There is always such a fuss made up over small sample sizes that often times a player is overlooked from year to year as fantasy owners in keeper leagues become hesitant to protect a player with merely a half a year’s experience in the majors. However, despite the increased depth at the catcher position, due to a heavy influx of young talent over the last few seasons, protecting Salvador Perez at this time might just be a shrewd move you can’t afford to pass up.
First of all, let’s talk about the numbers. To date, Perez is batting .310 with 36 runs scored, 11 home runs and 36 RBI over just 259 plate appearances this season. Factoring in his ZiPS ROS numbers, we’re looking at a potential .306-41-12-41 batting line through 304 PA with a .332 on-base percentage and an outstanding, but possibly over-achieving, .188 ISO. He does have some power, but whether this level is truly sustainable is yet to be determined. Over 158 plate appearances last year, his ISO was .142 and throughout his time in the minors, it averaged somewhere between .135 and .140. The jump he’s made this year is obviously within his capabilities, but we would need to see him, at the least, come close to producing at this level again before we fully buy in.
One of the best aspects of Perez’ work at the plate is his consistently high batting average. He’s batting .310 right now, hit .331 last season, and throughout his time in the minors, has averaged a .300-plus average at every level he’s played. Between his 9.4-percent strikeout rate and amazing 89.1-percent contact rate, both well above league average, Perez has shown an uncanny ability to consistently put the bat on the ball which has subsequently led to a strong BABIP which, in turn, helps keep his average up.
Obviously, there is a slight concern regarding his low walk rate which has hovered around 4.1-percent for his career, but since he is making such strong contact and has done so with strong batted ball data, the concern is lessened. No, he’s not drawing walks, but since he’s hitting the ball with such regularity, how much of a concern is it? Not to mention, for a number of strong hitters, walk-rate numbers have a tendency to increase over time as they mature. Obviously that doesn’t hold true for everyone, but considering the fact that we’ve seen spikes in his minor league walk rate over the years, the odds seem to be in his favor.
In addition to those numbers, there is also the prospect that at 22-years old, there is still developing power on the horizon. Yadier Molina also hit for a solid average with decent on-base totals throughout his career and had very similar strikeout rates as well. His walk rate has been slightly better than that of Perez, but still remained fairly close. If there’s a possibility that, in time, Perez begins to hit for more power as Molina has these last two years, then perhaps the .200 ISO isn’t as outlandish as we may believe right now. In fact, his peripherals are actually more reminiscent of Robinson Cano back in 2009 than they are Molina’s. A stretch there, yes, but still very true.
Then, of course, there’s the question of cost and repleacement level availability to factor in. Given that Perez ended up having knee surgery during the spring, the chance that you spent anything substantial, and by that I mean $5 or more, is remote. He was a late round dollar pick-up in a number of leagues that I know or was picked up off the waiver wire at some point during his recovery. Neither would seem cost prohibitive. And as for availability of comparable talent, well, that might not be as plentiful as you’d think. With so much youth at the position these days, something keeper league owners obviously salivate over, a number of these young studs are probably going to be kept. As will be the likes of Molina, Joe Mauer and Miguel Montero. That would leave you with the choice of keeping Perez or taking a chance that either A.J. Pierzynski or Carlos Ruiz is capable of duplicating their 2012 season. Highly unlikely, in this scribe’s opinion.
While there’s a certain amount of risk involved in buying into a half season’s totals paired up with minor league numbers, it doesn’t see all that substantial given everything that we can factor in here. If we’re right, then we have a very low-cost, high reward catcher for however long we’re allowed to keep him and if we’re wrong, well, it isn’t really costing us that much, now is it? Low risk/great upside/high reward? I’ll take it.