The KC Royals have a regular catcher who doesn’t frame pitches well. But it doesn’t really matter.
Extra time to contemplate all things baseball during this pandemic-forced stoppage has led me to some conclusions about the KC Royals, one of which I share with you here.
I don’t care if Salvador Perez isn’t a very good pitch framer. I just don’t.
There it is. Jump on any reliable search engine, keystroke in “Perez” and “pitch framing,” then sit back and watch the data flow in. By any contemporary metric, there is no escaping the hard fact that Perez is a poor framer.
Take, for example, baseball-reference.com’s deliciously unpronounceable “RszC.” That’s the useful statistics-rich site’s measure of what some describe the “art of framing.” Too simply put, framing is the pitcher-friendly practice of making a ball look like a strike, and a strike look like a strike, a bit of baseball sleight-of-hand achieved most often and ideally with a smooth move of the wrist or mitt. Framing, when done well, quickly moves a ball into the strike zone and preserves an actual strike in its place.
Perez’s career RszC is a depressing -37, which makes him one of the worst framers in the game.
For whatever reason or reasons, Perez, the KC Royals’ beloved backstop who, after a year recovering from Tommy John Surgery, will return to the diamond when baseball itself returns, just doesn’t frame well. Never has, and probably never will. And the fact he probably won’t catch as much, or as regularly, as he has in the past (discussed in more detail in this space before spring training began) likely won’t make a difference in that part of his game.
But it really doesn’t matter. Perez may not be able to create strikes as well as more accomplished framers (the Braves’ Tyler Flowers, Padres’ Austin Hedges, or Giants’ Buster Posey, for three), but he’s so valuable to the KC Royals that this shortcoming can be forgiven.
Sal is the Royals’ heart and soul, a high-profile leader who commands the respect and adoration of his teammates, club personnel, and, of course, the fans. The Royals wouldn’t be the Royals without him. The Salvy Splash wouldn’t exist without Salvy. His is a different personality than Alex Gordon‘s, but their intrinsic values are equally essential to the franchise.
Such qualities have nothing to do with framing.
Perez played key roles in the Royals’ 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons; the team challenged for a playoff spot until late in ’13, won the AL pennant and pushed San Francisco to Game 7 of the World Series in ’14, then won it all in ’15 when Sal was the World Series MVP.
Perez’s pitch framing inadequacies didn’t prevent or impede any of that success.
The KC Royals’ primary catcher since 2013 made the All-Star team six straight times before his damaged UCL interrupted that streak last season, and he’s won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards. He hits with power. He’s recognized as one of the great pitch blockers in the game. He calls a good game and has a good rapport with his pitchers.
He’s done all that without being even an average pitch framer.
Perez is particularly adept at throwing out would-be base stealers: he’s gunned down 35% of them in his career, a rate well above league average, and nailed 48% in both 2016 and ’18.
Pitch framing is irrelevant to throwing out runners.
Baseball pundits and broadcasters like to talk framing on air and player agents play up framing metrics in salary negotiations. Perez’s name doesn’t come up in conversations about great, or good, framers and framing will never bring him more money. However, it’s entirely possible that Perez’s obviously good relationship with umpires compensates to some degree for his lack of framing prowess–that the men in blue clearly respect him likely reaps the occasional benefit of the doubt.
When it gets right down to it, the present KC Royals aren’t in critical need of a standout framer. They aren’t that good, so saving a run here and there or squeezing an isolated win via framing isn’t one of their immediate priorities. Maybe someday, but not now.
And if the club was distraught, or even somewhat concerned, about Sal’s framing, it’s reasonable to believe it would have improved by now. The Royals certainly have the resources to apply to the problem–if, that is, they believe it’s a big problem.
The team could, of course, go out and find a better framer; they’re certainly out there, available for the right price. That the Royals stand pat with their below-average framer tells you a lot.
They’re more than satisfied with Salvador Perez. And they should be.
Although he’s a below-average pitch framer, Salvador Perez is one of the best all-around and most popular catchers in baseball today. The KC Royals are lucky to have him.