Alex Gordon is the best player on the Royals. There should be no real debate about that statement. He’s having a tremendous season, and with a strong September, Gordon might even steal a few MVP votes away from Mike Trout. Without question, Gordon’s been the biggest contributor to the Royals’ success this season. However, he probably can’t carry the team to the playoffs by himself. Gordon will need some help to lift that below average offense all the way to October.
Throughout the season, different players have stepped up to play the Robin to Gordon’s Batman at various times. Billy Butler was hot in June and August. Eric Hosmer had a couple of great weeks in early July. Alcides Escobar got off to a strong start in April. Even in the disastrous month of May, Lorenzo Cain helped Gordon keep the Royals from completely going in the tank.
But now, as the team prepares for their final 23+ games, another player seems primed to elevate his game and fill the position as Gordon’s right hand man. That player, of course, is Salvador Perez.
Perez, in an effort to mirror the rest of his team, has had a roller coaster ride of production this season. He had a solid first couple of month before going on a tear in June, then he followed that up with two consecutive months of terribleness, posting a 53 wRC+ and a 69 wRC+ in July and August, respectively. But toward the end of last month, Perez started to heat up.
Since August 25, Perez has collected 41 plate appearances, putting up a 158 wRC+, with 7 extra-base hits, including 1 home run. He’s also been hitting the ball hard very frequently, as shown by a line drive rate of 33.3%. For much of the season, Perez has hit too many ground balls, which has contributed to 21 double plays, among the most in baseball. But in this recent stretch, Perez’s ground ball rate is only 22.2%. He’s getting under the ball more, and with Perez’s strength and bat speed, he’s punishing pitches.
Now, not everything about his hot streak is sunshine and marshmallows. Perez has been swinging at far too many pitches outside of the strike zone. And I do mean far too many. In those 41 plate appearances, Perez has an OSwing% of 54.3%. He’s never been known for his patience, but Perez has taken that to a whole new level recently. The last time Perez drew a walk was August 12. That was Josh Willingham‘s first game as a Royal. Willingham has drawn 7 walks in that span, for comparison.
While Perez hasn’t shown any semblance of plate discipline, he’s helped offset some of that by making solid contact, particularly on pitches in the strike zone. In these last 10 games, Perez has a ZContact% of 98.1%, and the only game in which Perez did not make contact while swinging at a strike was on August 30. In every other game, Perez has made contact with every single strike at which he swung. He’s controlling the strike zone extremely well, and when pitchers are throwing anything over the plate, he’s been making them pay for it.
That does make one wonder why a pitcher would ever consider throwing a pitch over the plate to Perez. I’m not sure if it’s just pitchers being to proud to give in, but it seems like the scouting report should instruct all pitchers to bury breaking balls in the dirt and never throw Perez a fastball closer than a foot off of the plate. Giving him anything in the strike zone is kind of like playing with fire while at a gas station, standing next to a car filled with fireworks. It’s probably not going to end well.
The Royals desperately need multiple batters to get hot down the home stretch in order to break their playoff drought. Butler has cooled off considerably, but Perez looks like he’s ready to step up and fill that void. He’s looking more like his old self, hitting line drives all over the place, and jumping on pitchers’ mistakes. Perez has been a streaky hitter for much of his career, so the Royals are hopeful this most recent hot streak will help propel the offense through the final three and a half weeks of the season.