When I was in the fourth grade I had a chance to compete in our school’s spelling bee. I thought it was a really cool honor at the time. After five or six rounds I was still in with about ten kids left. The teacher running the spelling bee asked me to spell “reestablish.” I started thinking, and said, “R.” Okay, one letter down. I can spell “re”, but how does one spell “establish”? ... “E-S-T-A-B-L-I-S-H.”
“I’m sorry, that is incorrect.”
WHAT?! That is absolutely how you spell establish. What on earth did I...oh. Oh no. I had forgotten an “e”. I looked out at the crowd and my dad was laughing. I rolled my eyes and went to take my seat amongst the other losers to pray for all ten kids to misspell a word. They didn’t, I lost, but I will never forget how to spell reestablish.
Salvador Perez is an incredible athlete. He makes plays on a regular basis that no 6’ 3” 240 lbs. man should be able to make. Plays like this:
There are literally only two or three human beings alive that can make that play. The man is absolutely incredible. After taking a dip in the defensive metrics last season, Salvy has returned to his typical defensive prowess in 2018 which includes a caught stealing percentage (CS%) of 51.4%. 19 of 37 would be base stealers have been gunned down by Salvy in 2018. OVER HALF. No other catcher in the MLB with at least 500 innings behind the plate has caught even 50% of base stealers. Martin Maldonado is the closest to Salvy with a 46.7% CS% (14/30). Salvy has dominated the running game behind the plate for KC.
In addition to controlling the running game, Salvy’s overall defense has taken a step up. Among catchers with at least 500 innings behind the plate in 2018, Salvy paces ALL OF THEM in DEF rating (according to FanGraphs). His rating of 10.3 is 0.4 points ahead of 2nd place catcher Jorge Alfaro, and 1.5 points ahead of Willson Contreras, who is in 3rd. Gold Glove Awards are no sure thing, but Salvador Perez would appear to be well on his way to winning his 5th Gold Glove.
I have long been a proponent of the “don't worry too much about a catcher’s offensive output” philosophy. Ask any coach, and they’ll tell you that a catcher has to be defense first, offense second. Obviously, if presented with two equal defenders, offense is the deciding factor. One problem with gauging a catcher’s offensive output is how often they get behind the plate. For instance, among the eight non-pitcher positions, catcher has by far the fewest qualified hitters. There are only six big league catchers with a qualifying number of plate appearances (PA) in 2018. The next fewest by position is third base...with 20 qualified hitters. It is hard to play every day as a catcher, and when you do play every day, it takes a toll on your legs, which in turn takes a toll on offensive performance.
With that in mind, Salvador Perez is tied for the lowest wRC+ among qualified catchers at 86. Meaning he’s been 14% worse than the league average hitter (100-86=14). However, Salvy is tied for the league lead in home runs by a catcher with 19. It’s not like he’s been completely worthless at the plate, and to lead the league in home runs AND be the best defender at the position is of incredible value.
To be certain, you could make an argument for other catchers over Salvy in the AL. Wilson Ramos has been much better than Salvy offensively, but is not great behind home plate. Certainly not as valuable as Salvy. Yan Gomes has been a slightly better hitter than Sal, but he’s not as valuable on defense either. (Also, in the NL, JT Realmuto has been one of the best overall players in baseball and Willson Contreras has been excellent on both sides of the ball as well. Sal’s gonna have to take a backseat to both of those guys in 2018, but neither play in the AL.)
No other player on the field other than the pitcher is involved in every single pitch. Only the catcher. Center fielders can go entire games and never make a play. Same with short stops. The catcher is always involved. They call the pitch. They catch the pitch. They game plan. They must know every pitcher they catch and every hitter that walks to the plate like the back of their hand. If you ask me, there’s not a defensive position more important than catcher, and Salvador Perez has been better than everyone in 2018. His offensive needs some overall improvement, but Salvy has more than proven that he’s the best backstop in the American League.