How Good Is Salvador Perez?

No one could blame you if you didn’t believe in Salvador Perez last season. While he mashed to a tune of .331/.361/.473 as a 21-year-old rookie, there were reasons for skepticism. Perez had only received 158 plate appearances, had a poor walk rate and he posted a nearly unsustainable .362 BABIP. On top of that, Perez suffered a knee injury last March, which would sideline him for three to four months. By the time he returned, it was pretty easy to temper your expectations. But just as things looked their worst for Perez, he blossomed. Perez returned from the injury in late-June, and hit .301/.328/.471 in 305 plate appearances. Entering his age-23 season, Perez’s future looks incredibly bright.

In just 463 career plate appearances, Perez has already put himself in prodigious company.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Johnny Bench 1263 8.20% 14.90% 0.247 0.292 0.293 0.349 0.540 0.387 136 13.0 14.5
Ted Simmons 1192 5.50% 9.00% 0.142 0.316 0.303 0.341 0.446 0.352 121 -4.0 10.2
Darrell Porter 906 11.80% 19.10% 0.166 0.283 0.247 0.343 0.413 0.343 115 5.0 6.5
Ivan Rodriguez 924 6.50% 12.10% 0.161 0.297 0.283 0.335 0.445 0.339 101 10.0 5.8
Gary Carter 937 10.90% 13.40% 0.124 0.269 0.251 0.333 0.375 0.326 96 15.0 5.2
Brian McCann 696 8.50% 11.50% 0.206 0.323 0.317 0.376 0.523 0.378 128 -2.0 5.1
Butch Wynegar 1139 10.10% 9.00% 0.095 0.261 0.246 0.327 0.342 0.306 85 9.0 4.9
Joe Mauer 676 10.70% 11.50% 0.143 0.318 0.297 0.371 0.440 0.350 114 0.0 4.6
Salvador Perez 463 4.10% 10.20% 0.160 0.320 0.311 0.339 0.471 0.348 119 6.5 4.1

The above chart shows the best catchers since 1969, and their performance during their age-21 and age-22 campaigns. The entire list of players can be found here. Despite ranking 22 of 25 on that list in plate appearances, Perez has produced the ninth best WAR among young catchers over that period. If you’re a skeptic, it’s easy to look at Perez’s strong fielding numbers, and point to those as the reason he ranks that high on the list. That sentiment can be easily fixed if you sort the same list by wOBA. Perez actually performs better when looking at offensive numbers, jumping up to sixth on the list, barely behind Joe Mauer. Thus far, Perez has put himself on par with some extremely talented players.

At the same time, the concerns that existed after his rookie season are still legitimate. Perez still hasn’t accumulated a full season’s worth of plate appearances, and his walk rate actually dropped last year. The first issue is real, and there’s not much we can do about that until Perez accumulates more plate appearances. The second issue, however, can be examined. When we try and sort that list of catchers by similar players, we end up with three other players, Ted Simmons, Rich Gedman and Alex Trevino. Since Perez was much better than Trevino and Gedman, that list won’t tell us too much. When we open up to include players at all positions, we have a much bigger sample to pull from.

With a much larger sample of players, Perez still performs incredibly well. In fact, when sorting for wRC+, which is ideal for comparing players across different eras, Perez ranks third. In order to get an idea of how Perez might perform next season, let’s compare him to the other players who put up a wRC+ over 100, and see how those players performed during their age-23 campaigns.

Name Age 21-22 wRC+ Age 23 wRC+ Difference
George Brett 110 144 34
Robinson Cano 105 128 23
Paul Molitor 109 125 16
Ted Simmons 121 122 1
Bob Horner 131 126 -5
Robin Yount 102 85 -17
Al Oliver 115 97 -18
Bill Buckner 108 83 -25

The list is a bit of a mixed bag, with four players improving on their numbers the following year, and four players experiencing a decline. If there is a silver lining for Perez, it’s that the guys that ranked closer to him on the initial list performed better the following year. Guys like Bill Buckner and Robin Yount, who dropped off a bit during their age-23 season, were only slightly above league-average offensively during their first two years. The other big thing here is that both players went on to have long, successful playing careers. Even Al Oliver, who also saw a big drop-off during his age-23 season, rebounded the following year. Buckner, who had the lowest career WAR total at 24.6, had the longest playing career of those players. Oliver finished his career with 50.2 WAR, and Yount did even better, accumulating 74.0 WAR over his career.

