In 2012 Rays reliever Joel Peralta finished the 8th inning in 33 of Fernando Rodney's 48 saves. As we gear up for the 2013 season Peralta is once again locked in as the 8th inning reliever extraordinaire.
Joel Peralta has had a long relationship with Rays manager Joe Maddon going back to the early 2000's while they were both in the Los Angeles Angels organization. From all external actions he seems happy and likes playing for the Rays. So when his opportunity came to hit the free agent market and he chose to sign early (mid-November) and remain with the Rays it wasn't a surprise when he was quoted in a Dominican Newspaper as saying "Some teams offered a little bit more money, but I got what I thought I was worth and I was happy with it - I didn't want to go anywhere else."
We hear this same type of commentary from many free agents who elect to re-sign with their current team but Peralta went a step further by signing a contract that includes guaranteed $3M for 2013 and 2014 as well as 3 club option years for 2015-2017 at $2.5M per season and not one of the option years includes a buyout. In other words, he is willing to pitch for the Rays as long as the Rays want him to pitch for them.
Peralta had been through a lot of emotional moments in his career including being exposed as one of the players that was older than he really was. When trying to land a contract in the Dominican Republic (as a shortstop) he felt he had no chance as a 20 year old so he purchased a forged birth certificate and lied about his age (said he was 16) in order to land his first contract with the Oakland A's which netted him a $3,500 signing bonus. He doesn't regret doing what he did and found it a huge relief when he finally had to come clean about his age in 2002. For more on the Peralta story check out Marc Topkins story Tampa Bay Rays Reliever Joel Peralta has no regrets about lying about his age.
The 2012 season brought more controversy in to Peralta's world. Who will ever forget watching him take the walk of shame off the mound in Washington after his former organization exposed him for having what was deemed a significant amount of pine tar in his glove. The pine tar incident ended with him being labeled a cheater and he was slapped with an 8 game suspension. In true Rays fashion the organization, specifically friend and manager Joe Maddon, made a bold plea on Peralta's behalf. If ever a manager backed a player in a stressful time it was Joe Maddon who came to Peralta's defense with some of his strongest statements as a major league manager:
With the pine tar incident behind him he returned to put up some great numbers including career highs in appearances (76) and strike out rate (11.3 K/9). His name litters the leader board for relief pitchers. He held the opposition to a .200 (49-245) batting average against which ranked 5th among relievers, he struck out 84 batters (tied for 6th for AL relievers), and his 76 appearances ranked 2nd in the AL. On the negative side of the ledger he did allow the 5th most homers by a reliever with 9.
He has struggled against right handed batters the last 2 seasons allowing a .311 wOBA in 2011 and a .304 wOBA in 2012 but he has become quite dominant against left handed batters holding them to a .183 wOBA in 2011 and a .239 wOBA in 2012. Although he has struggled more against RHB he has shown an ability to get both right handed batters and left handed batters outs which works in his favor as he has assumed a spot in the Rays bullpen as the 8th inning reliever extraordinaire.
His spot in the bullpen began to take shape in the 2011 season. He made 71 appearances in 2011 and over half (36) came in the 8th inning. That number probably woud have been higher had Kyle Farnsworth not been injured during the season which required Peralta to take on the 9th inning which he entered 13 times and the 10th inning which he entered 4 times. His role was evolving as the year went on as he entered the game with men on base 21 times and worked multiple innings 13 times.
With Fernando Rodney remaining healthy and putting up a record year for a closer (in terms of ERA) Peralta was assigned the more defined role of setting up Rodney - specifically working the 8th inning. Out of his 77 appearances in 2012 he entered in the 8th inning 63 times. He finished the 8th inning in 33 of Fernando Rodney's 48 saves. He often started a clean inning as he only entered with men on base 17 times and he was predominantly a 1-inning specialist only going more than 1 inning for times.
More than likely Joe Maddon will assemble his bullpen from the top down and utilize Fernando Rodney in the 9th inning, Joel Peralta in the 8th inning, and Jake McGee, who many including myself feel is the best reliever in the pen, as the ultimate high leverage guy at any point from the 6th inning through the 8th inning.