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On June 1, 2014, David Peralta made his Arizona Diamondbacks debut at the age of 26. Going from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to pitching in independent ball to cracking the majors as an outfielder, Peralta – more commonly known as the “Freight Train” – has blossomed into arguably the most popular player on the team.
As the 34-year-old enters the final year of a three-year, $22 million contract on a team that isn’t expected to contend, it’s worth considering the possibility that the longest tenured member of the Diamondbacks may have played his last game in Sedona red.
From a scouting standpoint, Peralta has essentially had the same hitting profile throughout his career. He frequently makes hard contact, but he hits so many ground-balls that it’s hard for him to translate that hard contact into extra-base hits.
Since his debut, Peralta has finished in the top 10% in baseball in hard-hit rate twice. Even in his subpar 2021 season, his hard-hit rate of 41.8% ranked in the 55th percentile.
Peralta’s career BABIP is also quite high at .332. When he puts the ball in play, it’s got a better than normal chance of going for a hit.
On the other hand, Peralta’s career ground-ball rate of 52% is 16th in baseball among currently active qualified hitters since 2014. The list of names around him is telling: Jarrod Dyson, Jean Segura and Andrelton Simmons, to name a few.
Many of the names on the list are high-contact hitters who lack the power to do real damage on fly balls. Peralta isn’t like that. He thrives when he gets the ball in the air, but he struggles to do it consistently.
Unfortunately, Peralta’s walk rate typically sits slightly below average, so he isn’t likely to compensate for his lack of power by getting on base like some other guys.
This is not to say Peralta has been exactly the same player every year. In 2015, he slashed .312/.371/.522 with 53 extra-base hits, including 17 homers. In his age-27 season, Peralta looked like a budding star.
After injuries disrupted his 2016 season, Peralta bounced back in 2017, but with less power than he showed in the past.
In 2018, Peralta put it all together. He belted a career-high 30 home runs on his way to a slash line of .293/.352/.516. He posted 3.8 fWAR and was named a National League Silver Slugger Award recipient.
Since then, Peralta has continued to be a useful big league regular, but he’s never been able to replicate that level of performance.
It comes as no surprise that 2015 and 2018 are the two seasons Peralta ranked in the top 10% in the league in hard-hit rate. Interestingly, his ground-ball rates in those seasons were relatively close to his career norm: 52.1% in 2015, 50.7% in 2018.
These numbers tell a compelling story about Peralta’s game: He is one of few hitters who can be great even with a very high ground-ball rate.
Also on this list is Christian Yelich, who posted a ridiculous 167 wRC+ in 2018 despite a 51.8% ground-ball rate. But the only way Yelich – or Peralta – can accomplish any of this is if they’re making elite levels of hard contact.
That brings us to the 2021 season. In a career-high 150 games, Peralta slashed an uninspiring .259/.325/.402 with eight homers, 30 doubles and eight triples. His wRC+ of 93 is his lowest mark since his injury-riddled 2016 season.
Unfortunately, while Peralta’s absurd hard-hit rates have been high enough at times in the past to compensate for his ground-ball tendencies, those days are likely behind him.
Over the last three seasons, Peralta’s hard-hit rate has shifted closer to league average, even dipping below league average in 2020. At this point, it’s hard to see Peralta as anything more than an average hitter moving forward.
Speaking of next season, Peralta is due to make a fairly reasonable $7.5 million in 2022.
Frankly, average looks pretty good right now for the team that just tied for the worst record in baseball.
That said, the D-backs happen to have an eerily similar – yet more affordable – player already on the roster in Pavin Smith. Smith slashed .267/.328/.404 in 2021 with 11 homers, 21 doubles and four triples. Coincidentally, Smith can also be a bit ground-ball-happy at times.
In some ways, Smith’s skillset makes Peralta expendable. That said, with the D-backs likely to decline Kole Calhoun’s team option, they don’t have much outfield depth.
Beyond Smith and Peralta, their only other clear outfield options are Josh Rojas and Daulton Varsho (the team may move Ketel Marte predominantly to the infield in 2022).
Given that Smith may be the primary option at first base, Rojas will likely split time at several infield positions and Varsho is likely to back up Carson Kelly at catcher, the outfield depth chart is murky at best. Jake McCarthy is worth mentioning, but we’ve only seen him in the big leagues for about a month.
All this to say, unless the D-backs make a move to add to their depth – or they really feel comfortable with McCarthy and potentially prospect Alek Thomas playing significant roles in the outfield from day one – it seems likely Peralta will be back next year. Perhaps the D-backs keep him until midseason, and look to move him at the trade deadline when there may be more urgency in the market.
No matter what happens, Peralta’s connection with fans remains strong. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind seeing the Freight Train on the tracks for one more year.