30 Players in 30 Days: Joel Peralta

Joel Peralta.JPGAnother day and another post about another reliever. Perhaps it’s because this season’s bullpen was an absolute bright spot for a team that struggled to produce offense. They racked up 545.2 relief innings in the process–the most in the Majors–and maintained a 3.35 ERA, the fifth best in the Majors. The season started out with a bang under the capable arms of Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps. But when Clippard started to fade in mid-June and Capps was traded to Minnesota, the bullpen as a whole could have taken a major tumble. It didn’t. Joel Peralta was one of the reasons why.

As bullpen mate Miguel Batista put it, “Peralta came out of nowhere to be our miracle worker.” Well, he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He came out of Triple-A Syracuse where he was having a stellar spring, saving 20 games without a single blown save and compiling a 1.08 ERA before he was called up to the Big Leagues on June 21. But he did work a few miracles.

Opposing batters averaged just .170 against Peralta, good for the lowest BAA on the team’s pitching staff. In 49.0 innings of total work this season, Peralta accumulated 49 strikeouts. It was the first time in his career the 34-year-old has averaged at least a strikeout per inning. He allowed just 30 hits, giving up the fewest hits per inning of any Nationals pitcher, while also ending the season with a miniscule 2.02 ERA. And he works quickly–he averages just 15.0 pitches per inning, less than Strasburg, Storen, Slaten, or for that matter, any Nationals pitcher with a last name beginning in “S.”

Peralta only earned one decision on the season, and he had to wait a long time to get it but it was worth the wait. On October 3, he was credited with the win in the National’s final game of the season, a 14-inning duel against the Mets in which he pitched 2.0 innings of scoreless ball, walking none and fanning three. It was his first Big League win since 2008.

Peralta is a free agent but if Jim Riggleman’s words are any indication, he’ll be back again next year. When asked what the team needed to do in 2011, Riggleman responded in part: “Strengthen our strength, which is our bullpen…We may be going to the bullpen even earlier, because we have another guy or two down there to go along with Clippard, Peralta, Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Doug Slaten.” Will he return? It sure sounds like it.

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