On July 4, 2011, I had just finished a relaxing weekend in Branson, MO and then drove to Springdale, AR to watch the Naturals play at beautiful Arvest Ballpark. I was particularly excited to see Wil Myers that day, but he was injured and never took the field. Fortunately, they had great fireworks after the Naturals victory which served as a consolation for missing out on my first opportunity to see Wil.
I was pleasantly surprised by two things I didn’t expect at the game. Surprise number one was the incredibly delicious funnel dogs served in the concession stand near the right field corner. Yes, funnel dogs. They’re just like a corn dog, but instead of dipping the hot dog in corn meal before frying, it’s lovingly dunked in a giant bucket of thick funnel cake batter. If you’ve never previously been to a Naturals home game, this alone is worth the trip to Arkansas.
The other pleasant surprise came in about the 4th or 5th inning. The opposing team moved a runner to 2nd base. A couple of pitches later, I saw something that was so unbelievable, so incredibly awesome, so downright thrilling for a fan of defensive prowess like me that I almost choked on my funnel dog. Salvador Perez quickly stood to his feet and rifled a throw back to second base in an attempt to catch the base runner napping. And this wasn’t any throw, it was a scorching hot laser beam shot directly from home plate toward second, incredibly landing just on the 3rd base side of second right as the runner was desperately trying to scramble back.
I wish I could say the runner was tagged out and the stands erupted in cheers, and although it would make my story better, it wouldn’t be true. Somehow, I have no idea how he did it, but the base runner was able to get back to the bag just in a nick of time. But never in my entire life, at any level of baseball, have I ever seen a catcher make a snap throw to 2nd base. It was quite astonishing to watch, and if it wasn’t for a miraculous demonstration of agility, the runner would have been out.
I stood to my feet and started shouting “You da man Salvador! You keep that up and I’ll see you in KC in no time!” And as you know, I was right.
If you’ve been paying attention this year, you know that the Royals have two unbelievable defensive arms on the team – Jeff Francoeur and Salvador Perez. (I’m not talking about “pitching arms”, the Royals rotation is woefully short in this area.) You can read about Frenchy’s cannon arm here, his one redeeming quality. For now, let’s talk about one of my favorite Royals, Salvador Perez.
So far in 2012, Salvador Perez has thrown out 42% of attempted base thefts. Jeff Mathis of Toronto is leading the league with 43% putting Perez in 2nd place. Let’s put that in perspective for a moment – the league average right now is 26%. This means Salvador has thrown out 61% more runners who were attempting to steal a base than most other catchers in the league. And what’s really impressive about this stat is that most base runners know Sal has a gun, so they don’t run unless they feel nearly certain they can make it.
Another interesting stat is catcher pickoffs. So far in 2012, after only playing in 53 games, Salvador has picked off 3 base runners (the 3rd just last night), and he had 3 pickoffs in only 39 games last year. Salvy’s three picks lead the majors, once again, after only playing in 53 games!
How does that compare to some other notable Royals catchers?
- Darrell Porter averaged 38% caught stealing over his career, and his best full season was 47% in 1979, with 7 pickoffs in 1974
- John Wathan had a career average of 33% caught stealing, his best full season was 40% caught stealing, and the most pickoffs he ever had in a season was 1 (for a grand total of 2 in his career)
- Mike Macfarlane’s career caught stealing average was 33%, his best full season was 43%, and the most pickoffs in a season was 2
- John Buck’s pathetic career caught stealing average was 25%, his best full season was 34%, and he picked off a surprising 6 base runners in 2005. Surprising mostly because he only picked off 10 in his entire career, so I have no idea how he caught 6 guys napping in 2005.
- Brent Mayne’s career caught stealing average was 29%, his best full season was 32% and the most pickoffs in a season was 1.
It’s easy to see that if Perez can simply maintain his performance, he’ll soon become one of the Royals most successful defensive catchers ever (at least regarding his ability to throw out base runners), joining Darrell Porter at the top of the list. But at 22 years of age, in my opinion, we’ve only seen the beginning of what Salvador can accomplish in a Royals uniform and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the All Star stage within the next 3 or 4 seasons.
If you’re a fan of poetry in motion, click here for a highlight video showing Salvador picking a runner off first base on August 21. Or how about this video of Perez throwing behind a right handed batter and nailing a runner at 3rd by a mile with a textbook perfect, perfect, perfect throw. And I thought it was supposed to be easier to steal 3rd base because you could get a better leadoff, you can see the exchange between the pitcher and the catcher better, etc.? Apparently none of that makes any difference if Salvador Perez is behind the plate.
Several weeks ago, Sam Mellinger wrote about a baseball scout who watched Salvador play in the minors. Sam says the scout stated that Salvador is a “Latin Johnny Bench.” (The reference to Sal is about halfway down in the article.) I think Perez might be more like Dirty Harry, telling base runners – “Go ahead, make my day.” Either way, I’m very very excited that Salvador Perez is going to play catcher for the Royals for several years to come.