Salvador Perez has been the Royals’ starting catcher almost from the day he was called up in 2011. He’s been an award machine for the last six years of that time. He was an All-Star for six straight seasons, including starting for the last five. He’s also won five gold gloves and a pair of silver sluggers over the past six seasons. He even won the World Series MVP award in 2015.
But he was never as good as his reputation.
FanGraphs recently updated their WAR stat to include pitch framing. This adjusted values for catchers and pitchers as they determined which catchers were good and bad at framing and which pitchers benefited or suffered because of their battery-mate. If you know anything about pitch framing you already knew that Salvador Perez wasn’t very good at it. But according to FanGraphs his career WAR plummeted from a solid 17.8 (About 2.9 WAR per 150 games) all the way down to 9.5 (About 1.6 WAR per 150 games.) It’s generally assumed that about 2 WAR is a starting caliber player. Salvy went from solidly among the starters to borderline.
This actually gives us a really interesting insight. In a world where umpires (or artificial intelligences) could make accurate ball and strike calls independent of the catcher, Salvador Perez would be the terrific catcher that many Royals fans - and Royals brass - view him as. But in the world we actually live in, he’s closer to slightly below average.
There is no one and nothing that reminds me of this situation more than Eric Hosmer. He, too, had a reputation as a smooth fielder but despite whatever advantage he gave to the team with his “skoopz” he cost them dearly when he flailed ineffectually at ground balls while they scooted past him. Salvador Perez may block more wild pitches than the average catcher and he may throw out runners better than anyone else but he costs so many strikes for his pitchers that he’s a net problem behind the plate. And it’s not like his offense, despite gaudy home run numbers, is making up for it. He has a career 97 wRC+ and has hit better than 91 wRC+ just once in the past five seasons. Probably not deserving of the cleanup role he occupied last season.
There is good news, though! As much as the WAR change showed us about Salvador Perez’s flaws it highlighted Martin Maldanado’s strengths. Maldonado gained 7.2 career WAR which jumped him up to averaging 2.9 WAR per 150 games; which means he’s actually about as good as Perez’s reputation. He finally became a starter in 2017 for the first time and promptly won the only gold glove awarded in the AL to someone not named Salvador Perez since 2013. He is a significantly worse hitter than Salvy, but with a reputation of being not that great with the stick, he should get to bat lower in the order where he belongs.
What this all boils down to is that while the Royals are trying to bring along some young pitchers the team might end the year with a better result than they might otherwise have had. And who knows? Maybe a year off will do Salvy’s bat some good. We’ve long shouted here about Perez being over-worked. A year off of his legs might make him more valuable when the team is a little bit better and can start thinking about actually competing again.
The Royals chose inventory over being interesting
The Royals’ outfield situation seems to have been figured out. Despite my prediction that they’d break camp with Bubba Starling entrenched as their starting right fielder, the team appears to have chosen Brian Goodwin. Sort of. Jorge Soler seems likely to get some time in the field, as well, despite lackluster defensive numbers and a propensity toward injury. The Royals have also talked about playing Chris Owings out there a fair amount. The reason for choosing Goodwin becomes obvious once you realize that every other outfielder in the competition had options remaining while he did not. Had the Royals chosen to keep Starling or even Jorge Bonifacio they likely would have lost Brian Goodwin. The argument could be made that they wouldn’t have been losing much. But I suppose it makes a kind of sense all the same.
The Royals also surprised me by declaring that Ian Kennedy would start the year in the bullpen. Their opening day rotation will consist of Jakob Junis, Brad Keller, Jorge Lopez, and Homer Bailey. At least I mostly got the rotation right. The team is hoping that Danny Duffy will take over the fifth spot when they need a pitcher there a couple of weeks into the season but it’s yet to be seen if he’ll be healthy by then. Jeffrey Flanagan also reports that Duffy may not stick in the rotation for the entire year, so that’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
The Royals appear to have guaranteed bullpen spots to Kennedy, Jake Diekman, Brad Boxberger, Tim Hill, and Wily Peralta. That probably leaves three spots available. Drew Storen will be pitching in the minors and Brian Flynn seems likely headed to the injured list. I have to think that Kyle Zimmer has locked up a spot of his own given his spring training and apparent health. That would leave two spots. Kevin McCarthy has probably earned one of them but he can be safely optioned to the minor leagues. The Royals need to keep Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis on the roster, make a deal with their former teams, or give them back. Everyone else seems to have options remaining, according to Roster Resource, so don’t be surprised if both guys start the year with the team, at least. Remember, Burch Smith didn’t exactly light the world on fire during last year’s spring training but the Royals still hung on to him for the entire season. So this wouldn’t exactly be a surprise. It still seems unfair to Kevin McCarthy, though.