Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of things went poorly for Salvador Perez in 2014. Sure, he got off to a great start, hitting .287/.334/.455 through June 30. He also hit 10 home runs and drew 18 walks in those first 299 plate appearances. Prior to 2014, his career high in dingers was 13, and his career high in walks was 21. Perez was well on his way to shattering those numbers.
We’re all aware of how things went after that.
He hit .234/.244/.355 in his final 307 plate appearances, drawing just 4 walks – and 1 of those was intentional. Perez did hit another 7 home runs, but everything else in his stat line plummeted. The playoffs weren’t much better for him, except for that game-winner in the Wild Card game, of course. For anyone who watched Perez last season, this isn’t new information.
He swung at far too many pitches out of the zone, and popped up far too often. To get an idea of how often he swung, here’s Perez’s swing rate chart from 2014:
OH THE HUMANITY. It’s like the prom scene in Carrie, or something from one of the Saw movies, with all that red. We could call him Sawvador Perez. Or not. Let’s not, and forget I mentioned it. Moving on.
Again, this isn’t any kind of revelation about Perez’s season. He’s a hacker. But there is one thing I noticed while looking at his profile that caught my attention. Perez has always been able to hit the ball to all fields. He’s got very strong hands and a good two-strike approach (at least prior to 2014), so he’s able to spread the ball around.
If I were a painter, I’d want to limit the white space on my canvas and to make sure it’s mostly balanced, much like Perez has done here. I’m not a painter, though, because I have next to zero artistic ability. That’s irrelevant to this exercise.
Now here is a similar chart from 2014:
This is less balanced. I haven’t taken an art class since elementary school, but I’m guessing my art teacher would disapprove of this.
Perez collected far fewer opposite-field hits in 2014 than he had in the previous two seasons. In 2012 and 2013, roughly 20% of his hits went to the right side. Last season, it was just 12%. But it wasn’t just that his opposite-field hitting went down. His overall production to that side completely tanked. These are Perez’s wRC+ values while hitting to the right side from each season of his career:
So there’s that. Perez only played partial seasons in 2011 and 2012, so if you want to regress those numbers it would be perfectly acceptable, and I think 2013 is probably close to his talent level for opposite-field hitting. Even if you regress beyond that, you shouldn’t fall through the floor and enter some kind of subterranean civilization where his 2014 production resides.
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I’m sure some may feel that this was a product of him trying to pull the ball too often. There could be something to that, and Perez did have a 164 wRC+ on balls to the left side, but his distribution of batted balls to the left and right sides wasn’t all that different from the previous season.
Roughly 22.6% of his batted balls went to the right side in 2013, while 20% went that way this past season. There is a slight difference, but it doesn’t fully explain the dropoff in production. He ranked near the middle of the pack in plate appearances resulting in batted balls to the opposite field in each season, meaning he was still hitting balls to the right. He just didn’t get the results.
Perez had a .182 BABIP on balls hit to the opposite field in 2014, after posting a .337 BABIP in 2013. Both numbers appear to be on opposite ends of the luck spectrum, but in looking at the batted ball data, neither one should be that surprising. His opposite-field line drive rate was 30.3% in 2013, but it fell all the way to 17.2% in 2014.
He also had an infield fly ball rate of 35.7%(!) last season, meaning that more than 1 out of every 3 flies was a popup. Those are basically automatic outs, and Perez hit a lot of them. Among qualified batters, only Alexei Ramirez had a higher infield fly ball rate to the opposite field.
A hitter who hits so few line drives, and so many popups, should have a low BABIP. I’m not sure if Perez’s BABIP should have been .182, but it certainly isn’t surprising that he wasn’t producing as well when he wasn’t hitting balls to the right side with much authority. It’s also not that surprising that he wasn’t making great contact when he was swinging at so many pitches out of the strike zone.
If we’re looking for a cause of Perez’s struggles, well, there it is. Again. We knew Perez swung at too many pitches, particularly those that were off the plate, but now we see the biggest impact it had on his season, and that was his atrocious opposite-field hitting. You may have already had an idea about that, but the numbers really show just how bad it was, in every gory detail.
One of the things the Royals should be looking to do in 2015 is to get Perez more rest. He played basically every inning from August through October, and there is a good chance his performance suffered because of it. The team obviously wanted to have their best players playing as often as possible, but it may have been a better idea to give Erik Kratz a few games here and there to keep Perez fresh down the stretch. Clearly, the organization didn’t feel they could get enough from Kratz to justify the rest days, so Perez played again, and again, and again.
That must change next season. If the Royals don’t fully trust Kratz to play 30-40 games behind the plate, then they need to find someone they can trust. Whether that’s a free agent like Geovany Soto, or a trade target like Dioner Navarro, the Royals have to get someone to spell Perez from time to time. A rested Perez might lay off a few more pitches out of the strike zone. A rested Perez should be able to hit the ball to all fields, as he did in previous seasons. A rested Perez should be a better Perez. And a better Perez should result in a better Royals team.