Salvador Perez has had a season for the ages. Perez’s 48 home runs ties Jorge Soler for the single-season franchise home run record. Since Perez made his big league debut a decade ago, only five players have hit more in a single season. And to display that much power as a catcher? That is literally unmatched. With Perez’s 46th home run, he eclipsed Johnny Bench for most home runs hit in a single season by a catcher. Ever.
While Perez isn’t a great pitch framer—which is why there’s so much discrepancy between his Wins Above Replacement figure from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference—he is the best catcher in baseball at controlling the run game. And when you compare Perez’s triple slash of .273/.316/.544 to the league average catching triple slash of .229/.305/.392, well, there’s no comparison.
For my money, Perez is the best catcher in baseball; pitch framing is an extraordinarily ordinarily overrated metric that shouldn’t really exist, and Salvy absolutely deserves MVP votes. You can screenshot the last sentence for the people who saw this article title on social media and got Big Mad about it without bothering to click. I know how the internet works.
But will Perez win the MVP award? More importantly, should he? The answer to both questions is an unequivocal “no.” This shouldn’t diminish his season—players have great years all the time and don’t (and shouldn’t) win the MVP award. It’s simply about expectations and value.
There is one thing that Salvy does not do well. It’s his Achilles’ heel that limits his overall value. And, unfortunately, it’s the most important thing a baseball player can do: get on base. This year, the league average on base percentage was .317. Perez had an OBP of .316, and that’s simply not worthy of an MVP award.
That might seem silly on the surface, considering how often Perez wallops baseballs very hard and very far. But while it’s easy to get romantic about baseball, it’s easy to get distracted by spectacle. Look: not all baseball plays are equally exciting. A home run is clearly more exciting than a walk. Everyone can agree on that. Furthermore, not every play is of similar value. A home run is clearly more valuable than a single. Everyone’s on board with that one, too.
However, the tricky part is that sometimes the most valuable things are not the most exciting things. That is true here: it is more valuable to get on base a lot than to hit a lot of home runs. And it’s not just a little more valuable. It’s a lot more valuable. Every point of OBP is worth about 1.7 points of slugging percentage when it comes to run production. It’s why Nicky Lopez and his .365 OBP make him a better-than-average hitter despite an isolated slugging percentage of only 0.79 and a home run total you can count on both hands—with fists closed.
Why is this the case? Well, unlike football or baseball or basketball or hockey or soccer or just about any other sport, baseball does not have a clock. The game ends not when time is out, but when you don’t have any outs left to give. In other sports, the faster you score, the more you can score. In baseball, the more outs you can avoid, the more you can score. Outs are a finite resource that you cannot get back. The most valuable offensive players are the ones that preserve the most of that precious resource.
It may seem silly in 2021 to be reminded that OBP is king. But sometimes things are simple: OBP is king. Perez is an elite power hitter at a premium defensive position, but he isn’t good at the most valuable thing a hitter can do. That doesn’t feel right, I know. It feels like Perez is the best player in baseball when he’s up at the plate. However, baseball doesn’t care about what we feel. Perez deserves every MVP vote he gets this season. Until he can get on base more, though, he’s always going to be lagging in overall value compared to other elite players.