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The Tigers are just fine with Peralta at shortstop

With all the talk of the Tigers wanting to upgrade their defense at shortstop, they return with Peralta, and they'll be just fine.

Jhonny Peralta is back at shortstop for the Tigers in 2013
Jhonny Peralta is back at shortstop for the Tigers in 2013
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

When the Tigers acquired Jhonny Peralta from the Indians at the trade deadline during the 2010 season, they weren’t asking for much in return for their former all star shortstop. In fact, Cleveland agreed to pay Peralta’s salary for the remainder of the season, less a pro-rated share of the major league minimum (which the Tigers saved when they made room for him on the roster). The Indians received little known pitching prospect Giovanni Soto, a former 21st round draft pick who hadn’t been heard from before then and hasn’t been heard from since.

Peralta had been viewed by Cleveland management as a key to their success.

"I don't think there's a more important position player, or a more pivotal position player, to our club's success next year than Jhonny Peralta," said Shapiro, at the general managers' meetings (after the 2009 season)

"It would be an extreme challenge for us to be a championship-caliber team with Jhonny playing, offensively and defensively, the way he did last year (2009)," Shapiro said. "Shortstop is just too pivotal a position to have that kind of performance."

The Indians’ organization, not to mention their fans, were disillusioned with Peralta’s recent performance, and the feeling was mutual. Cleveland GM John Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge had both disparaged Peralta publicly, decrying his range as a shortstop and had moved him over to third base for the 2010 season.

The big knock on Peralta, as far as Cleveland management was concerned, was his range as a shortstop. Shapiro was quoted;

"I know he didn't make many errors," Shapiro said, "but we went back and watched on video every single ball hit to him all year - and his range was among the worst of any major-league shortstop. There were more balls that an average major-league shortstop needs to get to."

Upon his arrival in Detroit, Peralta told the media how happy he was to be joining the Tigers, and one didn’t have to read too hard between the lines to see that he was happy to be out of Cleveland. He was moved back to shortstop for the Tigers, knocked a pair of home runs including the game winner in his first game as a Tiger at Fenway Park to beat the Red Sox, and he was an instant fan favorite.

Peralta’s numbers at the plate weren’t much better with the Tigers that season than they were with Cleveland, 250ish average, .300ish on base percentage, and .700ish OPS. But he was happy, and he very much wanted to stay. Jim Leyland remarked that "Jhonny is happy here, and a happy player is a good player".

The Tigers were happy enough with their free trial offer of Peralta. Although they declined a $ 7 million option for the 2011 season which allowed him to temporarily become a free agent, Detroit signed Peralta to a two year contract extension with an annual salary of $ 5.5 million, and a $ 6 million option for a third season. The club remained happy enough with Peralta’s performance that they exercised that option for 2013 at the end of last season.

Peralta’s two seasons with the Tigers have been two different stories at the plate. In 2011, he hit .299 with 21 home runs, 86 RBI, and was selected to the American league all star team. He increased his OPS by 114 points over the previous season. Only the batting average was a career high mark, but he was back up to the level that made him an all star with Cleveland.

In 2012, Peralta’s numbers came back down to earth. He hit just .239 with an OBP of .305, 13 homers, and an OPS of just .689, a career low since his partial rookie season. It seems to go that way with Peralta at the plate. He has good seasons and some that are not so good. Offensively, he led the league among shortstops in 2011 in wOBA and WAR. In 2012, he was in the middle of the pack.The league average shortstop hit.253 .305 .366 .671, while Peralta hit .239 .305 .384 .689.

In the post season, he has posted an OPS of .712 and .748 in 2011 and 2012 respectively, hitting a pair of homers in 2011 and three more in 2012, while doing some of his best work at shortstop.

Defensively, which remains the big concern for many, Peralta is excellent fielding balls that he gets to. He led the league with a revised zone rating (RZR) of .853. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to as many balls hit to either side of him as we’d like. Jut 49 plays made out of zone in 1277 innings was the lowest among qualified shortstops in the league.

I promise not to launch into another clinic on fielding metrics in this article (though I reserve the right to do so in the future), but suffice it to say that I believe Bill James’ defensive runs saved (DRS), which has Peralta at minus one for the 2012 season, is more accurate than UZR 150, which shows him at 11.7 runs saved, making him the second best defensive shortstop in the league.

Whatever measure you use (Tom Gage refers to fielding percentage and range factor in a recent article), the numbers don’t support the idea that Peralta presents the Tigers with a big problem in the field. Sure, they’d like him to have Everett-like range, going deep into the hole and gunning down runners.

The Tigers had a shortstop who did not live up to expectations at the plate, with Edgar Renteria in 2008. The former gold glover was also below average in the field, and he was on his way after just one season in Detroit. He was replaced by Adam Everett, who had great range but no stick at all. I believe that was a net downgrade. While defense is more important for a shortstop than it is for most positions, much of a shortstop's value still comes from offense.

But if you want a shortstop that does that and hits with any degree of proficiency at the major league level, you either have to draft and develop one, or pay a whole lot more in terms of trade chips, if you even have enough on the farm to acquire such a player. You couldn’t just buy one on the free agent market this winter, unless Steven Drew is your idea of a good time.

The Tigers might be able to upgrade their defense in the late innings by inserting a defensive replacement at shortstop, once they determine that they won’t need any more offense from that position in a given game. But for the most part, for at least 150 games out of the season, Jhonny Peralta will be just fine.