Salvador Perez burst onto the scene six years ago, making his Royals debut August 10, 2011. In just six years, he has firmly entrenched himself as the face of the franchise and has become one of the best catchers in the game, with five All-Star appearances - four as a starter - four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award, and the 2015 World Series MVP.
With a long-term deal in hand, it seems clear that Salvador Perez is certain to spend a long time in a Royals uniform in a career that will almost certainly see him end up in the Royals Hall of Fame. But would he have a shot at an even more hallowed honor? Does Salvador Perez have a shot at Cooperstown?
“Of course he can,” said George Brett, the only Hall of Famer to play most of his career with the Royals. “He’s got a chance, yeah. If he’s 10 years in a row the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star game? Holy (expletive).”
Eloquent words from the only Hall of Famer to spend most of his career in a Royals uniform.
The offensive benchmark for catchers in the Hall of Fame is considerably lower than the numbers needed by other positions. But that has still not caused many backstops to get in. There are 18 catchers in the Hall of Fame, fewer than any position. Catchers from the first half of the 20th century elected to Cooperstown were Bill Dickey, Michey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett. Roger Bresnahan, Buck Ewing, Rick Ferrell, Josh Gibson, Ernie Lombardi, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, Ray Schalk, and Deacon White were all elected to the Hall of Fame through a special committee. Here are the catchers in the Hall of Fame that were elected by the BBWAA, and spent most of their career after World War II.
AS = All-Star appearances, GG = Gold Gloves, ROY = Rookie of the Year, MVP = Most Valuable Player, SS = Silver Slugger Awards
Through his age 27 season, Salvador Perez has played in 783 games, with 798 hits, 108 home runs, a line of .273/.303/.442 an OPS+ of 99, with 19.1 rWAR. With two more hits, Salvador Perez will have 800 for his career. The only catchers to get 800 hits and 100 home runs through their age 27 season are Bench, Rodriguez, Carter, Berra, Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Darrell Porter, Bill Freehan, and Brian McCann. Salvy would have both the lowest OPS+ out of that group, and the lowest amount of rWAR, although in fairness, only Berra would have played fewer games through that age.
To have a reasonable shot at the Hall of Fame, Perez would have to reach 2,000 hits, a mark reached by all post-war Hall of Fame catchers elected except Campanella, whose career was cut short by a car accident. Only nine catchers have ever reached 2,000 hits - six of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other three are Ted Simmons, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jason Kendall. Joe Mauer should reach the mark soon and Yadier Molina is about two full seasons away. Based on his current averages, if he stay healthy, Salvy should be able to reach 2,000 hits in eight more full seasons.
The average Hall of Fame catcher above averaged 62 rWAR, with 59 being the low if you exclude the short career of Roy Campanella. Salvador Perez has settled in as a 2.5 - 3.0 rWAR player, so assuming that trend continues, he would need 14 more seasons to reach 60 rWAR. He will 41 by then, and that is assuming no decline phase (or at least he has some spikes in performance while in his prime to offset that decline).
If you look at how Salvy compared to his contemporaries through hardware, it is a mixed bag. Salvy does have the All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, but has never been considered one of the top players in baseball, as many Hall of Fame catchers have. Four of the seven Hall of Fame catchers listed above won at least one MVP, while Mike Piazza finished in the top six in MVP voting five times, and Gary Carter finished there four times. Salvador Perez has received MVP votes just once, when he received one vote in 2013.
Then there is the matter of his on-base percentage, which will be looked at by voters more than in year’s past. Salvy’s career OBA is just .303. The lowest OBA by a non-pitcher Hall of Famer is Bill Mazeroski at .299. The lowest by a player elected by the BBWAA was Luis Aparicio at .311. And we have only seen Salvy through his prime - his rate stats will probably go down as he gets older. Few players avoid a poor season or two at the end of their career.
Salvador Perez is in his prime right now, and while he is putting up good numbers, his peak seems to be a far cry from that of Piazza, Bench, or many of the other Hall of Fame catchers. His best shot would be to have a long career of being very good, rather than a peak of excellence, mirroring the career of Carlton Fisk. Fisk never won an MVP, and was only in the top ten in voting twice. But he was a very good catcher for a very long time - he put up a 4.9 rWAR season at age 42. Fisk has the third-most games caught in history, and third-most hits from the catcher position.
Can Salvy stick around long enough to have that kind of career? He has already taken a beating behind the plate, and he set the record for most games caught over a two-year period from 2014-2015. There is a stereotype that larger catchers break down easily, but that does not seem to be true in practice.
Salvy could move to another position like first base or designated hitter, but his bat is already league-average due to his low on-base percentage, and much of his value is tied into his defense. Moving him to first base would just make him a below-average first baseman, certainly not a Hall of Famer.
Some have argued that moving off catcher could allow him to concentrate on his offense, but that is probably not enough to offset the natural decline in performance due to age. Moving off catcher late in their career certainly did not improve the bat of Joe Mauer. And even if he continued to hit as a DH, the fact he moved would be a knock on his career. For example, Victor Martinez was a very valuable catcher, and continued to hit as a DH. But no one considers him much of a Hall of Fame prospect. Joe Torre was an outstanding hitting catcher. He moved to third base and won an MVP! And despite 2,342 hits and 252 home runs, the only way he will go to Cooperstown is for his managing.
It is certainly not a huge reach to think that Salvador Perez could reach the Hall of Fame someday. He already has a good resume, has some great post-season moments, is well-liked by the press, and has the physical tools to put together a long, excellent career. But the Hall of Fame is special because it is so hard to get into. Think of all the excellent players that will never even sniff induction into Cooperstown - Jim Edmonds, Todd Helton, Alan Trammell, Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Appier, Frank White. There is no shame in being one of the best players in the game not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Salvador Perez is already one of the best players in franchise history, but Cooperstown is still a long way away.