The Case for Salvador Perez’s All-Star Nod

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Credit: Getty Images

This past Sunday, Major League Baseball announced the starters and reserves for the upcoming All-Star Game in Washington. In year’s past the fan’s choices for the starters have been a bit questionable while any omissions were fixed when the reserves were announced.

The last few years have seen a big 180 degree turn, as the fans have been almost on point with their selections while the players and coaches have seen some interesting choices made when it comes to roster structure. In that vein, some giant questions were thrown up this past weekend when Salvador Perez was selected to be the Kansas City Royals lone representative next week.

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Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s very obvious that Perez was chosen off of reputation more than anything. Perez is a four-time Gold Glove winner, a recipient of the Silver Slugger Award back in 2016 and will now be an All-Star for the sixth consecutive year. But his numbers are not those of someone deserving of the honor, as he is only hitting .213/.255/.378 this year, with 11 home runs, 34 RBI’s and bWAR of 0.6. These normally aren’t the statistics of someone traveling to appear in the mid-summer classic, especially when someone else on the Royals roster is probably a bit more deserving.

Whit Merrifield has been putting together another banner year for Kansas City, hitting .303/.369/.427 with 2.7 bWAR, an OPS+ of 120 and 6th in the American League in stolen bases. Whit is not only leading the team in WAR, but is third in the league among second basemen and sixth in all of baseball at the position. Even better, Merrifield is doing all this while rotating around the field, as he has played at four different positions this year (including DH).

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So what was apparent to all of us was that Merrifield really deserved the honor rather than Perez. But when it comes to structuring the rosters for each league, it doesn’t always come down to just who has the better numbers as much as how many players are viable options at each position. This was very apparent at second base, where Jose Altuve of Houston will be starting while Gleyber Torres of New York will be his backup.

In fact, second base has been pretty stacked in the American League this year, as not only would Whit have been a worthy recipient of a spot, but so would Jed Lowrie of Oakland or Daniel Robertson of Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, catcher has been a position with less productivity and appears to be a harder group to choose from when it comes to reserves on the All-Star squad.

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Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The other factor when looking at the All-Star situation is making sure that every team is represented on the roster. This can make structuring the roster even harder, as teams that are struggling normally don’t have a lot of players to choose from who are having exceptional years. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be a losing team.

You might be wondering how the players decide some of the reserves for the game. Luckily, we have that covered:

MLB players get to vote as well, electing eight position players in each league, plus the designated hitter in the AL. The top vote-getter at each position earns a spot here. In the case that the player vote winner matched the fan vote, the player with the second-highest vote total from the players gets the spot.

Simple enough. To be honest, all this factors into why Salvy was voted in. He is a player who is well-respected within the game, loved by both fellow players and the fans. In fact, that also plays into why he was voted in by the players.

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When you think of the All-Star Game, you think of some of the biggest names in baseball. It is baseball’s chance to trot out their best and brightest and have them battle against each other for a national audience. While the numbers don’t vouch for Salvy’s greatness, within the game he is considered one of the elite at his position, down year or not. The players recognize his past accomplishments and to them he is a name worthy of being on this stage.

You can argue that the down year would disqualify him for selection, but if we are really talking about the best the sport has to offer, Salvador Perez is a recognizable name that carries weight. It’s probably a good thing to remember that this game is officially an exhibition, nothing more and nothing less. The game doesn’t count (I know someone would say it used to, but it really didn’t) and in fact by the middle of August most people have forgotten what even happened in the game.

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Credit: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

That doesn’t take away the enjoyment and fun of seeing players getting to represent their teams and play against the best of their peers. It just means that sometimes while we as fans take these selections super serious, it’s also okay to acknowledge that it is just a fun getaway in the middle of the season. Think of it as a chance to relish in the greatness of the game.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Whit Merrifield is worthy of a spot on this roster and is easily the Royals best choice, it’s not a bad thing that Salvy was selected. Who knows? Maybe by the time we reach next Monday, Merrifield would have been added to the roster to replace someone who is either hurt or unable to play. In that case, he would be chosen to a spot we always thought he was worthy of. No harm, no foul.

So rather than tear down why Perez is there or why Whit isn’t, let’s enjoy the fact that someone from this Royals team gets to just be a part of the festivities. With the way this season is going, we are better off taking any happy moment we can get.

