Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez always had raw power. He’s 6-3, 240 pounds and flashed the ability to slam the ball out of the park even to the opposite field. Yet, Perez always spoiled his own power by his tendency to hack at the plate.
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After a solo home run in the KC Royals 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox Saturday night, Perez is slashing .280/.291/.466 with 11 home runs.
In 2012, former Kansas City Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer used to say that Salvador Perez needed to learn to swing and miss more at the plate when pitchers fooled him at the plate. At the time, Perez ranked 10th in major-league baseball of all hitters with more than 300 plate appearances with a 91.0% contract rate.
The problem was that Salvy could hit almost anything. Pitchers would pound the outside edge low and away. The result was that Perez would often hit dribblers to the opposite field. While Perez could reach out and slap those pitches to right field for a single a surprising amount of times, pitchers succeeded in taking away his power.
Take a look at Salvador Perez’s 2012 zone charts from Brooks Baseball:
The chart on the left shows Perez’s batting average against pitches in each location. The zone chart is from the catcher’s point of view, so that a right handed hitter like Perez will bat from the left side of the chart.
As you can see, Salvador Perez hit .429 on pitches low and outside the strike zone, and .286 on pitches waist high and outside. Yet, from his slugging chart on the right, we can see that all of those hits were singles because his slugging percentage was exactly the same as his batting average.
As a result, KC Royals opponents could turn Perez into a Punch and Judy hitter by keeping the ball away. Salvador Perez would inevitably swing, and spoil his own power.
Turn the clock forward to 2015, and Salvador Perez still swings at everything. In fact, his swing percentage has zoomed from 49.1% in 2012 to 54.1% today. Yet, he swings and misses far more often than in the past. Perez’s overall contact rate has declined to a much more pedestrian 82.8% in 2015. His out of zone contact rate (O-Contact%) has crashed to 70.1% down from an absurd 85.0% in 2012.
The bottom line is that Perez still doesn’t take walks. In fact, his walk rate (BB%) is down to a career-low 1.7% (career rate 3.6%). However, his isolated power (ISO) is up to .185 compared to his career ISO of .153. In large part, Salvador Perez’s jump in ISO is due to a higher home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) 14.9% vs. his career rate of 10.3%.
Through 67 games of the Kansas City Royals 2015 season, Salvador Perez is on pace to shatter his career-high 17 home runs in 2014. ESPN.com projects him to hit 27 dingers in 2015.
Salvador Perez has come a long way toward unlocking his power potential for the KC Royals. By learning to swing and miss against pitches that he can’t drive, Salvador Perez has sacrificed batting average (.280 vs. the .330 and .301 marks he put up in 2011 and 2012) for power.
Now, if Salvador Perez can only learn to be a little more selective at the plate, he might challenge Steve Balboni‘s Kansas City Royals club record of 36 home runs in a season. As it is, Perez is a threat to break 30 dingers this season.