Salvador Perez Is Making the Most of Swinging at Everything

Salvador Perez has been aggressive from the start. He’s long been an aggressive hitter, and a talented bat-to-ball hitter, and pitchers have responded as you’d expect. This is Perez’s seventh year in the big leagues. In every successive year, he’s seen a lower rate of pitches in the zone. He’s also steadily seen fewer fastballs, this year owning the lowest fastball rate in the game. Perez doesn’t see strikes because he swings at balls, and for the same reason, he seldom draws a walk. In each of Perez’s last three seasons, he’s finished with an OBP under .300. For that matter, he’s finished with an OBP under .290.

Perez is no stranger to having a hot start, so, bear that in mind. But something so far this year is unusual. Again, he’s not seeing many strikes, and he’s not seeing many fastballs. Accordingly, he hasn’t drawn walks, because he’s still chasing as often as ever. Yet Perez is hitting for power, sitting on a 127 wRC+. There’s a long way to go before we know what Perez truly is, but he looks to be building on a process started last year. Salvador Perez is fully focused on finding left field.

During the middle of last season at some point, I put up a post asking whether Perez was trying to turn on the power. Related to that — this year, Perez has appeared in 42 games. Here’s a plot of ground-ball rate over 42-game rolling averages:

Perez has not been hitting many grounders. He’s had spurts like this in the past, but for right now, in 2017, Perez owns baseball’s sixth-lowest grounder rate. He was never an extreme ground-ball hitter, but this is a progression. Perez isn’t stupid. His coaches aren’t stupid. This isn’t a guy who’s going to thrive on grounders and low liners. The ball has increasingly taken off.

Last year, Perez made ground-ball progress. Now here’s the newer element:

Perez has never before pulled the ball this much. His career pull rate is 44%. Last year’s pull rate was 47%. This year’s pull rate is 62%. That’s the second-highest pull rate in baseball among qualified hitters. Basically, the plan here is pretty simple. Perez remains an aggressive bat, and he’s trying to pull everything in the air to left or left-center. It hasn’t worked perfectly, of course, but it’s worked better than any previous plans, and here’s a trivia point for you — there are 234 hitters who have hit at least 30 grounders this season. Perez is the only one who hasn’t hit a grounder toward the opposite field.

This would be Perez’s version of an opposite-field grounder these days, I suppose:

That’s just a shot up the middle, off a pitch around the outside edge. Perez has even demonstrated the ability to pull pitches over there. Here’s another knock:

It’s one thing to be able to pull an outside pitch. It’s quite another to be able to pull an outside pitch with authority, and that’s what Perez has been able to do. Right fielders haven’t seen very much action, because Perez has had a target in mind. It seems maybe a little too simple, but Perez has been successful now for a couple of months.

What, exactly, has Perez been up to, in terms of his process? I’m sure there are a few elements coming together, both mental and physical, but here’s one easy point. Perez seems to have crowded the plate. So outside pitches are less outside than they used to be, relatively speaking.

Up top, Perez is around the middle of the box. Down below, he’s closer to the plate side of the box. These are just two pictures, but stances tend not to change at-bat to at-bat. To continue on, look at what happens when Perez lowers his front foot:

Perez used to step into the plate. Now he’s basically just stepping forward, which makes it all the easier for him to wrap around. When a hitter steps toward the plate when swinging, it’s hard to make the most of that full hip rotation. Balls will often go up the middle or toward the opposite gap. Now Perez can clear his hips and try to get in front of the ball more often. I’m not explaining this well, because I’m neither a hitter nor a hitting coach, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at. Perez now has an easier time of opening up. Perez now has an easier time of turning on the ball, which is helping him thrive.

This is our 16th season of having some batted-ball data. The highest pull rate for a qualified hitter has been 63.5%, by 2003 Tony Batista. If Perez were to keep this up, he’d be fourth on the list. That seems extreme, and it’s likely to regress. It’s more a matter of by how much, given Perez’s obvious intent. On the one hand, because Perez is now opening up more, that could leave him more vulnerable against soft stuff away. That would explain why pitchers have thrown him fewer fastballs than ever. Yet Perez is good at getting the bat on the ball, and because he’s standing so close, he can reach a lot of those soft pitches. The solution could be mixing in more inside heat to back Perez off, but that would come with its own risks.

As things stand, Salvador Perez is one of few Royals actually hitting. His power potential has been obvious for years, and now he’s showing what he can do to the left side of the field. He’s never been known for having a disciplined approach, so maybe pitchers will identify a new way to shut him down. But it’s Perez who presently has a leg up, turning on more pitches than ever. There was always the chance that Perez would tap into more of that strength. It could be happening, at the age of 27. Don’t say that the Royals don’t have any bright spots.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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YKnotDisco
5 years ago

That still frame of Archer is awesome!

“Now he’s basically just stepping forward, which makes it all the easier for him to wrap around. When a hitter steps toward the plate when swinging, it’s hard to make the most of that full hip rotation. Balls will often go up the middle or toward the opposite gap. Now Perez can clear his hips and try to get in front of the ball more often. I’m not explaining this well, because I’m neither a hitter nor a hitting coach, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at. Perez now has an easier time of opening up. Perez now has an easier time of turning on the ball, which is helping him thrive”.

FWIW, you could fool me into thinking you were a hitting coach.

To my untrained eye, it also looks like he has lowered his hands a bit and tucked in his left elbow ever so slightly too.