The Awakening of Kendrys Morales

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When June began there were many a question pointed in the direction of Kansas City Royals DH Kendrys Morales. Morales was mired in a two month-long hitting slump and at that point was hitting a paltry .193/.262/.330 with 6 home runs, 21 RBI’s and more strike outs than actual hits. Morales looked lost and there was concern that maybe Kansas City needed to go out and get a bat to replace him if the slump continued much longer. Even I wondered if Carlos Beltran would be a better option than Morales while deep down hoping that Kendrys would find his swing and take off like a rocket offensively. Well, it took a lot longer than expected, but the slugger we saw in 2015 win the Silver Slugger award for American League DH is back to form and has been tearing the hide off the ball these last few weeks. But this begs an even bigger question than we were asking a month ago: What has changed for Morales?

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One of my initial beliefs about Morales’ improvement has been his ability to hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Early in the season it appeared he was really struggling trying to make contact and pitchers had picked up on that. But in June it seemed as if Morales was actually pounding those same pitches he was missing the first two months of the season:

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The chart above confirms my suspicions as Morales’ exit velocity on breaking balls and off-speed stuff has taken a steady rise in a positive direction. This made me also wonder if he was not only hitting those pitches harder, but also improving his line-drive rate on balls in play:

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That turned out to be a big 10-4 as Morales’ line drive rate on breaking balls jumped from an average of 7.14 in May to 66.67 in June. If you have watched a number of Royals games this past month, you are well aware of how Kendrys has been scalding the ball and by that I mean not in the form of ground balls:

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This is also confirmed, at least on breaking balls. It does appear as if Morales saw a jump on ground balls off the off-speed pitch, which Isn’t too big of a shock. This probably should not be seen as completely negative, as it is better than popping those pitches up, where at least a well hit ground ball can find a hole. This seemed to be proven by Morales’ ground ball chart:

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Last month Morales was hitting breaking balls in the air a lot, as it spiked the highest in May. In June, it is at the very bottom and is actually at zero. Rather than giving the other team an easy out by hitting it in the air, Morales has been getting enough of the bat on the ball to either hit the ball on the ground or line the ball into the field of play. Not only has Morales been hitting off-speed pitches, it also is the pitch he is swinging at the most in the last month:

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This tells me that Morales felt more comfortable in June swinging at the off-speed pitch and probably even expected to see more change-ups than fastballs. Teams had obviously started throwing Morales a certain way, seeing that he was struggling catching up to the off-speed pitch and it makes one wonder if he will start seeing more fastballs with the way he has been hitting as of late.

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So we have looked at Morales’ improvement with breaking balls and the off-speed pitch, but the overall numbers are even more impressive. Over the last month, Morales has put up a line of .402/.453/.655 with 5 home runs, 18 RBI’s and 12 total extra base hits. His strike outs have also steadily fallen, as he had 21 in April, 18 in May and down to 17 strike outs in June. One stat that really points out why Morales has seen this success is batting average on balls in play(BAbip). During the first two months of the season Morales posted BAbip’s of .270 and .157 respectively; in June he hit a whopping .462! Morales was not only hitting the ball better, but he was also finding holes in the other team’s defense at a higher rate as well.  It shouldn’t be surprising that Morales ended up with an OPS+ of 190 throughout the month, as those are the two forms of attack for him in June; get on base and accumulate extra base hits. Morales ended up with only one more home run in June than May, but hit 7 doubles while only racking up 1 double in May. Oh, and Morales saw a big uptick in his batting average in the last month. He would start the month hitting .193, and would finish it hitting .262. We could probably dig up numbers all day comparing April/May to June and be blown away but more than anything it shows what Kendrys is capable of when he is in the zone. The numbers Morales put up last month weren’t just impressive for a guy who had been slumping all season, they would be impressive for the Mike Trout’s and Bryce Harper’s of the world as well. That is elite company, to say the least.

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With this big of a turnaround, one has to wonder just what changed for Morales. We can speculate all day but if you have followed baseball for even a small bit you know the slightest change can make a difference. Earlier in the week I had a friend suggest that he believed that Morales had been staying on his back foot longer than normal and honestly, a change like that could make a batter see the ball better out of the pitcher’s hand and also give him more time to prepare for something slower than a fastball. Whatever approach Morales changed has worked and has made him look like the hitter who was spraying the ball with authority throughout much of 2015. With the trade deadline looming, having Kendrys on point leaves the Royals front office with one less position to worry about when looking at trade targets. Now if the rest of the Kansas City offense can help him out(and if Cleveland finally decides to lose a game) the Royals could be sitting pretty headed into the last couple months of the season. One minute we are cursing the slumping player, the next praising him. Piling on the adulation is way more productive than wondering what the hell is going on with someone like Morales. I’m just glad he chose to wake up his bat when he did.

