Salvador Perez in many ways is a franchise's dream. He's an excellent defensive player at a premium defensive position, a great clubhouse guy, a likable personality who is great with the fans, he's a four-time All-Star, three-time (soon to be four-time) Gold Glove winner, and World Series MVP, signed to a long-term deal, and he's not even 27 years old.
The Royals have really needed a player like this behind the plate. In franchise history, they have 19 catchers who have had a 2 WAR season. Salvy has five of them. Salvy needs just 95 games next year to pass Mike MacFarlane for most games caught in Royals history. It is safe to say that in a few years, Perez will have cemented his status as the greatest catcher in franchise history, if he hasn't done so already.
Perez hit for more power last year, hitting a career-high 22 home runs last year. He also increased his walk rate quite a bit, although it it still quite poor at 4.0%. It is concerning that his strikeout rate rose significantly, from 14.8% in 2015, which had been his career average, to 21.8% in 2016. Salvy had a lot more swings-and-misses this year, up 9.0% in 2015 to 11.5% in 2016. Home runs and strikeouts are up around baseball, so Salvy is simply part of a larger trend, but Salvy did hit a career-low .247 last year, and with the Royals relying so much on a contact-heavy approach, Salvy will need to cut down on the whiffs.
His defense continues to be at the top of the league. No regular starting catcher threw out baserunners at a better rate than the 48% caught-stealing percentage "Sheriff Sal" put up in 2016. He was tops in baseball in Defensive Runs Above Average among catchers and was tied with Buster Posey in Defensive Wins Above Replacement.
The lingering issue with Salvy since he re-worked his long-term contract is the question of overuse. Salvador Perez has caught 538 games the last four years, an average of 135 per season. This does not include all his post-season innings that he has racked up. Down the stretch in the 2014 season, he caught 30 of 31 games. Should Royals fans be concerned?
I took a look at the catchers with the most games caught over a four-year period since 1994. Some of these catchers could have made the list several times - Jason Kendall was a freak of nature - but I included just their peak seasons for games caught. I wanted to see if there is any kind of correlation between high usage behind the plate and offensive decline, so I looked at their OPS+ over their four seasons of high usage, and compared it to the next two seasons.
|Catchers||Games||Years||OPS+ During||Next OPS+|
There does not seem to be much drop off. Some of the catchers did suffer injuries - Matt Wieters hit better but he missed most of the next two seasons. But for the most part, the good-hitting catchers continued to hit, and the poor-hitting catchers like Brad Ausmus continued to not hit.
There is the caveat that some of these years are nearly arbitrarily selected since many of these catchers had long stretches of high usage. And some of them were physical freaks and/or Hall of Famers. Not every catcher should be expected to be Ivan Rodriguez. But Salvador Perez does seem to be pretty special himself. Perhaps his larger frame puts him at more risk, but his workload is certainly not unprecedented, nor does it necessarily foreshadow an offensive decline.
Salvador Perez is entering what should be the prime of his career. It would be great if he could rest a bit more, walk a bit more, and cut down on the strikeouts. But if this is what he is, a 2.5 to 4.0 Wins Above Replacement catcher, a leader on the field, and an easy guy to root for signed at a pretty reasonable deal, I think most Royals fans would take it.