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Saving Salvador Perez

Will flexibility at the designated hitter position make for a better Salvador Perez?

Salvador Perez's 2nd half slump is blamed on overuse. Can the Royals avoid a repeat of a Salvy swoon in 2015?
Salvador Perez's 2nd half slump is blamed on overuse. Can the Royals avoid a repeat of a Salvy swoon in 2015?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

"We'd like that flexibility for certain. Our players aren't old by any means -- it's a young roster, but you would like the opportunity to allow Salvy to DH once in a while or Gordo or Lorenzo Cain or Omar Infante" - Dayton Moore, 11/19/14

"The Royals have also long wanted to open the DH spot to give regular position players a sort of half-day’s rest without taking their bat out of the lineup. That’s even more important now and going forward, with Sal Perez showing how his offensive production slumps with overuse, and Alex Gordon turning 31 in February" - Sam Mellinger, 11/19/14, Kansas City Star

We could get into the merits of some of those DH plans, but that's been done and will be done some more. But one thing is for sure when it comes to the Royals in 2015 - they're either going rest Salvador Perez more, or play him at catcher less. But when is enough enough for Salvador Perez's playing time?

The first part of answering this question is to establish how much Salvador Perez plays baseball. You could look at his totals (39 starts in 2011, 74 starts in 2012, 126 starts in 2013, and 143 starts in 2014) but you may want another way of seeing the scope of his playing time. Here is an attempt to give you an idea of his major league playing time.

The first thing you may notice (aside from my color-scheme) is that there's several things of note on the chart

1) Salvador missed time in late May and early August 2013. If you forgot, he went on bereavement in late May and was on the "7 day concussion DL" in early August.

2) You can figure out when the All-Star Breaks are for each year.

3) Once you got to mid-August in recent seasons, Salvador Perez will be going into a day with having played at least four days of his last seven, if not more.

In 2014, Sal played 54 times in the final 60 days of the regular season (from July 31st to September 28th). He made 51 starts at catcher, two starts at DH, entered one game to play catcher as a substitution, missed two games and had four off days over a 60-day period. Sal caught 441 innings over the final 60 days of the regular season.

For comparison.. back in 2013, Salvador Perez returned from the 7-day concussion DL on August 11th. He caught 360 innings over the next 50 days over 45 games.

So as you may have noticed. Salvador Perez plays a lot of baseball. But how do we quantify when his drop in offense can be linked to his playing time? Well, that can be difficult.

We could play "Fun With Endpoints". For example, Salvador Perez returned from Bereavement Leave and played 16 games in a row over 16 days. He went 16 for 47 (.340) over the first 12 games, then went 1-for-17 (.059) over a four-game period to conclude those 16 days. The Royals had an off-day on June 20th, then Sal went 1-for-7 over 2 games, got a de-facto off-day (caught 1 inning) followed by an off-day (June 24th), and then Sal went 9-for-20 (.450) over five games.

Causation, correlation and small sample sizes. It's hard to really maneuver through the static to figure out real significance for a downturn and when the downturn occurs with a hitter.

But we can go over Sal's 2013 and 2014 seasons in sections of 27 games to see if anything can be figured out from those seasons.

Gm1-27 25 .281 .307 .375 .682 229.7
Gm28-54 14 .364 .364 .473 .836 119.0
Gm55-81 26 .294 .333 .441 .775 228.0
Gm82-108 20 .195 .247 .256 .503 189.7
Gm109-135 17 .286 .329 .514 .843 154.0
Gm136-162 25 .352 .371 .560 .932 206.0
Gm1-54 39 .311 .327 .411 .738 348.7
Gm55-108 46 .250 .294 .359 .653 417.7
Gm109-162 42 .323 .353 .540 .893 360.0

Sal went on bereavement after the 45th Royals game of 2013 and went on the concussion DL after the Royals' 107th game. That should explain the drops in games started for 2 of the 6 sections. Sal completed 117 games at Catcher, started 9 games at Catcher (which he didn't complete) and finished 11 games there. He started Game 162 at First Base. He missed 9 games on bereavement and 7 games on the concussion DL. He missed 8 games when available to play. One could argue that the 16 games missed for non-voluntary reasons may have helped Salvador Perez's hitting down the stretch (or one could ponder if Sal starts 135 times at Catcher in 2013 if not for missing those 16 games).

As for 2014:

Gm1-27 26 .235 .306 .388 .693 226.3
Gm28-54 20 .275 .310 .438 .747 179.3
Gm55-81 25 .340 .379 .505 .884 214.0
Gm82-108 25 .240 .255 .337 .591 202.0
Gm109-135 24 .237 .248 .412 .660 204.0
Gm136-162 27 .235 .240 .353 .593 219.0
Gm1-54 46 .253 .307 .410 .717 405.7
Gm55-108 50 .289 .316 .418 .734 416.0
Gm109-162 51 .236 .244 .382 .626 423.0

The only period of 27 games where Sal Perez started less than 24 games came about partially due to a right thumb contusion in May. Sal started 143 games at Catcher and completed 124 games there. He finished 3 games at catcher and started four games at DH. He missed 12 games when he was available to play.

Looking at the second half descent and Sal's totals as a catcher make a strong argument for Sal's numbers in the Royals last 81 games (238/248/366) being caused by his workload (625 innings in 76 starts). At the same time, Sal's 4 starts at DH all took place during his 2nd half.

The first start (July 21st) was followed by Sal getting seven hits in his next five games at catcher. His second start (July 27th) was followed by him going 1-for-16 in his next four games at catcher. His third start (August 2nd) was followed by a 5-for-21 stretch over his next five games. His fourth DH start (August 31st) was followed by going 7-for-18 over four games (and then going 0-for-17 from September 6th to September 9th).

In the period from Sal's first start at DH (July 27th) to his final start at DH (August 31st), he hit 207/216/355. He started 30 games in a 33 game period (26 of them at catcher). He came off the bench on August 14th and missed games on August 20th and 23rd due to right knee soreness. Over a period of 33 games, Salvador Perez didn't miss any games just to rest.

One could argue that the opening for Sal to DH during Hosmer's injury didn't help Sal's hitting any. In fact, it meant that Sal didn't miss a single game without an underlying health reason from July 20th to the end of the season. Sal caught 509 innings over 59 games in that time.

Some may view the opening at DH as a blessing to "keep Salvy's bat in the lineup". At the same time, will such a blessing turn into a curse? Will a combination of catching and DHing without occasional entire games off lead to a catcher whose bat remains cold for long periods during the second halves of seasons?

That's going to be a question for the management and team to figure out. There's no rest like rest. They're gonna need to balance work, rest, and so-called half-rest (DH starts) to make sure they're not starting Salvy at catcher 135 times and burning him out again during the stretch run.

However it works out, it should be worked out in a different fashion than last year's crazy workload for a 24-year old catcher. That much is obvious. But the details of the difference are up in the air. Expect more on this later.