Enter Pitch, Exit Velocity

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As a “stat-geek”, I am always on the lookout for a new statistic in baseball that will give me a deeper look at the game that we all love. In 2015, MLB Advanced Media made a hitter’s exit velocity available for the first time on a regular basis and ever since I have been mesmerized. In case you are not in the know, exit velocity is very simple; it’s essentially the speed of the ball after it makes contact with the bat, or a radar gun for the batter. You might be asking yourself just why something like exit velocity can help teams gain an advantage over their opponent…and that would be a valid question. So why is this fancy new statistic such a hit? Well, there are many reasons for it’s success.

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The most obvious reason is the fact that you can measure which batters are hitting the ball the hardest. If you are consistently nailing the ball with a high exit velocity, then the likelihood is that you are stacking up hits at an efficient rate. Looking at the top average exit velocities in 2015 and you obviously will find some of the biggest home run hitters in the game. There is no shock that Giancarlo Stanton led this category last year, averaging 99.1 mph launch speed on balls hit; Stanton might be the most prolific home run hitter in the game right now. But looking at the Top 15 and you see a who’s who of sluggers; Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Trout are just a few of the names littered near the top. These are not only big home run hitters, but also some of the most elite hitters in the game, period. The easy answer is that if you have a high exit velocity, then there is a good chance you are going to be near the top of the leaderboard for extra base hits. There are still other factors in play(like actually hitting the ball. See Peguero, Carlos) but exit velocity will show you who is hitting the ball the hardest on your team.

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For instance, let’s look at the Royals exit velocity leaders last year. Top of the list is Kendrys Morales at 92.9 mph on average; Morales just put together a great comeback season last year while winning a Silver Slugger award. He also put up 22 home runs, 41 doubles and drove in over 100 runs, so one would assume his exit velocity numbers were higher than what they were in 2014. Same for Royals minor leaguer Jose Martinez, who had one of the highest exit velocities in the minors last year and put together a career year for Omaha. What is really fun is going and looking at Kansas City’s playoff exit velocities. Granted this is a smaller sample size, but three Royals had an average exit velocity above 94 mph(Lorenzo Cain, Morales and Salvador Perez) with Morales having the highest average launch speed during the postseason. Exit velocity won’t give you instant success, but in a shortened period like the postseason it sure would indicate a higher chance of success, especially if you have multiple players near the top of the rankings.

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But there are a couple more reasons to keep your eye on a hitter’s exit velocity. For one, it could be a window into a possible injury. A hitter would tend to put up a fairly consistent exit velocity, as it is five times more the batter’s doing than the pitcher. If a batter has shown a major dip in his exit velocity and shown that over a regular period of time, then there is a possibility that player could be injured. There is no way to 100% quantify this, but if a player is averaging an exit velocity in the mid 90’s, then averages an exit velocity in the lower 90’s/upper 80’s in a short amount of time, there is a good chance that player is hurt. Exit velocity could actually help teams determine if a player should play through the injury or take up some DL time.

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Another interesting pattern to watch would be a player’s regression. Most know that as a player gets older his abilities will start to regress and a statistic like exit velocity would(and should) show a declining pattern. The difference between an injury and regression is that an injury would show a more sudden decline while regression would be over a longer period of time. Look at it this way; a batter isn’t going to wake up one day and all of a sudden lose a ton of bat speed and show a weaker hand eye coordination.Both of those skills will slowly erode over a long stretch of time, so you would have to look at a number of years of exit velocity to get a true feel for a regression. Since Statcast is still in a somewhat early infancy, this is probably still a few years away from being something an organization would use. I could easily see teams using it to determine keeping or trading a player or even using exit velocity to determine whether or not to sign a free agent. This is the beauty of a stat like exit velocity; we are still learning from it and how to use it to evaluate players and their abilities.

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In a baseball world where power is still a highly coveted commodity, exit velocity could be the holy grail to determine who to stack into the middle of a batting order. The fun part for those of us that love stats is how the possibilities are endless. With the information that is currently available, it is possible to break down a hitter’s exit velocity into pitches, into whatever the count is at the time of the hit(3-2, 0-1, 2-2, etc.) or even against individual pitchers. Statcast has opened up a whole new door into baseball statistics and we should all welcome them in. Exit velocity is just another way to look at a game that is constantly evolving using the technology available today. I still want my peanuts and cracker jacks, but go ahead and throw in a side of velocity and launch angle.

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