Will too much be expected of KC Royals catcher Salvador Perez this season?
The KC Royals played their 10th game of the Cactus League season Wednesday, employing 20 different players to defeat Cincinnati 9-3. Sebastian Rivero and MJ Melendez, two minor league prospects the club thinks much of, split the catching duties; Melendez was hitless in two at-bats, but Rivero, who’s making an impression in his third Kansas City spring camp, went 2-for-2 with a double, home run and four RBIs.
Conspicuously absent behind the plate was Salvador Perez. But that’s just fine, of course, because there is no need for the Royals to overplay Perez—he’ll be the club’s primary catcher no matter how much or how little he plays in Arizona, or how well any of the other backstops in camp do.
And he’s healthy. Now two springs removed from the UCL injury and Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2019 season, he proved last spring and summer that he’s no worse for the wear, and probably as good as new.
So the Royals can feel secure resting him now and then. Spring games mean nothing—it’s the work that counts, and Perez’s has been more than adequate. In seven games, the six-time All-Star and winner of five Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers is slashing .400/.471/.800 with two homers and a 1.271 OPS. Yes, they’re only Cactus League numbers, but they show Perez is comfortable, just like the Royals want him to be heading into his first full season since 2018.
And comfortable is where the nine-year veteran should be. He shook off the UCL injury, the surgery, a summer camp-interrupting positive COVID-19 test, and vision problems during the season to post ridiculously good 2020 numbers: 12 doubles, 11 homers, 32 RBIs, a .333/.353/.633 slash, and a 161 OPS+ in 37 games. Projected over a full 162-game season, and adjusted for the number of contests he typically plays, Perez could have finished with 44 home runs, 48 doubles, 200 hits and 128 RBIs.
Chances are good Perez wouldn’t have maintained such a torrid bat had the season been complete last year. But that may not stop some from expecting the same performance for 162 games that he put on for 37. Perez may have raised the bar too high, at least for those fans.
So, although Perez probably won’t bang out 200 hits, club 44 homers, or drive in 128 runs, how will he do this season?
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Perez’s KC Royals season
Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs foresee Perez posting less lofty numbers in 2021. Baseball Reference predicts he’ll hit 20 homers with 62 RBIs and a .256/.303/.467 slash, while FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects 28 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .261/.294/.485 line.
What kind of 2021 campaign will Perez actually have for the KC Royals?
Perez, the Royals, their fans, and everyone around baseball would love to see him have exactly the kind of season he did last year, but over 162 games. It won’t happen, but Perez won’t crash, either.
Overall, he’ll come in around his career line of .269/.300/.449, which means he won’t get on base as much as he did last season; instead, expect Perez to walk as little as he usually does (he has a career 3.4% walk rate) and not hit for a high average.
Splitting the difference between how many home runs Baseball Reference and FanGraphs predict he’ll hit is reasonable, so expect around 24 or 25 homers; a career-high 30 isn’t entirely out of the question (Perez hit 27 in 2017 and 2018). And 80-85 RBIs sounds about right.
The bottom line is Perez will have another decent season with the bat, perhaps a bit better than we predict here. And if that disappoints some fans who might think last season established a new standard by which Perez should be measured, they’re wrong. The danger of a great season is too many expect it to become the norm; good will be good enough.
Will the fact 2021 is Perez’s “walk” year—he’s playing out the last season of his contract—affect his performance? Maybe, but Perez seems unflappable, a player who’ll give his best under any circumstance. If anything, he’ll play a bit better, as many ballplayers do in a final contract year situation, but don’t look for any negative impact. That wouldn’t be Salvador Perez.
But it’s time for the Royals and their best-ever catcher get an extension done. Hunter Dozier just got his; now it’s Perez’s turn.
Salvador Perez put up great numbers last season. He’ll post at least good ones this year for the Royals.