Dodgers Add David Peralta to Their Outfield Puzzle

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have had a fairly quiet offseason by their recent standards. Because they are set to exceed the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive season, any spending over the $233 million limit will carry a 50% tax. As a result, Los Angeles has settled for smaller moves, bringing in Miguel Rojas via a trade with the Marlins and signing a couple of veterans to one-year deals. They added another free agent to that group on Friday, inking David Peralta to a one-year, $6.5 million contract with incentives that could bring the total to $8 million.

A long-time member of the Diamondbacks, Peralta peaked in 2018 with a 130 wRC+ and a career-high 30 home runs. In the three years after that breakout, he fell back to being a league average hitter with good plate discipline and decent power. A late-ish bloomer who converted away from the mound after he had already made his professional debut, the 35-year-old was never going to fit into Arizona’s rebuilding plan despite becoming a fan favorite in the desert.

In an effort to stave off father time, Peralta made an effort to address a number of holes in his swing prior to last season. As detailed by Zach Buchanan of The Athletic, Peralta sought the help of Michael Brantley to help him optimize his swing for elevated contact. Gone was a leg kick, replaced with a toe tap, and his lower body was now engaged though his swing to allow his hands to quickly meet the ball out in front of the plate where elevated contact is generated. The results were a revelation: through July 30, his barrel rate was more than double his previous norms, all the way up to 11.6%, while his fly ball rate was a career-high 44.9%. His strikeout rate was a bit elevated, but that was a small price to pay for more impactful contact. Then, on July 31, he was traded to the Rays ahead of the trade deadline and things kind of fell apart for him:

Upon joining Tampa Bay, Peralta’s fly ball rate steadily fell back toward his previous norms and his barrel rate cratered to just 3.2%. His power completely evaporated, and his wRC+ drooped from 112 to 91. Fortunately, his contact rate rebounded in Florida, increasing by more than five points, back up to where it was earlier in his career. It was recently reported that after joining the Rays Peralta was dealing with a herniated disk in his back, which could certainly explain some of his struggles. If his swing changes stick this year and he’s able to combine a new ability to elevate his batted balls with a better contact rate, he could be a nice addition to the Dodgers.

Peralta does possess a pretty sizable platoon split, which hampers his ability to be an everyday player. Over his career, his wOBA against right-handed pitching has been 56 points higher than it is against same-handed pitching. That split was only exacerbated with his swing changes last year; it was a difference of over 100 points of wOBA. Thankfully, he still produced elevated contact against left-handed pitching, even though those batted balls weren’t hit with much authority. At this point in his career, he’s probably best used as the strong side of a left field platoon.

With Cody Bellinger departing to Chicago in free agency, the outfield alignment for the Dodgers has been largely unsettled. Mookie Betts is a fixture in right field but both of the other positions have question marks associated with them. Los Angeles has already brought in a number of non-roster invitees to sift through this spring. They’ll add Peralta to this mix, which provides a little more clarity to their roster:

Dodgers Outfield Options
Player Bats Projected wOBA OF RAA wOBA vs. L wOBA vs. R
Chris Taylor R .308 1 .332 .328
Trayce Thompson R .316 2 .303 .326
James Outman L .312
David Peralta* L .304 5 .290 .356
Jason Heyward* L .300 1 .287 .342
Bradley Zimmer* L .272 3 .254 .290
Steven Duggar* L .268 -1 .259 .293
* New Acquisition | Projections via FG Depth Charts

Simply looking through the new additions, it’s pretty obvious the Dodgers were looking to add a left-handed batter to platoon with Chris Taylor and/or Trayce Thompson. Jason Heyward, Bradley Zimmer, and Steven Duggar all fit that bill, though Peralta definitely seems like a better option than any of those three.

Taylor has spent a large portion of his time in the outfield over the last two years, with nearly 75% of his appearances coming on the grass. He suffered through an injury-plagued and largely disappointing season, making his elevation to starting center fielder a risky proposition. There’s also the possibility Taylor will be called on to man one of the infield positions if Gavin Lux or Vargas don’t work out at either up-the-middle position. Thompson came out of nowhere to post a 142 wRC+ in about half a season’s worth of work last year, playing all three outfield positions. There are some serious questions about whether his late-career breakout will stick, with his 36.5% strikeout rate the most glaring cause for concern.

Unfortunately, Peralta definitely won’t be able to man center field, which means one of Taylor or Thompson will need to be deployed there regularly. There’s also a wild card to consider: prospect James Outman. He made his big league debut last year and has shown excellent power throughout his minor league career. His ability to make contact regularly leaves a lot to be desired and he’s best suited to playing an outfield corner. He also fits the mold of a strong-side platoon corner outfielder.

The Dodgers certainly aren’t lacking in options to sort through this spring as they figure out how to fill out their non-Betts outfield positions. Peralta gives them a proven track record with the promise of a little more if the positive effects of his swing change carry over to this year. The team is no doubt hoping to get the Arizona version of Peralta and avoid the Tampa Bay version.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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1 year ago

A herniated disc in his back. Yikes . . .

1 year ago
Reply to  Creamy

As someone who’s experienced that before, I can say it’s painful and takes a while to shake. And I’m not playing professional sport for a living.

Then again, these guys have the best care available to them. Good luck to Peralta.