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Squaring up with Salvador Perez

He’s hitting the ball with malice.

MLB: JUL 20 Astros at Royals Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You can’t cheat Salvador Perez when he’s in the batter’s box. It’s impossible.

A veteran of Royals’ teams since 2011, Perez’s strengths and weaknesses at the plate have been well documented. Carrying a .266/.297/.441 line for his career (encompassing over 3,700 plate appearances) he’s a guy who, when he’s not expanding the strike zone to the pitcher’s delight, he can run into one and drive it.

So far, through 10 games (all statistics in this are through Sunday), Perez is who we’ve come to know and understand all these years. But there’s an exception to what we’ve seen. On the occasions where Perez isn’t expanding the strike zone, on the occasions where he’s putting the bat on the ball, he’s making outstanding contact. Really outstanding contact.

In this young season, Perez is barreling the baseball in about 12 percent of his plate appearances. Overall, he’s putting the barrel on the baseball in almost 16 percent of the balls he puts in play. That’s an outstanding rate for him, as he’s normally around 10 percent.

The announcers will bemoan Perez’s lack of luck over the first 10 games of the year. After all, when you’re hitting the ball on the nose and your batting average is hovering around .235, how else could it be anything but a bad roll of the dice? There’s some validity to that argument. Perez is hitting just .267 on balls in play. We’ve been conditioned to think that a .300 BABIP is “normal,” but that’s not necessarily the case. Every player is different. In Perez’s case, he’s so slow and puts so many balls in play, his BABIP is usually well below the imaginary .300 threshold. In 2018 Perez posted a .245 BABIP. For his career, his BABIP is .283.

His expected stats from Statcast tell a similar story of poor luck.

Salvador Perez Expected Rates, 2020

.244 .378 .415 .774 .283 .478

All of those expected numbers rank in the top five percent of the league. That’s because, as noted above, he’s stinging the ball. His average exit velocity is north of 91 mph and his average launch angle is close to 17 percent. According to Statcast, when you make contact like that, you’re going to get a base hit over 60 percent of the time. Those are odds any hitter will take.

Not only is he scalding the ball when he makes contact, he’s truly squaring up the baseball. His spray chart should hang in the Louvre. Or maybe you’d just settle for the Royals Hall of Fame.

When he puts the ball in the air, the largest cluster of batted balls can be found right up the middle. It’s really quite impressive. Equally impressive is how far he’s hitting those baseballs when they’re traveling in the air.

The overlay above is from Kauffman Stadium, but one of the outs that looks like it’s beyond the wall is from The K.

That ball left the bat at 103 mph and Luis Robert made it look easy tracking it down at the wall.

Fair is fair. A loud out must be paired with a dinger. How about one that went 434 feet and left the bat at 107 mph.

If you put it in the shrubs beyond the center field wall in Detroit, that dinger should count double.

You can make the argument that Perez will need to start turning on the ball more to fully realize his power. Doinking singles to the opposite field is not what he’s in the lineup to do. Again, it’s early days and we’re looking at a 10 game spray chart. Perez is Perez and he’ll eventually start turning on the ball more than we’ve seen. Besides, that’s where his power lives. And Perez is not about to sacrifice power for singles.

But it is nice to see the tiny cluster of hits to right in the early going. He’s taking what he can get at the plate. Look at how they’re pitching Perez. A full third of the pitches he sees are down and away out of the strike zone.

Small sample caveats and all that but this, of course, is nothing revelatory to anyone who has watched Perez hit. It’s a wonder a right-hander with an average slider ever throws him anything straight or in the zone. Away, away, low and away, and away. That should be the scouting report. And even though Perez is hitting the ball hard through the first 10 games, this remains the most effective way to get him out.

Overall, Perez has seen 45 pitches in that low and away section and swung 17 times. He’s missed on eight of those and put six in play. Of those six, he’s hit three with an exit velocity over 95 mph. But only one has gone for a hit. When regression comes for Perez, it’s going to look like a pitch down, away and out of the zone.

But the good news is, Perez is absolutely punishing pitches in the zone.

There’s never any reason for a pitcher to nibble when facing Perez. Don’t try to get too cute and throw one just off the edge. Get it out there. Way out there. Because Perez is killing pitches on the outer third of the strike zone. This is where he’s getting that extension, barreling the ball and driving it right back up the middle.

The important question when dealing with these small samples is, is what we are seeing an aberration? Or is there something to this, a larger trend? A couple of things are at play regarding Perez. First, he looks fresh. If there was a silver lining to be found in missing what amounts to a season and a half of baseball after catching nearly every inning of every game the seven years prior, is that Perez would be a little slower to wear down in 2020. Amazing what a little rest and rehab can do. Second, we’re already dealing with a short season. Sixty games? Heh. Perez can do that standing on his head. We really shouldn’t see any kind of September fade. That’s the second month of the season.

So while there will surely be moments where Perez struggles, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him continue to scald the baseball over the next 50 or so games. It feels like he’s making up for lost time. Welcome back.