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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.

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.