April 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching

Giving up on Tigers' Jhonny Peralta would be a mistake

Jhonny Peralta got off to a good start on his season Monday, with a pair of hits and a walk against the Twins. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Is Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta on the short leash?

The offseason rumors surrounding him might lead some to think so.

So let's turn that question around a bit: Should Peralta be on a short leash? Will Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski be shopping for an upgrade come the trade deadline?

Fans of Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia and others had better hope not. Finding a shortstop is not exactly the easiest thing to do, and a trade would come at a steep price.

The arguments against Peralta are two-fold: He's got little range in the field, a problem that becomes compounded when he's paired with an immobile Miguel Cabrera as well. Peralta's also coming off a season in which he failed to live up to pretty much anybody's expectations.

He hit just .239 with a sub-par .305 on-base percentage and a .384 slugging average that ranks among his worst seasons.

Those numbers might seem even worse compared to his first full year in Detroit, 2011, when he batted .299/.345/.478.

Neither fans nor analysts should have expected a repeat of those figures. Peralta put up one of the best years in his career in 2011. It was not realistic to expect a repeat performance.

Of course, few could expect such a hard fall, either.

Peralta will almost certainly be better. Players do decline as they age, but at age 30 he has not entered a period where steep decline typically occurs.

Besides that, he appears to be in better shape. Reports earlier this spring suggested Peralta spent added time on conditioning in the offseason and entered spring training at 218 pounds, down from the 236 he weighed at the end of 2012.

A deeper look into 2012's stats suggests that his results weren't quite in line with what was statistically likely. In fact, he tied a career-worst .275 batting average on balls in play. His .275 BABIP was noticeably worse than both his 2011 figure (.325) and career average (.310).

This is where the dreaded "luck" word comes up, whether you call it that, statistical noise or just the game of baseball.

Peralta actually continued an above-average line-drive rate of 22 percent, but the big change in his numbers was due to an increase in ground balls hit and a corresponding decrease in fly balls hit.

That likely accounts for the decrease in power numbers.

But it doesn't account for the drop in BABIP. By analyzing the batted ball types, it becomes clear Peralta was somewhat unlucky: Fielders made plays on more of his batted balls than should be expected.

That leads to a conclusion Peralta will almost certainly bounce back in 2013.

How much, one cannot say with certainty. But it wouldn't be a surprise to see his average around .250-.260 range with slugging back above .400.

Those figures would put him in the top-half to top-third of starting shortstops in the MLB.

It remains to be seen if he'll find added range from the weight loss, though one should keep expectations tamped down there.

Tales of woe are overwrought, however. Pick a stat and his numbers are fine.

At worst he's a run worse than average by Defensive Runs Saved. He was third among shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating.

Even in the more commonly used Fielding Percentage, Peralta ranked seventh in baseball.

It's unlikely the Tigers will find a player on the trade market they can realistically acquire who'll be a true upgrade over Peralta. There are a few names people dream trading for — Elvis Andrus of the Rangers among them — but it's just not going to happen.

Giving up on Peralta after last season would have been a mistake. Giving up on him this year would be, too.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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