Sunday Notes: Chris Perez Had Two PAs (He’s Bitter About One of Them)

Chris Perez didn’t get many opportunities to swing the bat during his seven big-league seasons. As a short reliever who played primarily in the American League, that was to be expected. Somewhat less expected was what happened when he did have a chance to dig into the batters box.

“I had two [plate appearances], and I’m bitter about one of them,” Perez told me recently. “In 2008, my rookie year with St. Louis, we were in Florida at the old stadium, playing the Marlins. I came into the game in the eighth inning with one out, and got a double play with the bases loaded. When I went back to the dugout, Tony La Russa told me, ‘Hey, Chris, you’re still in there. Stay focused, because you’ve got the ninth.’”

The Cardinals were up by a run at the time, and Perez was due up sixth in the top half. Three hits and two outs later — an insurance run having crossed the plate — La Russa approached Perez again. This time the message was less welcome: “Go up to the plate and look dangerous, but don’t swing. I want you to take every pitch.”

La Russa was a veteran manager on his way to the Hall of Fame. Perez was a fresh-faced rookie. He took every pitch.

Joe Nelson was pitching,” recalled Perez. “He threw like 86-87 [mph] — that’s not that hard, right? — and the count went to 3-2. Then he threw this 81-mph watermelon right down the middle… and I couldn’t swing. I struck out looking.”

Perez proceeded to shut down the Marlins in the bottom half to earn his third career save — he would go on to earn 130 more, most of them with the Cleveland Indians — but that didn’t fully ameliorate the disappointment of having to leave the bat on his shoulders. Perez hadn’t batted at the University of Miami, but he’d been a good hitter in high school against quality competition. Given his druthers, he’d have taken healthy hacks at Nelson’s heaters. Due to La Russa’s dictum, he had to settle for trying to look dangerous.

Six years later, Perez stepped into a batter’s box for the second time. The game was knotted at three in the eighth inning, and unlike before, no restraints were in put place. He was free to swing away.

“This was in 2014, when I was with the Dodgers,” explained Perez. “I’d pitched the eighth inning, and was going to be going back out for the ninth. Mike Adams was pitching [for the Phillies]. I fell behind 0-2 — I thought the second one was low, which kind of fired me up — and then I was able to foul two pitches off. He ended up striking me out, but at least I got a chance to swing.”

The fact that Perez got a chance to swing was a bit of a head-scratcher. His day was actually over. Upon returning to the dugout, he learned that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had changed course and decided to send Brian Wilson to the mound to pitch the ninth. That didn’t go so well. With Perez watching from the dugout — his second and final big-league plate appearance now in the annals — the Phillies plated four runs.

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Clarke Schmidt’s professional debut came in the Gulf Coast League, and to the best of his recollection, he faced a Detroit Tigers affiliate. That 2018 outing already a distant memory, the 24-year-old right-hander needed a moment to mull over the possibilities before answering my inquiry.

It took him a New York minute to recall specifics from his first big-league appearance. Clad in a Yankees uniform, Schmidt took the mound against the Baltimore Orioles, at Camden Yards, this past September.

“It was a doubleheader the day I got called up,” said Schmidt. “I was told that I was getting activated in between games. It was basically, ‘Hey, go out there and warm up like a normal reliever would; you’re probably coming in toward the end of the game.’”

Schmidt wasn’t your normal reliever. Beginning with his sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, he’d been — and still is — almost exclusively a starter. He entered the game in the fifth inning with two on and two out, and the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead. Doubleheaders having been seven-inning affairs last year (something we’ll hopefully never see again), Schmidt was getting his feet wet in a high-leverage situation.

Things didn’t go as planned. Ryan Mountcastle singled in a run, and Rio Ruiz did the same. Pat Valaika then plated a pair with an opposite-field double. Schmidt proceeded to fan Dilson Herrera to end the frame, but the damage had been done.

He deserved a better fate. Of the three hits Schmidt surrendered, only Ruiz’s was struck with any degree of solidity. The exit velocities of the base knocks were 75.4 mph, 93.7 mph, and 81.4 mph.

“It happened so quick,” Schmidt recalled. “There were these dink hits, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ It was one of those situations where you’d rather be giving up lasers, or doubles off the wall.”

My response to hearing those words was a retortive, “No, you wouldn’t.”

“That’s true,” responded Schmidt. “I probably wouldn’t.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ernie Banks went 9 for 19 against Tug McGraw.

Frank White went 10 for 12 against Jim Umbarger.

Brooks Robinson went 10 for 13 against Ed Sprague.

Todd Helton went 13 for 25 against Trevor Hoffman.

Lonnie Smith went 17 for 27 against Larry McWilliams.

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I ran a Twitter poll earlier this week asking whether Ken Griffey Jr. or David Ortiz was the better hitter, A total of 1,084 people cast votes, and the result was anything but close. A full 80.4% went with Griffey, while just 19.6% supported Ortiz.

