Brewers Suffer a Blow with Loss of Freddy Peralta

Freddy Peralta
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are atop the NL Central thanks in large part to a rotation that has ranked among the game’s best, but the team’s postseason hopes took a hit this week with the news that righty Freddy Peralta will miss “a significant amount of time” due to a posterior shoulder strain. Milwaukee, which is additionally dealing with multiple injuries in its lineup, believes that Peralta will avoid surgery and return this season, but his loss is a disappointment given the 25-year-old’s recent return to form.

Peralta left Sunday’s start against the Nationals after three-plus innings due to tightness in his left shoulder. He failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the fourth inning, and all three came around to score, the last two on reliever Brent Suter’s watch along with three others. The five runs that Peralta was charged with were as many as he had allowed over his previous five starts.

Indeed, Peralta had been on a roll. After starting the season by allowing nine runs in seven innings in his first two turns, he went on the aforementioned five-start run. In 28.2 innings, he struck out 38 (a 34.2% rate) and walked six (5.4%) without allowing a single homer, a run capped by his seven-inning, two-hit, 10-strikeout game against the Braves on May 16. Granted, the competition he faced during that strech wasn’t fierce, as the Phillies, Pirates, Reds (twice), and Braves are all below .500, and only Philadelphia has a team wRC+ higher than 94, but such is the schedule of an NL Central contender.

Peralta underwent an MRI on Monday, which revealed the strain. The Brewers expect the injury will heal with rest, but it will take some time. “He will be back this season but it’s going to be a lengthy absence,” manager Craig Counsell told reporters on Monday. “We’re confident that there’s gonna be no aftereffects to this thing but it’s going to take a while to heal and then build it back up.”

Through the ups and downs of his season so far, Peralta’s ERA is a gaudy 4.42, but among the 66 NL pitchers with at least 30 innings through Monday (the cutoff point for all stats here unless otherwise noted), his 2.10 FIP was the league’s lowest, his 0.23 homers per nine ranked third (teammate Adrian Houser was first at 0.21), his 1.3 WAR and 30.3% strikeout rate were sixth, his 22.4% strikeout-walk differential was seventh, and his 2.88 xERA was 14th.

Those peripherals are in line with the All-Star campaign he put up last season. After three years of careful workload management — a span during which he struck out 258 in 192.2 innings but never threw over 85 innings in a season — Peralta broke out with career highs of 27 starts and 144.1 innings in 2021. Among NL pitchers with at least 140 innings, his 2.81 ERA placed sixth and his 3.12 FIP was seventh. His 33.6% strikeout rate was third behind only teammate Corbin Burnes and Max Scherzer, and his 24.0% strikeout-walk differential was good for fourth behind that pair and Aaron Nola. Only a late-season bout of shoulder inflammation, for which Peralta spent 15 days on the injured list and had a few shortened starts on either side, put a damper on his strong campaign and prevented him from down-ballot consideration in the Cy Young voting.

As with last year, the Brewers’ rotation has been one of the NL’s best:

Brewers Rotation Performance, 2021–22
2021 3.13 (2) 3.29 (1) 26.2% (2) 7.7% (6) 18.5% (2) 0.82 (1) 20.3 (2)
2022 3.32 (4) 3.33 (2) 28.0% (1) 7.8% (6) 20.2% (1) 0.99 (7) 4.4 (2)
All statistics through May 23. NL rankings in parentheses

That lofty performance isn’t just because of Burnes, the reigning NL Cy Young winner. Using the aforementioned 30-inning cutoff, Burnes (2.26 ERA, 3.42 FIP), Eric Lauer (2.16 ERA, 3.35 FIP), and Houser (2.98 ERA, 3.11 FIP) all ranked among the league’s top 21 in ERA and top 26 in FIP through Monday, with Lauer (32.9%), Burnes (31.5%) and Brandon Woodruff (28.7%) second, third, and seventh in strikeout rate, respectively, and similarly among the top 10 in strikeout-walk differential. Woodruff, who placed fifth in the NL Cy Young voting last year, has been the weak link thus far with a .324 BABIP driving his ERA to 4.76, but his FIP is just 3.66. He does appear to be trending in the right direction, with two one-run starts in a row against the Marlins and Nationals.

With Peralta out, the Brewers will turn to lefty Aaron Ashby, who entered the season as the team’s top prospect and at no. 47 on our preseason Top 100 list. Ashby, who turned 24 on Tuesday, has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation since debuting last June 30; this season, he owns a 3.49 ERA and 3.53 FIP in three starts and six relief appearances totaling 28.1 innings with an eye-opening 64.8% groundball rate and a 4.2% barrel rate. He’s struck out 27.6% of all hitters, but walks have been a problem: a 13.8% rate overall, and 20.6% in three starts.

