Sal is congratulated on his first major league homer. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

Salvador

I’m not fluent in Spanish. Far from it, in fact. However, I couldn’t help but look up what “salvador” means in Spanish. What is it?

Savior.

Right now, that’s fitting. A bit strong, perhaps, but Salvador Perez is giving the Royals something we have been wanting for a long while: strong, young talent at catcher. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s hitting right now. He’s supposed to be great at handling pitchers, but is that the case? And where does he stand among rookie catchers all-time?

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too confident about the promotion of Sal when he was surprisingly called upon after only 12 games with Omaha. It’s not that he wasn’t hitting well there (had a .333/.347/.500 line in 49 PA), it was that I wasn’t sure his bat was ready to basically jump two levels in two weeks. He was hitting well enough with Northwest Arkansas, but AA is very different from the major leagues. Obviously, he’s started off his time with Kansas City fairly well, hitting .295/.333/.443 in his first 15 games. For a 21-year-old catcher that was jumped two levels this season, that’s very respectable. And while he does have an above-average BABIP of .327, that’s not completely outlandish compared to the .290 or .300 average that is usually considered. Sal has legitimately succeeded so far.

I’ll take a deeper look in what that means historically later on, but I first want to see what he’s done with the pitchers since joining the club.

The Royals have had a catching carousel this season, with Matt Treanor, Brayan Pena, Manny Pina, and Sal all logging time behind the plate. While none of them are considered All-Stars at this point, they’ve all had their advantages and disadvantages, even if some of those are dreamed up in the Royals front office. Anyway, with such a corps of rough starting pitchers, what does the promotion of Sal do for his battery mates during games?

For all Royals starters, the only two that have improved results with Sal behind the dish are Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen, both of whom have seen drops in batting average and ERA with Sal. However, there’s a catch. Sal has only caught one of Francis’ starts (his most recent against Toronto), so that’s not too reliable. And those are the only two starters whose BABIP is below average with Sal catching. While that’s notable, Chen has also seen a tick upwards in his K/BB ratio, so it is possible that Sal calls a better game for Chen than Pena has this season. All of this is hand-waving, of course, as Sal hasn’t caught any starter more than four times so far, but it is interesting to note.

As for the other three starters, Danny Duffy hasn’t seen any real change in the standard batting line with Sal rather than Pena or Treanor, but has compiled a higher ERA with Sal than with the other two. Take that with a grain of salt, however, as those four games have been facing Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. Basically, Duffy’s just had a tough string of starts lately. I’m not sure a catcher change would do anything to solve that.

Felipe Paulino has walked more than he’s struck out when Sal catches, though his other statistics are reasonably in line with the rest of the season. And the “ace”, Luke Hochevar, has seen a drop in results from what he did with Pina catching, but the rest of his stats are close to or better than what he did with Treanor.

Basically, what this means is that there is no recognizable statistical difference with Sal catching rather than the other Royals backstops this season. Still, Sal hasn’t caught many games yet, so it’s difficult to ascertain and true changes. All that is apparent is that he’s not significantly worse than other options.

With relievers, it’s sort of all over the map. None of the relievers have performed significantly better with Sal than with Pena, Pina, or Treanor (Adcock pitched three shutout innings with Sal, but that was their only time working together), but some have been worse since he’s joined the club. Notable changes are Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, and Joakim Soria. Holland and Coleman have seen their K/BB drop with Sal and Crow and Soria have seen their opponents’ triple-slash lines shoot upward. I’m not too worried about Crow, however, as his BABIP with Sal catching is an unbelievable .583, which explains that away. I don’t want to go too in depth on these, but it’s alarming to see such a drastic change in results. Again, it’s hand-waving with small samples, but either the late season arm exhaustion or a change in strategy could be the cause of these differences.

Okay, so, overall, the pitchers haven’t improved in any obvious ways. They may be more comfortable on the mound with Sal, which is hard to measure statistically, but they apparently haven’t improved their results. For all intensive purposes, Sal has been just another receiver, batting and defense not taken into account.

So, let’s take batting into account. I just want to skip all the hand-waving about why he does what he does and look at where he sits historically. Sal is the second youngest catcher to start at least his first 15 games at catcher in their rookie season with a line of at least .275/.300/.400 in that time and at least 50 plate appearances. Here’s where he ranks with those players in some random statistics over their first 15 games:

 

PA: 1st

BA: 4th

OBP: 4th

SLG: 5th

Hits: 1st

RBI: 2nd

Walks: 5th

Strikeouts: 5th (fewest)

 

Sal stands in there pretty well with these guys, many of whom were at least two years older than him when they began their careers. As an added bonus, of the players whose careers are over, the average career length was 11.25 years. Four of them played 16 seasons or more, including the 20 seasons of the great Benito Santiago. Two (Santiago and Jim Hegan) were All-Stars. So, there’s a possibility for a strong, long career for Sal.

As an added bonus, some catchers that started their first 15 games and were as young as or younger than Sal (and performed worse in those games) were Ivan Rodriguez, Dale Murphy, Johnny Bench, Mike Scioscia, Yadier Molina, and, of course, Darrell Porter. This list of 16 catchers (all 21 or younger) includes 11 All-Stars and two Hall of Famers (Bench and Ray Schalk). Two of them (Molina and Rodriguez) are still playing, but with Pudge’s statistics included, these 15 men averaged 11.73-season careers. Apparently, being brought up as a young guy that plays purely catcher is a good thing.

Salvador Perez is on fire to start his career, especially for a guy that was called up without much AAA experience. He’s one of the 14 youngest players to start their career with 15 starts as a catcher and has ranked well among those players in his batting prowess. While he’s supposed to be great with pitchers and working around the plate, it’s unclear how that will play out in the future. What is clear is that Sal is in a good place, historically. Given his likelihood to stick around for a while, the Royals could have yet another long-tenured Royal to look forward to for many, many years.

 

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Brayan Pena Kansas City Royals KC Manny Pina Matt Treanor MLB Royals Salvador Perez

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