I’m inclined to disagree with majority. There’s no disputing that Griffey was the superior player, and his overall offensive value was somewhat higher, but a better hitter? The numbers suggest otherwise:

Career-wise, Griffey had a .384 wOBA and a 131 wRC+. Ortiz had a 392 wOBA and a 140 wRC+.

Griffey had three full seasons (100 or more games) with a wRC+ of 160 or better, and a high-water mark of 164. Ortiz had six full seasons with a wRC+ of 160 or better, and a high-water mark of 175.

Griffey had 2,781 hits, including 1,192 extra-base hits and 630 home runs, in 11,304 plate appearances. Ortiz had 2,472 hits, including 1,192 extra-base hits and 541 home runs, in 10,091 plate appearances.

Was Griffey an iconic player? Absolutely. Was he a better hitter than Ortiz? Again, the numbers suggest otherwise.

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A quiz:

The same player holds the Dodgers franchise record for hits, singles, doubles, triples, and total bases. Who is he?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Victor Rojas, who recently resigned from the Los Angeles Angels broadcast team, was hired as President/GM of the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders.

Legendary San Diego Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner is stepping away from the microphone after 41 seasons. Jesse Agler — featured on FanGraphs Audio this past Wednesday — will move into the primary radio play-by-play role. Tony Gwynn Jr. will serve as the analyst.

Pedro González, an infielder/outfielder for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees from 1963-1967, died last week at age 83. One of the first natives of San Pedro de Macoris to reach MLB, González played five different positions for the 1964 pennant-winning Yankees.

Don Leppert, an infielder who appeared in 40 games for the Orioles in 1955, died earlier this week at age 90. Leffert came to Baltimore in December 1954 as part of a 17-player trade with the New York Yankees.

A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle has been sold for a reported $5.2 million, making it the most expensive sports card of all time. By comparison, a T206 Honus Wagner card sold for $3.25 million last year.

SABR Boston will hold its annual Martin Luther King Day meeting — this time via Zoom — tomorrow at 8 pm EST. The featured guest is author Curt Smith, whose books include “Voices of The Game” and “The Presidents and the Pastime.” Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Zack Wheat, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1909-1926. The Hall of Fame outfielder recorded 2,804 hits, 2.038 singles, 464 doubles, 171 triples, and 4,003 total bases.

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Gabe Kapler was asked during his Winter Meetings media session about the possibility of Mauricio Dubón being the Giants regular center fielder in 2021. His answer suggested that isn’t likely to happen — not because the 26-year-old native of Honduras isn’t capable of handling the job, but rather because he’s too valuable in a multi-position role.

“He’s demonstrated that he can play second, he can play shortstop, he can play third base, and he can play all three positions in the outfield,” said the San Francisco manager. “If you’re asking Mauricio what the most important thing is to him, it would likely be staying a major leaguer, and thriving as a major leaguer. Being able to move around probably gives him his best chance to do so.”

Dubon started 33 games in center last year, and another 13 at the middle-infield positions. He slashed .274/.337/.389 with four home runs in 177 plate appearances.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The KBO’s Lotte Giants have hired Brandon Mann as their new minor league pitching coordinator. Mann, who was featured here at FanGraphs last summer, pitched professionally for the Texas Rangers, NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines and Yokohama BayStars, and the CPBL’s Rakuten Monkeys.

Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame will gain two more members in 2021, and neither will be inducted as a player. Katsuji Kawashima was voted in as a manager, and Kazuo Sayama will go in as an author. Both were special-committee selections. This was the second year in a row that no players received the requisite 75% needed. Shingo Takatsu came closest, with 72.3%.

Águilas Cibaeñas beat Gigantes del Ciboa 9-3 on Saturday to stay alive in the Dominican Winter League championship Series. Gigantes del Ciboa leads the series three games to two, with Game 6 on tap this afternoon.

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There was a notable omission when MLB Network ranked the game’s Top 10 catchers earlier this week. Missing from that list was Roberto Pérez, who not only has captured consecutive Fielding Bible awards, but also backstops a Cleveland Indians pitching staff that has been one of baseball’s best. Perez doesn’t possess a plus bat — although he does have 25 home runs over his last 151 games — but that’s not the primary requisite for his role. Catcher is a defense-first position, and Perez has 36 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of the 2019 season — by far the most among his contemporaries.

MLB Network whiffed on this one. Not only does Perez belong in the Top 10, he has a strong argument for being in the Top 5.

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Jayson Stark began floating an intriguing rule-change idea a few months ago, and on Thursday he wrote about it at The Athletic. Stark presented it as follows:

“The universal DH would be in effect for all 30 teams [but] once a team takes its starting pitcher out of the game, it would also lose its DH for the rest of that game.”

