What would you think if the Kansas City Royals had a rookie outfielder who just turned 23 at the end of his rookie year, and batted .310 with 15 home runs and 74 RBI in 608 at bats over 153 games in his rookie season? Throw in excellent defense and you would be thrilled, wouldn’t you? Well, Salvador Perez is not an outfielder, and these numbers are spread across parts of three seasons, but this is what Perez has done in his first 153 games as a Royal. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?
We should be excited by these stats from catcher Salvador Perez, who just turned 23 less than two weeks ago. His slash line for his first 608 at bats looks like this: .307/.336/.458/.793. Not only does he have 15 homers but he also has 34 doubles and 3 triples, and he has scored 69 times. Yes, he has only walked 22 times, and that is not a good number, but he has only struck out 70 times. These are terrific numbers for any young player, at any position, and the fact most of these stats were accumulated before Perez turned 23, they are impressive indeed.
Compare them to the numbers put up by Joe Mauer at the same age, with a very similar sample size – 596 AB, .297 average, 15 home runs, 34 doubles, 3 triples, 72 RBI, and 79 runs scored. Notice Mauer’s homers, doubles, and triple match Perez’s EXACTLY in only 12 fewer at bats. Now, don’t look for Perez to match Mauer’s career average of .324 because Mauer is much more patient than Perez (Joe had 72 walks in this time to Perez’s 22), and their strikeout numbers are as close as everything else. There is also a big outlier year for Mauer and home runs. In 2009, he hit 28 but has not hit more than 13 in any other season and has only hit double figure dingers in three of his 10 seasons. Perez hit 11 home runs in just 305 at bats in 2012. Perez very well could hit for more power than Mauer, which will offset the lower average. If, after 4,100 at bats, we can still favorably compare Salvador Perez to Joe Mauer, I don’t think you will find very many Royals’ fans who will be upset.
Perez does have a higher than normal Bating Average on Balls in Play at .329 (Mauer’s is extremely high at .348). One of the reasons for this is that so far, Perez has been an extreme line drive hitter, which is a good thing. According to Fangraphs, he hits line drives 25.9% percent of the time. This may not be a sustainable number over a career. As he matures as a hitter, some of those line drives may turn into fly balls, which could increase his home runs. Right now, he only hits 29.8 of his balls in the air. If some of his line drives get up in the air a bit more, his average will probably drop.
The biggest cause of concern is Perez’s lack of patience but because he makes such consistent contact, and a lot of his contact result in line drives, it is not as concerning as it could be. Plate discipline could improve with maturity. Perez’s numbers look to be sustainable overall and the one that probably will regress, his line drive rate, will most likely result in more home runs over time. Offensively, Perez does appear to be what he has been over his first 608 at bats – a free swinger who makes great contact and can drive the ball at time. Very few teams have catchers with these kinds of skills. It is a great luxury for the Royals.
Of course, offense is just one part of the equation. In another eerie similarity to Mauer, Perez and Mauer have an identical percentage of throwing out base thieves at 33% (Note – in the games Mauer accumulated those first 596 at bats, he threw out an incredible 42%). Perez only has 5 passed balls in first 153 games, playing nearly every day he has been activated. He has also picked off an incredible 9 base runners (Mauer, a fine defensive catcher when healthy has only picked off 2 in his whole career). By all accounts, pitchers love working with, and throwing to, Perez, making him even more valuable to the Royals.
Even more important to the thrifty Royals, he is signed through 2019, with Kansas City only owing him $20 million more after 2013, if they pick up all of his options. If Perez stays healthy, and continues with the level of his play through the first 153 games of his career, this will go down as maybe the most club friendly contract in Royals’ history.
There is little not to like about Salvador Perez through his first 153 games and 608 at bats. As a fan, it is great to see his leadership at a very young age. He is enthusiastic and he hustles. He has been a good hitter and a terrific catcher and if he played in one of the bigger media markets, he may already be a star. There is a real possibility that he could become the premier catcher of this generation. That is not hyperbole. His first 153 games and 608 at bats have been that good.
Note: Stats are through Sunday, May 19th. On Monday, May 21st, Perez appeared to hurt his hip sliding into a padded fence post while attempting to catch a pop up foul ball in Houston. At this time, it appears just top be a bruise.
Thanks to Fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com for their terrific work with statistics.