And those were just the guys who performed poorly at age-23. Among the successful players are two Hall of Famers, George Brett and Paul Molitor. Bob Horner had some fantastic years before injuries and collusion took away some of his prime seasons, and eventually ended his career. Ted Simmons was equally as great when he played, making eight all-star appearances. The final player on the list, Robinson Cano, has emerged as one of baseball’s finest players.

The upcoming season remains crucial for Perez. Over a limited number of plate appearances, he’s already put himself in exceptional company. A full season of playing time should erase some of those small sample size doubts. If the performance remains, Perez could become the true face of the Royals’ young core.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Jay Stevens
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Jay Stevens

Seems wa-a-a-ay too soon to start lumping Perez in with the likes of Johnny Bench and Joe Mauer. In the first graph Cwik sees a high WAR and wRC+, but I see the lowest walk rate, second highest BABIP, and fewest plate appearances, and I think SSS and regression to the mean.

Not to say Perez won’t be a good — or even great — catcher, but this piece feels way too optimistic to me, especially given he only once played more than 100 games in a season (2011, 127 games). I suspect there’s an inverse relationship for catchers between the number of games caught and production.

ZiPS has Perez at .286/.316/.422 (with 12 HRs); James at .299/.329/.456 (16 HRs). These feel like a decent and more modest spread of possible production for the young catcher.

d_i
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Member
d_i

Took the words right out of my keyboard.

Marcus
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Marcus

Don’t sleep on Perez. I know the sample size is small, and I know you qualified the criticism. But this post doesn’t even tell the whole story. Right now, advanced statistics doesn’t do a really good job of figuring out guys who put a lot of balls in play. For Perez, the key comp is Yadier Molina, not because of their offense but because of their defense. He plays Molina type defense. Last season, Perez, in 74 games, had 9 DRS. Molina led the league with 16, but he did it over a full season. Take a look offensively, and Perez’s output so far looks like Molina’s 2011 season (and Perez was 21-22 with about 200 fewer PA). No, Perez doesn’t walk much, but neither did Molina in 2008 and 2011. I think Perez’s walk rate will rise slightly moving forward (again, he’ll only be 23 next year). I also think he’s got greater power potential than Molina. I would not be surprised if he starts hitting 25 HR a season. The key for Perez, as with many catchers, is staying healthy. If he does, he’s got HOF written all over him (that’s not exaggeration; that’s understanding the numbers and watching him play).

Jake
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Jake

It’s not too soon to compare 21 year old Perez and 21/22 year old Bench/Mauer.

Jay Stevens
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Jay Stevens

Yeah, I didn’t want to comment on defense; I was thinking of fantasy production. That and Cwik emphasized Perez’ batting production. I knew Perez was a good defender, but not that good!

Still, I’m not convinced (yet) he’s on a path to the HoF after 463 PAs. And (to Jake), can we compare a 21/22 Perez to a 21/22 Bench/Mauer when playing time is so different? I’m not against comparing guys as similar age sets, but are 463 PAs enough to warrant any kind of conclusion? One additional slumpy month — a September plagued by exhaustion and nagging injuries, a .220/.250/.350 line, say — would drop him to around a .275/.310/.430, and he wouldn’t fit anywhere on these tables. And that wouldn’t be a fair valuation of his talent, either.

Jay Stevens
Guest
Jay Stevens

I just want to add I’m rooting like hell for the kid. Kansas City deserves it, and it would be fantastic to see Perez join Harper and Trout as the new stars of the game.

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