I’m generally not a fan of rule changes, but this one I kind of like. Stark solicited several learned opinions, and laid out his logic, in a well-worth-your-read column. If you subscribe to The Athletic, you probably want to check it out.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Bless You Boys, Brandon Day shared some thoughts on seam-shifted wake and the evolution of pitch design.

MLB.com’s Matt Monagan wrote about how people in the Central American nation of Belize have embraced the Chicago Cubs.

San Diego Stadium, the original home of the Padres, is being razed. Kevin Richard has the story at Ballpark Digest.

Who is the Best GM in Twins history? TJ Gorsegner expressed an opinion at Twinkie Town.

Viva El Birdos’s Ben Godar believes that Negro League legend Mule Suttles deserves to be honored at St. Louis’s Busch Stadium.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Lou Whitaker had 2,369 hits. Alan Trammell had 2,365 hits.

Boston Doves infielder Dave Brain led the National League with 10 home runs in 1907. A native of Hereford, UK, Brain never homered after that season.

Pinky Pittenger hit his only career home run in a September 1927 game that saw the Cincinnati Reds topple the Boston Braves by a score of 16-5. Hugh McQuillan surrendered the blast, and all 16 Reds runs.

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Rabbit Maranville led all National League hitters with 747 plate appearances in 1922. Maranville went without a home run that year.

Nolan Ryan went 6-1 with three saves and a 4.05 ERA in 34 relief appearances.

Stan Musial batted .367 in 1943, while MLB position players slugged .356. Musial is the most recent player to post a higher batting average than the league-wide slugging percentage. (Per Jeremy Frank and Jim Passon Jr.’s Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought to Look For From 1920-1969.)

Ivan Rodriguez drew 513 walks and struck out 1,474 times.
Mike Scioscia drew 567 walks and struck out 307 times.

Players born on today’s date include Darrell Porter, who amassed 40.8 WAR while catching for four teams from 1971-1987. His best statistical season came with the Kansas City Royals in 1979 when he logged a .399 wOBA and 144 wRC+. In 1982, Porter copped NLCS and World Series MVP honors playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Boston Red Sox signed Daniel Nava on today’s date in 2008. Bypassed in the June amateur draft, the switch-hitting outfielder had spent the 2017 season with the Chico Outlaws in the independent Golden Baseball League. Nava went on to homer in his first big-league at bat, and log a 104 wRC+ in seven MLB seasons.

Urban Meyer appeared in 44 games for the Atlanta Braves’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 1982-1983. An infielder, and now the coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, Meyer had 20 hits in 110 at bats. He left the yard twice.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Twitchy
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Twitchy

In fairness to Perez, he was a disaster in both 2018 and 2020 offensively. So while he’s a good defender it’s easy to understand why he wasn’t voted top 10. He is in top 10 if we just look at 2019-2020, but if we take a longer view of him (2018-2020) he is not deserving of top 10 C status.

Tony
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Member
Tony

I agree with David, there aren’t ten catchers I would rather have catching for my club than Roberto Perez. He is a big part of the success of Cleveland pitchers as they regularly acknowledge in the post-game interviews. Terry Francona places more value on a catcher’s ability to call a good game and provide defensive support than he does a catcher’s offensive contributions. I’ll go with Francona’s judgment on what’s important in a catcher.

Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

Realmuto, Grandal, Nola, Vazquez, Contreras, McCann, Janssen, Darnaud, Posey, Garver. I can see a case for 11-15 for Perez but not top 10. And this is ignoring guys like Sanchez who also had bad years but produced more value the last 3 years too.

I’m not seeing it.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

My top catchers (roughly in order) are Grandal, Realmuto, Murphy, Smith, Vazquez, Nola, Posey, and McCann, so if he is in the Top 10 he’s almost certainly at the bottom of it. I expect Ryan Jeffers and Alejandro Kirk to be strong contenders for the Top 10 as well, and I still think that Sanchez is fixable. There’s a group of catchers like Perez, Stassi, and Stallings who you want to believe in because of the defense, and any one of them could definitely leap into the Top 10 and be a Vazquez-type catcher, but I’m not sold.

dl80
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Member
dl80

Exactly. His offense is so terrible that it more than cancels out his defense. If you have Perez in the top 5, Hedges also has to be top 10, which he obviously isn’t.

Tony
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Member
Tony

With all due respect to the above readers who commented, Terry Francona doesn’t think Roberto Perez’s offense is so terrible it cancels out his defense. I’ll go with his very experienced opinion.

sadtrombone
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Member
sadtrombone

You’re switching the comparison. In 2020, Roberto Perez was easily the #1 catcher for Cleveland. Cleveland’s catchers collectively put up -0.4 wins last year. Francona doesn’t have access to every catcher in MLB.

I do think that Perez will bounce back to merely being a bad hitter–say, a 60 or 70 wRC+ instead of a 35 wRC+. He’s better than Jeff Mathis was…probably. Top 10 catcher? Sure, if he beats his projections.