The Royals are not a good offensive team. They have the second-fewest runs scored per-game in the league, have the third-worst on-base percentage, and have been historically bad with the bases loaded. What makes this puzzling is that they have some legitimately good hitters in their lineup. Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, and even free agent Maikel Franco have all been well above league-average hitters.
But shining above them all has been Salvador Pérez. With just a few weeks left on the schedule, Salvy is hitting .357/.374/.635 with eight home runs in just 31 games. He won’t qualify for the batting title because he missed three weeks with an unusual vision problem, but if he did, he would be behind only D.J. LeMahieu for the highest batting average in all of baseball. His .422 wOBA would be the seventh-best in baseball, ahead of hitters like Nelson Cruz, Tim Anderson, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, and Mookie Betts. Despite missing about a third of the season, Salvy still leads all catchers in WAR, according to Fangraphs.
The crazy thing about all of this was that he just had Tommy John surgery. The track record of performance after Tommy John surgery for catchers is sparse, but not encouraging. Salvy has defied expectations by hitting the ball as hard - perhaps even harder - than he did before surgery. And he is not a spring chicken either, having turned 30 last May. As Jay Jaffe wrote in 2019, “if his post-surgical success approaches his pre-surgical performance, he’ll be breaking new ground.”
Salvy is breaking new ground.
Has he been lucky? Sure. He has a .394 BABIP, no one really thinks hitting .357 is his true talent level. But he is still posting by far the highest ISO of his career at .278 and he is hitting the ball hard. His hard-hit rate is 42 percent, ahead of sluggers like Matt Chapman, Gary Sanchez, Mike Trout, and even Jorge Soler.
Salvador Perez - Kansas City Royals (4) Solo— MLB Home Runs (@HomeRunVideos) August 12, 2020
Distance: 404 ft
Exit Velocity: 99.3 mph
Launch Angle: 32°
Amazingly, he has done all this while his walk rate plummets to the lowest rate of his career. Salvy was never known to be one to take a free pass, but his walk rate has fallen to just 2.3 percent, the third-lowest by any hitter with at least 100 plate appearances this year. He has swung at 59 percent of all pitches he has seen, the highest rate of his career and the fourth-highest rate in baseball. As Salvy told Lynn Worthy, “I’m just trying to be on time, try not to swing at bad pitches, try to get ahead of the count,” Perez said. “I’m still aggressive, I just try to swing at good pitches.”
Some of this could be waved away as small sample size madness, after all, the list of top hitters in baseball includes obscure names like Teoscar Hernandez, Jeimer Candelario, and Donovan Solano. But only seven Royals hitters have had a better offensive month (by OPS) since Dayton Moore took over in 2007 than Salvy has hit in this 30-game stretch.
It is quite possible that the year off following surgery helped rest Salvy’s legs and he can be a much better player in the near future. He will be going into the final year of his contract in 2021, and the Royals will have to decide whether he is part of the future. With no clear heir apparent - Meibrys Viloria profiles as a backup, MJ Melendez has struggled with the bat - it seems quite likely the Royals will be motivated to keep Salvy in a Royals uniform, particularly if he continues to hit like this.