The KC Royals’ backup catcher hit well in 2020. Can he do it again in 2021?
Cam Gallagher will never be the KC Royals’ everyday catcher, and it’s not just because perennial Gold Glover and All-Star Salvador Perez happens to be his teammate. There’s more to it than that.
Gallagher is far more suited to a backup role, the same job he’s held since breaking in with the Royals in 2017. Although he’s good with the mitt and appears to call and control games adequately, his 19% caught stealing rate proves he’s not particularly adept at throwing out base stealers.
But it’s Gallagher’s hitting that keeps him on the bench. His career OPS+ is 81, his career average .241. He managed a respectable .250 over 13 games in his first season, but dropped to .206 in 22 2018 games.
Kansas City chose to sign free agent Martin Maldonado in 2019 when Perez underwent Tommy John surgery, and Gallagher backed him up until a July 15 trade sent Maldonado to the Cubs. Gallagher was hitting .209 when the deal was made but, suddenly playing regularly, raised his average 29 points before an early August oblique injury robbed him of the rest of his season.
Gallagher picked up at the plate in 2020 where he left off in 2019—he hit well for an extended period. He caught 25 games, primarily when a well-chronicled and nagging eye issue forced Perez to the bench, and finished the season with a career best .283/.356/.434 line and career high 115 OPS+.
Playing regularly seems to suit Gallagher well. But unless Perez gets hurt again, or his vision problems return, Gallagher is destined to play only once or twice a week. Will his bat suffer?
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Gallagher’s 2021 campaign
Based on their slash line predictions, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs don’t believe Gallagher’s complete body of offensive work will be as good as his 2020 effort. Baseball Reference projects him finishing with a .240/.316/.393 line over 295 plate appearances; FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts .245/.306/.366 in 147 appearances.
Surprising, however, is the prognosticators’ shared prediction that Gallagher will display more power than usual. The three homers he hit in 2019 represent his best single season output; he managed one in each of 2017, 2018 and 2020. But according to Baseball Reference, Gallagher will exceed his career total with eight blasts this season, and FanGraphs says he’ll tie his career high with three.
What kind of season will Cam Gallagher actually have for the KC Royals?
Gallagher clearly hits better when he spends more time on the field than on the bench. So, expect him to approach his 2020 numbers only if he plays regularly and Perez doesn’t; that scenario, though, will only hurt the KC Royals who, as stressed in this space last year, depend on Perez for so much. A healthy Perez likely means Gallagher will regress to the .240-.250 range.
But the Royals doesn’t pay Gallagher to hit. They’d like him to, of course, but catching well is his real value. Whether his bat catches fire or not, he’ll always fare well behind the plate.
Cam Gallagher will continue to back up Salvador Perez in 2021. Whether he hits well doesn’t matter as much as how he catches.