Kansas City Royals: Finding room for improvement with Salvador Perez

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 14: Salvador Perez
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 14: Salvador Perez /

Analytics people have often debated the greatness of Salvador Perez. Here’s a look at one of the qualities the Kansas City Royals catcher can improve to become undeniably great.

Salvador Perez is one of the best catchers in all of baseball. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Any dummy with a computer can sit in their house without ever turning on a TV or buying a ticket to a Kansas City Royals game and tell you that Perez is a bad catcher. He is not. He is not perfect, but he is a far cry from being overrated, as well.

Baseball is currently at an age when analytics and advanced metrics have taken over the game. Numbers never lie, but they can be misleading. If a player has a poor on-base percentage, then that player does a poor job of getting on base. There is no denying that.

But some would have you believe that a poor on-base percentage is a direct reflection of poor plate discipline, which is not always true. Alex Gordon is known for having a great eye. He was abysmal at the plate in 2017, so pitchers began throwing him more strikes. Why wouldn’t you, after all? Why walk a guy who can’t hit anyways?

We all know that Gordon has a great eye for the strike zone. What numbers can’t show you are the nuances of the game of baseball. Usually, the numbers tell you most of what you need to know about a player. Numbers cannot, however, measure everything.

There are some things that Perez does well that cannot be quantified. His leadership in the clubhouse, for example, has value. The way he handles a pitching staff has value. There are plenty of reasons that Perez is an All-Star, and some of them cannot be quantified into a spreadsheet.

Areas to improve

But Salvador Perez is not without fault. There are aspects of his game he could improve upon that hold him back from being an all-time great. The biggest one I want to address is his abysmal walk rate and plate discipline.

The analytic world tears Perez apart, because he doesn’t walk enough. That isn’t really the issue. If Perez hit .350 with 40 home runs and never took a single walk, no one would care. It isn’t the walking that’s the real issue, it’s what happens when you don’t walk and don’t get a hit either. You make an out.

Perez makes far too many outs. His on-base percentage in 2017 was .297, which was actually his highest OBP since 2013 when it was .323. (He hit .292 that year.) Perez also swung at more pitches than in any season of his career in 2017 — a massive 58.7 percent of all pitches that he saw. What’s more, he swung at 47.9 percent of the pitches he saw that were outside the strike zone.

Perez is a strange case, though, because seven of the 27 home runs he hit in 2017 came on pitches that were outside the strike zone. Five of those seven were on pitches that were up and away, out of the strike zone. Perez has some mild success swinging at pitches out of the zone, as long as he picks the right zone.

His nitro-zone appears to be when he can get the ball down (in the strike zone) and middle-in. He also has some success when the ball is up and out, apparently, but pitchers feed off of Perez’s aggressiveness. In 2017, he saw 36.1 percent of the pitches he faced wind up below the strike zone. That’s more than every third pitch winding up below the zone. Perez hit .108 when those pitches were on the inner half of the plate and .182 when they were on the outer half.

How does he fix it?

The biggest way for Perez to improve his overall offensive performance is going to be to lay off of the pitches that are down and out of the zone. Only two of his 27 home runs last season came on pitches that were down and out of the zone. I think everyone would give up those two home runs if it meant Perez’s overall numbers improved.

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This isn’t to suggest he will magically start walking more by laying off pitches below the zone. What he may do, though, is force opposing pitchers to bring the ball up for him. That will allow him to hit home runs with more regularity if he can just lay off the ones in the dirt.

No baseball player is perfect. Mike Trout comes pretty close, but he’s also baseball’s gift from God. (I’m kidding.) Salvador Perez will never be a perfect baseball player. But he’s got a shot to be one of the best catchers of his generation if he can begin to improve his plate discipline. Perez has the ability to be the rare combination of an elite-level offensive and defensive catcher, and it all starts with a little plate discipline.

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What do you think, fans? Is Perez an overrated or underrated (or perfectly rated) player? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and on social media.