KC Royals catcher Salvador Perez is an evolving into an entirely different hitter than when he came up as a prospect. He’s transforming himself from a 240-pound slap hitter into a slugger.
When Salvador Perez arrived in Kansas City as a 21-year-old in 2011, he was a hulking young man with obvious power who was so anxious to hack at almost anything that he’d slap pitches to the opposite field more than he drove the ball.
Perez racked up an impressive batting average his first three seasons with the Kansas City Royals, before pitchers realized Perez would swing at almost anything. Combined with Salvy’s quick hands and bat speed, he’d end up slapping balls into play that he had no chance to drive.
Take a look at this video from 2011:
Salvador Perez here reaches to slap a low and outside pitch to the opposite field for a single. Yes, it’s a hit. Perez can swing at pitches well off the plate and still get a hit. But, pitchers could pretty much pound the outside edge and pull Perez’s teeth.
Becoming an outer edge slap hitter isn’t a good long-term strategy for a 240-pound guy whose 40-yard dash times can be measure with an hourglass.
Fast forward to today. Perez’s strikeout rate (K%) has steadily increased from 8.9% in 2012 to 12.0% in 2013, 14.0% in 2014, 14.8% in 2015, and finally 17.2% in 29 at bats in 2016.
In tandem with Perez’s increased strikeout rates, Salvador Perez is swinging and missing much more today than five years ago:
With most players, an increased whiff percentage would be a bad thing, but Perez’s first KC Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer insisted that his young catcher’s contact rate was so good that he needed to learn to swing and miss if a pitch fools him early in the count rather than put a ball into play with weak contact.
These days, Perez is clearly looking to pull the ball [chart courtesy of Brooks Baseball]
The above spray chart from 2015 shows the right-handed hitting Perez is very much a pull hitter, especially when it comes to home run power. Only two of his 21 home runs in 2015 went to the opposite field.
That’s a stark contrast to his all-fields approach with the Kansas City Royals in 2012 [chart courtesy of Brooks Baseball]:
Unfortunately, Perez’s offensive value has also crashed along with his increase in home runs:
|162 Game Avg.||606||19||83||22||83||.278||.305||.432||.737||100|
The problem is, Salvador Perez needs to become selective enough at the plate that he forces pitchers to throw more strikes. That doesn’t mean he needs to turn into a walk machine. However, Perez needs to get selective enough that he’s not ending at bats on poor pitches before getting a chance to see something he can drive. If he can do it on a regular basis, KC Royals fans will see more of this (from Wednesday night):
Salvador Perez has made a little progress in this direction. After seeing pitchers throw only 43.7% of their offerings in the strike zone in 2014, Perez has forced slightly better strike zone rates in 2015 (45.1%) and so far in 2016 (46.1%).
If Perez can continue to improve his pitch recognition, he may finally harness the 30-35 HR true slugger potential that will turn him into a KC Royals superstar.