Huascar Ynoa has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, positive surprises for the Braves so far in 2021. Hell, he might be one of the biggest positive surprises in baseball. Across seven starts and one relief appearance, the 22-year-old righty has already compiled 0.7 fWAR with his arm and another 0.5 with his bat and glove. His 55 ERA-/90 FIP-/76 xFIP- are all either tops on the starting staff or very close (Ian Anderson has an 89 FIP- after yesterday’s victory), and he’s almost been a paragon of consistency results-wise, as he’s had six Game Scores (v2) between 61 and 69 in seven tries.
Yet, a specific set of talking points has trailed Ynoa as he’s carved up lineup after lineup: he really only has two pitches! How is he doing it? What’s his long-term outlook? Ynoa hasn’t cared thus far, so perhaps no one should, but this afternoon, he’s going to face off against someone with a similar quirk.
Yes, as the Braves go for a sweep on Sunday afternoon, they’ll have to contend with “Fastball Freddy” himself. Freddy Peralta broke into the league in 2018 throwing over 75 percent fastballs, and did very well for himself, compiling nearly 3 fWAR in under 200 innings as a starter/swingman/”bulk guy” type. Starting in 2020, he decreased his fastball usage to a still-pretty-extreme two-thirds rate and transitioned his second pitch to a slider instead of a curveball; this year he’s added an anxiety-inducing windup, dropped his fastball rate to 55 percent, and changed the shape of his slider to slowly sweep across the zone (think Shane Greene), and it’s resulted in an insane performance boost. Ynoa’s been great, but Peralta has 1.1 fWAR in the same seven starts and one relief appearance, with a 69/72/82 pitching triple-slash and a strikeout rate just a smidge under 40 percent. He’s done this despite a bizarre pitching approach, as beyond the fastball usage rate, he avoids putting pitches in the zone, especially early in the count. As a result, he has a walk rate of 11.6 percent, which is bottom 10 in baseball... yet still with a K%-BB% that is top 10 in baseball. The guy’s getting a whiff rate of over 30 percent on his fastball. Basically, you’re going to be in for an M.C. Escher-ian pitching treat this afternoon if you’re watching.
Huascar Ynoa is not Freddy Peralta. He doesn’t pitch like him, and his path to success has almost nothing in common. But, this is a matchup of two guys who’ve been asked, “Well, how far can you really go with just two pitches?” who’ve shown that the answer can be “pretty damn far.”
The Braves have seen Peralta three times, a short relief appearance in 2019 and two starts in 2018. In his sixth career start, he baffled them to the tune of one run in six innings (6/3 K/BB ratio). A month later, they destroyed him with seven runs in three frames, walking five times while only striking out three. This isn’t really the same Peralta, and it isn’t the same Braves, either. Ynoa’s second career appearance came against Milwaukee. They tagged him for six runs in an inning of relief work. This isn’t the same Ynoa, nor the same Brewers.
Coming into this series, the Braves had a great opportunity to recoup some playoff odds. They’ve done so with two victories, entering play with said odds up to 37 percent. Paired with two Mets losses to the Rays so far, the Braves are now two games back in the division. With a win today, they can secure a sweep, get back to .500, and possibly clamber to within one game of the Mets ahead of their first head-to-head matchup with them on Monday evening. But, Fastball Freddy looms large, first. Stay tuned.
Note: Yeah, okay, Peralta throws a changeup about seven percent of the time, and his old curveball even less. Ynoa has thrown a sinker-type fastball and a changeup about five percent of the time each. They’re both still essentially two-pitch pitchers though.
Atlanta Braves @ Milwaukee Brewers
Sunday, May 16, 2021
2:10 pm EDT
American Family Field, Milwaukee, WI
TV: Bally Sports South
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: Online/Ch. 189