Trying to Make Sense of Salvador Perez

It's possible the Royals have turned me into a cynic who always expects the worse, but I have been waiting for Salvador Perez's hitting to collapse almost from the moment he reached the major leagues. Through 352 plate appearances, he continues to prove my expectations wrong. His wRC+ is 121, which means that he is a 21% better hitter than the average hitter in baseball. That's valuable at any position, but extremely valuable at catcher, a position that traditionally does not have very many league average hitters.

352 plate appearances still is not very many plate appearances, especially spread out over two seasons. It's enough to reach some conclusions about his peripherals, but not enough to feel comfortable to know exactly how effective of a hitter he will be. The fun/horrible thing about small sample sizes is that it is fairly easy to make convincing arguments for both sides of an issue. I've been having this debate with myself for a longer period of time than I would like to admit, so I'll present all the arguments I've been able to come up with for both sides of this issue

Point - Salvador Perez doesn't walk: In his short career, Salvador Perez has managed to post a whopping 3.7 BB%, which is really bad (league average this season is 8.0%). Reaching base is the most important tool for a hitter, and Perez's inability to walk will hamper his ability to reach base

Counterpoint - Perez doesn't strike out: If you are going to survive as a hitter who doesn't walk, you need to make sure you make contact and do not strike out. Perez has a career K% of 9.7%, while the league average K% this season is 19.6%. Although his walk percentage is troubling, the fact that he doesn't strike out will allow him to reach base enough to make him a respectable hitter.

Point - Perez has terrible strike zone recognition: This is tied in with the lack of walks, but it deserves it's own point. Perez doesn't walk because he swings at way too many pitches, especially out of the strike zone. Salvador swings at pitches outside of the strike zone 39.9% of the time, compared to a league average of 28.9% of the time. Pitchers want hitters to swing at these pitches because they are bad pitches that are difficult to hit, and he only helps pitchers by swinging at these pitches. His terrible strike zone recognition will catch up with him eventually

Counterpoint - Perez makes contact, so it doesn't matter: Perez may swing at pitches outside the strike zone, but he has an incredibly ability to make contact with these pitches. Perez makes contact with pitches outside of the strike zone 86.6% of the time, compared to the league average of 63.8% of the time. Overall, Perez makes contact 91.7% of the time, compared to the league average of 79.9%. Contact Percentage only needs 100 plate appearances to stabilize, and is the best correlating hitting statistic from season-to-season. Although his lack of plate discipline is probably here to stay, so is his ability to make contact with bad pitches.

Point - Perez hits the ball with power: It's time for the optimists to lead the debate. A lot of Perez's value as a hitter is tied up in his ability to hit the ball with authority. Perez has a .174 ISO over his career, which is above average. Combine that with his ability to make contact, and you have a hitter who should always post solid BA and SLG. Perez's career HR/FB ratio is 12.6%, which is fairly normal, and he has a career 26.1 LD%, which also suggests that he hits the ball hard.

Counterpoint - Unreliability of statistics: Although Perez has posted a strong ISO and LD%, he doesn't have enough plate appearances to make those statistics reliable. ISO normally needs 550 PA to stabilize, and it's preferable those are consecutive plate appearances. LD% is an incredibly misleading statistic;it doesn't stabilize over the course of a season, partially because of human error associated with scoring something a line drive. LD% is the worst correlating hitting statistic from season to season, meaning it has little predictive value. The statistics chosen are unreliable, therefore invalidating the point.

Point - Perez is still young - Salvador Perez recently turned 22, so it's impressive that he has reached the big leagues as quickly as he has. It's reasonable to expect that he will improve as ages, so the fact that he is able to hold his own at such a young age, regardless of how he is doing it, suggests that he will hit just as well in the future, if not improve.

Counterpoint - Average minor league hitter - It seems strange to bring up minor league numbers into this debate, but the fact that his minor league numbers were decidedly average is still cause for concern. Since 2009, Perez has been a roughly league average hitter at every stop he made except at the major leagues. It's not impossible, but fairly unlikely that Perez is only average against inferior pitching but better than average against superior pitching. Perez was an average hitter over a longer sample, that Perez will show up over a large sample size.

As you can see, it's fairly easy to argue in circles about this issue, making you feel like a bona fide politician. To be clear, I think Perez has value even if he settles into an average or even slightly below-average hitter. It seems like many Royals fans, however, are anxious to anoint him status as a future perennial All-Star, which I think is a bit aggressive. Although there are certainly reasons to be optimistic about his future, we still don't have a large enough sample size to make strong conclusions about his future as a hitter. Like so much of baseball, all we can do is wait and hope.

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