In my mind there are several catchers who hit poorly early in their careers and then became much better hitters in their 30s, so I wanted to see if Salvador Perez could be one of those guys. Then I looked, and my mind was wrong. I was thinking about Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez in particular, but they both became solid above average major league bats by their mid to late 20s. It is just that they came up so young that it seemed like it took forever to get there. After Max's article yesterday I decided to see if anyone had ever been a catcher that really became a solid hitter after turning 30.
What I ended up setting as consistently above average is sitting at or above 110 wRC+. This happens very rarely for catchers. Over the past 50ish years since 1969 only 85 player years (less than two in a season on average) showed up across 50 different players. Almost all of them managed one good season in their 30s or were already very good hitters in their 20s and continued into their 30s. Here is the entire list of players who were never solid hitting catchers in their 20s, and then became consistently good hitters in their 30s for a while:
That's it. I will give an honorable mention to Ernie Whitt who almost pulled it off, and at least kept above 100 for a lot longer than Varitek. Also, one caveat for Salvy, since technically he did hit over 110 wRC+ in his 20s his first two seasons up. Those seasons he had 158 and 305 Plate Appearances respectively, which kept me from counting them as full seasons. Jason Varitek's first full season above a 110 wRC+ was at age 31. He then repeated it at age 32 and 33, and almost again at 35 coming up just short. That's it though, he was consistently good for a few years and it was over.
I'm not sure if this is a cautionary tale on Salvador's fate, but if he keeps hitting how he has over last year's partial season and this year for the rest of his contract, it would be unprecedented for a catcher who was not even a league average hitter during his 20s. Even the Ted Simmons and Gary Carter's of the world only had a couple of good seasons in them after 30. Only guys like Fisk, Posada, and Piazza really lasted late into their 30s with the big bat attached.
Catching is hard. Expecting Perez to continue this as his body ages into its mid-30s seems like fools gold to me. MJ Melendez is banging down the door, and I think next year the Royals should be giving him a lot of time behind the dish. Salvador Perez as a part-time catcher and DH seems like a way to take some of the pressure off of his body so he can keep the bat going, and I think it is the only way the 4 years and $82 million still owed to him doesn't end as a bust. That is a hard thing for me to say, Salvy is easily my favorite player, but he will not be the catcher in KC much longer and Melendez could be here for almost a decade before we have likely the same conversation. I hope they can figure out how to make this work.