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Free Wily: Peralta’s high-leverage days are numbered

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It was his spot to lose, but now he’s lost it

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

If 2019 has taught the fans anything, it’s that proving yourself is a critical part of sliding into manager Ned Yost’s “circle of trust.” The ability to trot out of the bullpen and set hitters down in order by pounding the strike zone brings confidence to not only the pitcher, but to his coaches as well. However, scanning over past roster moves in the case of the bullpen, one poor outing can send you packing for Omaha the next day. That is, unless your name is Wily Peralta.

For Kyle Zimmer, it was his outing that resulted in him loading the bases in a tie game and failing to record an out in Detroit. For Kevin McCarthy, it was the battering he took against the Mariners on April 8th in which surrendered three runs on three hits and tallied one out. Tim Hill suffered the same fate in the same game as his sporadic command led to another shaky outing for a Kansas City reliever. Heath Fillmyer made the trip back to Werner Park after his poor start at Yankee Stadium on April 20th, allowing six runs and four home runs in four innings of work. Even Frank Schwindel faced demotion 15 at-bats into his big league career.

But in Peralta’s situation, the times coming up short have occurred in more instances than not. Since his impressive tight-rope act against the Twins in the second series of the season, stranding the bases loaded after taking over with nobody out, the earned run average has ballooned and the walk numbers have spiked.

In contemplating all the pent up anger and frustration hurled towards Peralta, can we accept the fact this was never the role he was meant for? When Dayton Moore inked him to a one-year $1.5 million contract in December of 2017, the intention was not to be the organization’s closer. After all, he was dumped by Milwaukee following his 2017 numbers in which he posted a 7.85 ERA in eight starts with the Brewers.

He was one of many experiments, picked off the island of misfit toys Kansas City has occasionally struck gold in. His physical abilities to run it up in the mid to upper-90s as a starter was a plus and his 2014 season that featured him tallying 17 wins and racking up 154 strikeouts in 198.2 innings was the glimpse of his potential.

For the most part in 2018, it worked. “Big Wily” completed all 14 of his save opportunities and posted the highest strikeout-per-nine total he had in his career at 9.2. But his six walks-per-nine stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of his otherwise respectable campaign. Re-signing him to compete for the closing roll in 2019, Peralta became the better of two evils when the only other reliever with closing experience in Brad Boxberger started out about as unreliable as anyone in major league baseball.

Seeing as though the bullpen has found footing and begun to climb the ranks towards the middle of the pack statistically, it should no longer be about the experience. It’s about trusting whoever is available to notch those final three outs. Ian Kennedy has been hands down the most consistent reliever for the Royals, but to have the opportunity to close it out in the ninth, bridging the gap in the seventh and eighth without any blemishes looks to be his strongest suit.

If we are judging based on sheer “stuff”, that award goes to no other than Jake Diekman. Don’t get me wrong, Diekman hasn’t been perfect either and has caused for a handful of bullpen implosions, but his .137 opponent’s batting average is hard to argue with. Not to mention he has yet to allow a long ball to date. At times, his command is what determines his outing, but with his unique arm angle, a 97-98 mph four-seam fastball and a sinker-slider combo, Yost is almost better off taking a chance on his ability to throw strikes than he is trusting Peralta to do the same. Guys such as Scott Barlow, Jake Newberry, and Richard Lovelady, have all held their own, but it will be a chilly day in hell before a rookie or two players with no more than 20 innings in their career cement themselves into the role of the closer.

Look, there’s a reason Ned Yost calls the shots from the dugout and we as the fans yell back from the television screen. He knows more about the game than one can even fathom. Making a lefty-lefty matchup decision or basing pitching changes off past numbers is the easy thing to do. Oftentimes the manager is thinking one, two, even three batters ahead before walking out to the mound to raise his left or right hand in the air to signal what reliever he wants. Availability is taken into consideration on not using one guy two days in a row or getting a reliever “hot” only to have him sit back down. All these reasons pinpoint why Ned Yost is a professional manager and we simply are not.

But this solution is almost as easy as it comes. The fact of the matter is, Peralta never was a truly reliable closer and unfortunately, the potential will never mold him into one. Rolling the dice paid off last season in August and September when the Royals sat 50 games back of .500 and the pressures of pitching in less impactful games put a pretty face on an otherwise skeptical stat sheet of Peralta. There was no fault in giving him the spot to lose, but now he’s lost it. Waiting to boost the value of a reliever with a declining fastball and no command is wishful thinking at this point. The experiment didn’t turn out on paper like Moore hoped when signing Peralta to a cheap contract. No harm was done financially, but no remarkable benefits came from his performances either. If the Royals continue to stand by proving yourself at the big league level, then time has run out Wily Peralta.