So Salvador Perez is reportedly in the best shape of his life.
According to the Jeffrey Flanagan article, Sal reported to camp 25-pounds lighter, from 240 in pounds at the end of last season to 215 now. He is also off to a particularly torrid start, hitting home runs in two of his first three at-bats of the spring, as well as seeing his RBI count (eight) exceed his at-bat count (seven).
Unfortunately for most Royals fans, this is déjà vu for Sal. For his career, he is a .320/.348/.537 hitter in 95 career spring games. His annual demolition of spring training has historically carried over into regular season (albeit less emphatic) production, at least in the first half of the season, with Perez a career line of .282/.312/.456 before the All-Star break.
We all know of the value that Sal brings the Royals defensively, but compared to other catchers who have at least 2,500 plate appearances since 2011, his 107 first half wRC+ would rank seventh out of twelve qualifiers (just a point behind Russell Martin from being in the top half) and his .456 SLG% would trail only Buster Posey for the highest among qualifiers.
Unfortunately for Royals fans, the baseball season continues past the first half, and as we all know, Sal’s production has historically taken a nose dive after the break. For his career, he is a .263/.293/.410 hitter in the second half. That is a 65-point difference in OPS. His wRC+ also dives from 107 to 87. Essentially, Perez goes from having his offensive value being icing on the cake to his defensive value to having an offensive black hole slather motor oil on top of an otherwise tasty cake.
This makes me sad. It makes me sad because the sheer epicness of his defense should make him a top-three catcher in the league, with ease. Since 2011, only Yadier Molina has more defensive runs above average (81.5) than Sal (74.3). At a position where defense reigns, this should make him a legitimate commodity. However, Perez has had just one season with a fWAR of three or higher.
So how that could possibly change?
One saving grace is that Yadier Molina’s career began in a very similar fashion. Through his age-26 season, he also had just one 3+ fWAR season on his resume, and Sal actually has more 2+ fWAR seasons (four) than Yadi did (two).
The obvious difference between the two is in games played. As of today, Sal has 684 games on his resume, while Yadier had just 669 through his age 26-season. That isn’t a huge difference until we remember that Perez played in just 115 games over his first two seasons.
In total, Sal has caught at least 128 games in all of his four full seasons. Molina has reached that number seven times in 13 seasons.
Back in February, Travis Sawchik wrote a piece about Salvador Perez needing a break. In that piece, Sawchik noted these fairly jarring numbers:
- Since 2013, Perez has caught 247 more innings than the next highest catcher.
- Since 2013, Perez has caught 17% more innings than the fifth-ranked catcher Buster Posey
- Since 2013 Perez has caught 13.7% more innings than the third-ranked catcher in Jonathan Lucroy.
Sal is an absolute workhorse, and you would be hard pressed to convince me that Ned Yost doesn’t see that as a good thing, despite it’s obvious negative effects.
Sawchik noted some more polarizing Perez first/second half wRC+ splits in recent seasons, including a 114/55 split last season and a 114/59 in 2014. In other words, in half of Perez’s full seasons, he has seen his wRC+ drop by at least 59-points in the second half. That is absurd.
The solution to this is simple and has been for a while:
Give the man a break.
I’m looking right at you, Ned.
Sal is only 26-years old. He has much better power than anybody could have ever imagined. He is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, and if he could frame better than I can, he might be the best in the league. Drew Butera posted a positive fWAR last season. He is a viable back up. The Royals have to find a way to rest Salvy more this season. They cannot screw this up—again.
If the Royals expect to be contending come September, they are going to need all hands on deck to dethrone the defending AL champs. They can’t afford to have Salvador Perez gasping for air.