According to his prospect report, Ashby possesses three plus pitches — a fastball that sits 94–97 mph, a slider, and a changeup — but his 40-grade command may mean a future as a multi-inning reliever. More from Eric Longenhagen’s report:

While many post-shutdown arms were unable to hold the velocity spike they exhibited during 2020 instructs or ’21 spring training, Ashby was able to retain his 94-97 band. His fastball has swing-and-miss velocity but not swing-and-miss action, and instead has sinker shape that Ashby seemed to lean into during 2021, as his groundball rate skyrocketed to a whopping 65% combined between Triple-A Nashville and the big leagues. Working toward the bottom of the zone with his sinker may have helped his set up his changeup more consistently, as that pitch was once only flashing plus but is now consistently so. Ashby’s changeup and slider (the latter of which had a 250 rpm jump in spin rate from 2019) are now both two-strike guillotines while his curveball is a show-me pitch that he barely threw in 2021. It may become more important if Ashby ends up back in the rotation. He may follow a similar trajectory to Freddy Peralta‘s and find himself starting eventually, or buttress the back of the bullpen if Josh Hader is traded. Either way, this is an impact arm who is ready right now.

Beyond Ashby, the Brewers also have their sixth-ranked prospect, 25-year-old lefty Ethan Small, at Triple-A Nashville, where he’s posted a 1.95 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 33.3% strikeout rate. From his prospect report:

His heater lives off of carry and angle, and has gotten lots of in-zone whiffs to this point. It’ll be more important for Small to locate more precisely at the top of the zone against big league hitters, because it is only 91-92 mph after all, and he stands the risk of being homer-prone if he’s loose with his in-zone fastball command. Small’s changeup is devastating, and it has consistent arm-side finish. He also does all sorts of crafty stuff, like varying his timing to the plate in several different ways, that disorients hitters. Some teams’ proprietary, stuff-assessing metrics like the movement of Small’s slider, but it’s a below-average pitch visually, and of the thousand Ethan Small pitches logged by Synergy Sports, only two of them are swinging strikes induced by a breaking ball. He’s a high probability no. 4/5 starter likely to seize a rotation spot sometime in 2022.

Also at Nashville is Josh Lindblom, who struggled mightily with the Brewers last year after a so-so 2020 and was outrighted off the 40-man roster; he’s carrying a 2.40 ERA and 3.55 FIP.

At a glance, that appears to be enough depth for the time being, but when one starter is down for months (which sounds like the case for Peralta), things thin out quickly if and when a second starter has even a minor owie; just ask the Mets. That said, the Brewers are generally aggressive at dealing for help outside the organization, even outside of high trade season; last year, they acquired Willy Adames on May 21 and Rowdy Tellez on July 6.

If you’re wondering about how this affects the Brewers’ Playoff Odds, our Depth Charts rest-of-season projection calls for Peralta to throw another 64 innings after returning; I’d take the under on that figure. At least as far as projections go, there isn’t much daylight between Peralta (rest-of-season 3.58 ERA, 3.47 FIP) and Ashby (3.64 ERA, 3.63 FIP), but it’s the replacement-level relievers and Small (4.53 ERA, 4.72 FIP) who are filling Ashby’s spot that represent the real baseline.

All of this comes as the Brewers are already without Adames due to a high left ankle sprain, though he could be back as soon as Thursday, and without Hunter Renfroe as well. The latter landed on the 10-day injured list after straining his right hamstring, and the early expectation is that he’ll miss about two weeks, though as the right fielder himself conceded, “It could be 10 days, it could be four weeks. We don’t know.”

Renfroe is hitting a lopsided but potent .266/.303/.503; his 123 wRC+ is second among the team’s regulars to Tellez’s 131. So long as Adames (116 wRC+) is down, that’s two of the Brewers’ top three — all of whom are tied for the team lead with nine homers — out of action.

Here’s a look at the Brewers’ change in Playoff Odds relative to where they stood as of Sunday morning, before Peralta’s subpar performance and loss. They’re 1–2 in that span while the Cardinals are 2–1, so the narrowing of the division lead is part of the drop, but the reduction of Renfroe’s playing time has not been factored in.

Brewers Change in Playoff Odds
Date W L W% Div Lead Win Div Clinch Bye Clinch WC Make Playoffs Win WS
May 21 26 14 .650 4 89.3% 58.1% 6.6% 95.9% 11.6%
May 25 27 16 .628 3 85.5% 49.0% 8.1% 93.6% 10.0%
Change -3.8% -9.1% 1.5% -2.3% -1.6%

Long story short, while the injuries don’t threaten the Brewers’ likelihood of making the playoffs in the expanded field, this may well affect their seeding and their chances of a first-round bye, and that’s with Peralta returning sometime in the second half of July (he’s had exactly one month in his major league career where he’s reached 30 innings). In the big picture, none of this is insurmountable for the Brewers, who are close to a lock to reach the playoffs for the fifth straight season. If they’re going to play deep into October, though, they’ll need a healthy Peralta, and without him they can’t afford too many other things to go sideways.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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1 month ago

I think Ashby will have some growing pains, but the Brewers have been pretty bankable developing arms recently. I’m confident that even if he’s more 3-4 inning opener type at most, he’ll definitely help mitigate the loss.