Salvador Perez Deserves a Break

Salvador Perez, to me, is one of the more overrated players in baseball.

Defining “overrated” is a largely subjective endeavor, but, to me, he has received praise and exposure in a volume not commensurate with his abilities. Yes, he was part of a world-championship club, and he was of course heavily involved as its catcher. Still, his production is not that of an All-Star.

He’s posted three straight seasons of sub-.290 on-base percentages, wRC+ numbers of 91 or less. He’s a below-average hitter, and he doesn’t stand out at the game’s most challenged offensive position outside of pitcher. MLB catchers combined for a .310 on-base mark last season and an 87 wRC+. Perez posted an 88 wRC+.

In an age when pitch-framing has been quantified and now prized, Perez was rated as the worst framer in baseball last season, according to StatsCorner. Perez, like Matt Wieters, might have a framing problem in part because, at 6-foot-5, he’s unusually tall for a catcher. According to BWARP, which includes framing value, Perez has been worth an average of 0.5 WAR per season since 2014. Half a win! This is a player who has been invited to participate in four straight All-Star games. There’s a disconnect here.

What he does do well is stay on the field and throw out baserunners.

While Perez isn’t highly regarded as a receiver, he does lead all catchers in Defensive Runs Saved (39) since 2013, which accounts for catcher defense without considering framing. Perez led the AL last season by throwing out 48% of attempted stolen-base runners. His 35% rate over the course of his career is well above the league average of 28% over that six-year span.

While health is in part a skill, and while he has a strong arm, the overall profile is not one of an All-Star, let alone a quality regular. Unless, I’m missing something. And I think I might have been missing something. I wasn’t aware how dramatic Perez’s first-half and second-half splits were until watching MLB Network’s top-10 catcher show via DVR the other night.

Salvador Perez, Career Splits
1st half 0.282 0.312 0.456 0.174 107
2nd half 0.263 0.293 0.410 0.146 87

And this is interesting because, since 2013, no catcher has logged more innings behind the plate. Since 2013, Perez has logged 17% more innings at catcher than the No. 5-ranking catcher, Buster Posey, and 13.7% more inning than the third-ranking catcher, Jonathan Lucroy.

Innings Played at Catcher, 2013-16
Name Innings
Salvador Perez 4662.0
Yadier Molina 4415.0
Jonathan Lucroy 4064.2
Russell Martin 4055.1
Buster Posey 3931.2
Kurt Suzuki 3658.2
Wilson Ramos 3617.1
Jason Castro 3590.1
Derek Norris 3557.0
Miguel Montero 3542.0
Welington Castillo 3534.0
Brian McCann 3494.2
Tyler Flowers 3304.0
Chris Iannetta 3252.0
Yan Gomes 3174.1
A.J. Pierzynski 3167.2
Nick Hundley 2980.2
Carlos Ruiz 2914.0
Mike Zunino 2914.0

Perez’s problem might be that he is simply playing too much. Way too much. And it’s not as if the position as a whole exhibits this sort of split. Consider: MLB catchers as a whole last season posted a 85 wRC+ in the first half and a 89 wRC+ in the second half. OK, so Gary Sanchez arrived in August. But in the pre-Sanchez era of 2015, catchers were again just as productive in the first half (84 wRC+) as the second half (85 wRC+).

Perez, meanwhile, is almost always significantly worse in the second half. Last season, he posted a 114 wRC+ in the first half and a 55 wRC+ in the second. In 2015, it was 92/78 split. In 2014, it was 114/59. He’s also one of only four catchers to log more than 4,000 innings behind the plate since 2013. Perez ranked third in inning caught last season and first in 2015.

Perez sure seems like a player who would benefit from more time off. And in this age of enlightenment when teams are supposedly more interested in improving player efficiency through more rest and off days, the Royals keep leaning on Perez. The Royals have vowed to relax his innings in the past, as Craig Edwards noted back in the spring of 2015, but have been unable to quit the habit. Now, perhaps this is in part because their back-up catchers have not warranted much playing time. Drew Butera is a career .198 hitter and below-average framer for his career. Perhaps for that reason, no team should have been interested in adding a quality reserve catcher this winter. (Wieters is still available.) And while Perez’s desire to play seems like an admirable quality, and is cited as such, is it really if it explains his second-half production?

If Perez could sustain his first-half production into the second, or simply remain closer to league average in the second halves of the season, there’s no doubt he would be a valuable player. He’d be an above-average hitter with a plus arm. Even when accounting for the receiving skills (perhaps no catcher would benefit more from robot umps), that’s a quality regular. But in order to be that guy, he must log fewer innings and the Royals more often must give Perez a break.

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Amazing chart! Thanks.