It is time to talk about it. The dreaded decline. Our football counterparts may focus on Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce's statistical decline, but the regression of Salvador Perez has been quicker and crueler than Kelce's in every manner.
Perez, the Royals team captain, had far from a stellar 2023 season. Fans know that. The memories of his historic 2021 season diminish with every passing day, and he was an All-Star in 2023 because he was simply the team's best choice at that time (although Witt should have represented the Royals). A streaky bat and ineffective framing behind the plate combined for the first negative fWAR mark of his lengthy career. Even when his bat was not performing, the defense was solid, and vice versa. Now, the game is changing and leaving Perez behind.
Perez was MLB's best catcher at preventing stolen bases from 2016 to 2021, according to Baseball Savant. That includes a 2019 season where Perez didn't play a single game and a pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The bigger bases and pitch clock instituted in 2023 negated those skills for Perez and MLB catchers at large.
But Perez always has the bat, right? Well, he regressed in one key area last season. For his entire career, Perez has usually performed well against the four-seam fastball. After all, he is a free-swinger, and that player style must punish a fastball piped down the middle. But he failed to do so last season. Perez fell from among baseball's best against the pitch in 2022 to a simple league average in 2023. That exacerbated his issues with other offspeed pitches, especially the curveball and sweeper.
Perez is lagging, and his body will not let him catch up. I hate to say it, but 2024 will be the next step in his decline from baseball's elite to a forgotten veteran.
Do I believe Lyles' best role is as Kansas City's fifth starter in the rotation? Yes. Do I predict he will be even worse in 2024 than he was last season? Yes. Is there anything else the fanbase should expect? No.
Lyles is to the Royals fanbase as cheap cough syrup is to a child. You don't want it; it is downright unbearable; the value they provide is, well, what it is. Lyles was the vaunted innings eater in Kansas City last season, providing some stability to a revolving door rotation. At least he was consistently bad, having the worst ERA and FIP among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched.
Lyles has not been dominant at any point in his career, a common critique when Kansas City signed him last winter. Even when grading Lyles on a curve, he is on an unmistakable negative trajectory. ZiPS projects Lyles to have a 5.61 ERA and 5.26 FIP in the 2024 season, and I fear it will be even worse. Outside of Lyles' ability to pitch deep into games, there is no redeeming quality for the 33-year-old righty.
Lyles has made plenty of money in his MLB career, but I predict he will not finish the 2024 season in a Royals uniform. Or possibly in any MLB uniform period.