random people where they can put certain sharp objects)
The easy part is saying "Peralta will fall somewhere between 2011 and 2012" because I understand things like bell curves even though my college statistics class was seven years ago. The hard part* is predicting where exactly along that spectrum Peralta will fall. Having Not Delmon Young hitting in front of him will help, provided you believe in the witchcraft we like to call "lineup protection."**
*The hardest part is avoiding run-on sentences, level of caffeine intake nonwithstanding.
**My (brief) take: I'm still not sure whether I fully believe in lineup protection in all 9 slots, but you can't tell me that Miguel Cabrera doesn't benefit from having Prince Fielder behind him. And if you try to use stats, I will say that his intentional walks decreased by almost 23% in 2012 and run away with my fingers in my ears.
My gut tells me that a combination of BABIP regression, contract year-itis, and global warming (because you can blame it for anything) will result in Peralta putting up numbers close to his excellent 2011 season. I'm expecting an OPS just south of .800 with a decent spike in home run power and the same steady defense we've come to expect from him.