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Catchers on Fire: Salvador Perez and A.J. Ellis

With the updated catcher rankings recently released and thoughts beginning to turn towards another set of tiers being issued at the end of the month, it’s time to look at a couple of backstops who had us a bit concerned after a tough month of April. A highly coveted choice on draft day, Salvador Perez was expected to do great things this year but struggled mightily at the plate to open the season, leaving many who grabbed him relatively early in their draft (eighth round or so) wondering if they made a mistake. Meanwhile, A.J. Ellis, who had an outstanding breakout season last year, was also counted on to produce with some consistency at the plate, but failed to show any semblance of power he once displayed and also struggled to hit with any regularity. But with the calendar flipping to May, both have caught fire and those owners who were ready to hit the panic button can start to breathe a little easier.

The month of April was far from what we had come to expect from Perez as he is normally a very reliable contact hitter. He posted a very out-of-character 20.2-percent strikeout rate, was quickly falling behind in counts, and was noticeably swinging at pitches that even he, the guy who very rarely takes a walk, wouldn’t normally swing at. The contact he was making was fairly weak and produced a 52.2-percent ground ball rate and an ugly 2.26 GB/FB. The result was a .267 average with a very unsatisfying .281 on-base percentage. But there was hope on the horizon as he still put up a healthy 24.6-percent line drive rate and hit four doubles. I chose not to bump him down in the May tiers, anticipating improved work at the plate.

Now here in May, things have turned around for Perez and his owners. He’s batting .370 for the month and has hit safely in 10 of 12 games with six multi-hit performances, pulling his overall batting average up to .303 on the season. His strikeout rate dropped to 10.4-percent for the month, his walk rate is up from 1.1 to 4.2-percent and his ground ball rate dropped to 43.9-percent with a slight bump in his fly ball rate but a major jump to 31.7-percent in his line drive rate. While the improved plate discipline — or return to his old plate discipline, really — hasn’t translated into an uptick in power just yet, that seems to be coming too as he now has three doubles in his last five games and is seemingly driving the ball with a bit more force. If you were smart enough to withstand the slow start, you’ve now had two weeks of benefits to reap and are headed for four and a half months more.

The one thing that was likely keeping Ellis’ owners from dumping him during his slow April was the fact that he was still posting a strong on-base percentage thanks to a 16.3-percent walk rate. But with little or no power to be had and a weak (for him)¬† 16.4-percent line drive rate, he was batting just .250 for the month¬† and not offering up much more to his owners. But while he hit .291 in April last season, he also didn’t show much in the way of power yet either, so while there may have been some concern, it certainly wasn’t as strong. Should he increase that line drive rate and maybe cut down on those strikeouts, the rest would come.

And that’s exactly what has happened here in May as his strikeout rate dropped to 13-percent, his line drive rate jumped to 27.3-percent and his ISO went from .111 in April to .150 in May over these last two weeks. He’s hit safely in nine of 11 games this month with four multi-hit performances. His walk rate was nearly cut in half, but thanks to a .394 BABIP and better overall contact, he’s actually increased his OBP to a .409 mark this month along with a tasty .909 OPS. Obviously, we’d like to see him hit a few more out than he has right now, but that should come in time soon enough. It wasn’t until late-May last year when his power started to take off anyway. So long as he keeps the average and OBP up, everything else should fall into place.