Question: If Jhonny Peralta Doesn’t Heat Up Soon, How Long Will Mike Matheny Go Before Making a Lineup Change?

Since the All-Star break of 2015 Jhonny Peralta has stepped into the batter’s box 601 times in a regular-season MLB game. That’s a lot of at-bats. That’s a lot of playing time, even when we factor in Peralta’s thumb injury that disrupted his 2016 season. The factual truth is, Peralta hasn’t gotten much done. And this isn’t new. This has been going on for a long time.

Peralta is batting .248 through his last 601 plate appearences.

Oh, you can make excuses for Jhonny if you’d like.

You can say manager Mike Matheny pushed him too hard in the second half of 2015, causing Peralta wore down — so disregard his stats after the All-Star break.

You can point to injury. Peralta broke his thumb during a routine fielding play early in the 2016 spring training and didn’t have enough time completely recover from the setback — so disregard his ’16 hitting statistics…

You can cite his position switch. Jhonny moved from shortstop to third base last season, and needed time to adapt — so disregard his poor defensive metrics.

You can say it’s early. Through Tuesday, Peralta had only 20 plate appearances this season — so disregard his .150 batting average, eight strikeouts, and the fact that he has no extra-base hits.

OK, fine.

But I’ll pass on attempting to rationalize Peralta’s decline. I’ll just look at the results of his last 601 plate appearances:

.248 batting average

.301 onbase percentage

.362 slugging percentage

.663 OPS

12 home runs, or one every 46 at-bats

Among the 203 MLB hitters that have at least 600 plate appearances since the 2015 All-Star break, Peralta ranks No. 187 in OPS, 185th in slugging, 176th in OBP, and comes in at No. 160 in home-run ratio.

Peralta’s substantial downturn hasn’t dissuaded Matheny from giving Jhonny 299 plate appearances in the No. 4 lineup spot, and 135 PA in the No. 5 spot, during the decline phase.

In the 434 combined plate appearances at the No. 4 or No. 5  line on Matheny’s lineup card, Peralta has contributed only 8 home runs, 12 doubles and 31 RBIs. I’m not sure about you, but I’m thinking you need more considerable impact from a guy that you frequently use in the heart of the lineup.

Peralta isn’t a starting player because of his defense. He’s a minus 13 fielder in Defensive Runs Saved overall since the start of 2015. His adjustment to third base isn’t going well. Peralta was a minus 6 at third base last season, and the struggles have carried over to 2017.

Peralta isn’t a starting player because of speed and base running. In his three-plus seasons as a Cardinal, Peralta is a minus 8.2 in the Base Running Runs metric. Translation: that’s terrible.

Peralta is a lineup fixture for one reason only: offensive production. But that ain’t happening, either.

Peralta’s has a bleak total of 70 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) since the ’15 All-Star break.

That’s 21 percent below league average.

We’re talking about a player, nearly 35, who is below average offensively, defensively, and as a runner.

Since the 2015 All-Star break Peralta’s performance is below the replacement level, at minus 1.2 Wins Above Replacement. That means Peralta’s overall value is less than that of a generic, average player that a team would call up from the minors.

Needless to say the Cardinals would do better with Jedd Gyorko at third base, or Greg Garcia at third base, or Matt Carpenter at third base, and maybe even Patrick Wisdom or Paul DeJong at third base.

With the manager choosing to ignore the unpleasant reality of Peralta’s play — defensive liability, offensive liability, and base-running liability — Jhonny remains entrenched as a middle-lineup presence.

Perhaps Peralta will soon restore some lost power and start contributing league-average offense.

If Jhonny heats up for a couple of weeks, the broadcasters will shriek with joy, the hometown gazette will get busy writing sonnets, the redemption narrative will kick into overdrive, and our humble Midwestern baseball village will be saved.

And this hap-hap-happy celebration would occur if Peralta simply pulled his offense up to a league-average level.

But league-average offense wouldn’t come close to offsetting Peralta’s substandard defense and slow speed.

League-average offense wouldn’t justify an every-day starting gig.

League-average offense wouldn’t make it OK to bat Peralta fourth or fifth in a lineup that’s straining to score runs.

I don’t enjoy being a meanie; I hope that Jhonny can be good again.

But unless something changes soon, we’re headed into Allen Craig Land.

And it’s strange when the manager seems to be the last to know.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie 

More: Small Sample? Enough Already With That. The 2017 Cardinals Are Looking Like the 2016 Team