Salvador Perez holds many roles for the Kansas City Royals; clubhouse leader, Lorenzo Cain’s BFF, backup broadcaster, leader of the pitching staff and middle of the order power threat. In 2015, Perez would hit 21 home runs, a new high for a Kansas City catcher. Despite this career high, Salvy’s other numbers weren’t as impressive. Walk rate was the lowest of his career. Strike out rate was the highest it had ever been. Hard hit rate was the lowest it had been since his rookie campaign. Line drive rate was one of the lowest of his career. Most importantly, his wRC+(which weighs runs per plate appearance while being park and league adjusted) was the lowest of his career, at 87(league average is 100). It really appeared as if Perez’s numbers were already starting to skew downwards, which was not good for a player coming into his age 26 season. Most Royals fans are well aware of Salvy’s lack of patience at the plate and most don’t expect him to walk much, but would prefer he became a bit more selective at the plate. All this information makes it even more impressive when discussing what Perez has done so far in 2016.
Over the last month Perez has been the hottest hitting Royal, putting up a line of .411/.436/.689 with 6 home runs, 14 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.125. Perez, a notorious free-swinger, is still swinging at a lot of pitches(in fact he is pretty much on par with his totals for the last two seasons), but there is a slight change in his approach. Last year, Perez was making contact with pitches outside the strike zone about 73% of the time; so far this year he is at 62%. Meanwhile, pitches inside the strike zone he is actually making a bit more contact, up to 91.4% from 90.7%. This tells me that he is laying off the pitches outside the strike zone a bit more this year while focusing more of his attention on pitches within the meat of the plate. The funny part to all of this is that Salvy’s strikeout rate is up by quite a bit(22%, up from 14% last year) while his contact rate is also down, to 78% from last year’s 83%. You would think that a guy who is making less contact would not see his numbers go up, but they have. In fact, Salvy has been a beast in the power department so far this year.
The power numbers are where Perez is really stepping up his game. His hard hit rate is significantly up this year, 36% from last year’s 24%, and his fly ball rate has also soared, 48.8% from 37.4%. Of course because of this, Perez has a higher home run to fly ball ratio(14.3%) and a lower ground ball rate(26.7% from last year’s 41.9%). To me this all screams of someone driving the ball much more and realizing he can do more damage on pitches closer to the middle of the plate. This is even more evident when looking at Salvy’s exit velocity:
As you can tell, outside of a brief dip the week of April 24th, Perez has been not only above league average, but even close to averaging 100MPH on hit balls for a few weeks. Now, while his approach with pitches outside the zone has changed, he is still a very pull-heavy hitter, as he is pulling the ball the most he has since 2014. Slugging, On Base Plus Slugging, Isolated Power and Weighted on Base Average have all gone way up so far in 2016. Hell, Salvy’s BAbip over the last month is a ridiculous .508! These numbers speak of a player on track for a career year.
Speaking of career highs, at his current rate, Perez is on track to have career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI’s, batting average, on base percentage, slugging and with a little luck, possibly even WAR. He also already has 11 walks this year, only 6 behind last year’s total. His career high for free passes is 24, which I’m not quite ready to say he could topple, although if he keeps hitting like this he will surely see his intentional walks go up. I know there was an increased effort this year for Perez to be more patient at the plate. To me, being more patient at the plate doesn’t always mean more walks as much as waiting for a good pitch to hit and drive. I’ve long felt that Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum has been teaching these guys to look for a pitch to drive and because of that we have seen higher power numbers from Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. I’m starting to think the same philosophy is being soaked up from Salvy and it is paying off in spades.
So do I believe he will be able to keep this up all season? Perez is a very streaky hitter and I would assume at some point we are going to start seeing a lull in his numbers. That being said, I think even with that he can still keep himself with numbers higher than what he accumulated last year. Is he going to hit .300 all year? Probably not, but the power numbers could be here to stay. The bigger concern for Kansas City is to keep Perez rested and make sure they are not over-working him behind the plate. The Royals have a solid backup receiver in Drew Butera and with Kendrys Morales slumping much of this season, it seems like a solid idea to give Salvy’s knees a rest and start him at DH occasionally. More than anything, Kansas City needs Salvy to stay healthy the rest of the year for them to stay in contention in the American League Central. Perez has long been regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the game and rightfully so; but now, outside of a Jonathan Lucroy or Buster Posey, he is making the case as one of the best all-around catchers, period. Perez is as special as they get and I really hope Kansas City fans are savoring what they have with him. If he keeps this up, the hardware won’t be stopping anytime soon.