There’s Nothing Salvador Perez Won’t Swing At

In the bottom of the fourth inning of last night’s Game 1, there was a moderately humorous moment when Salvador Perez “struck out” on an 0-2 pitch in the dirt. Buster Posey retrieved the loose ball and tagged Perez for the “out,” all while Perez looked on in amazement, insisting he’d fouled the pitch off.

As it turned out, he had, and after a brief discussion the call was overturned, but you can certainly understand why home plate ump Jerry Meals figured no actual major leaguer would have offered at a pitch that had bounced so far in front of the plate:

perez_foul

Perez would end up striking out anyway, and while this entire post isn’t going to be just about Game 1, I can’t help but show you what are easily some of my favorite Gameday maps of the postseason. At left is Perez’ first plate appearance of the night, a second inning double play that erased a Billy Butler single. At right is the fourth inning appearance we just talked about:

perez_game1_first-two-ab

Madison Bumgarner threw eight pitches to Perez in two plate appearances, and not a single one was really close to being a strike. He still managed to get three outs from it. Bumgarner, obviously, was outstanding. He also got at least a little help from Kansas City’s free-swinging catcher.

Perez has always been a free swinger, of course. At The Hardball Times just last week, Perez was ranked among the 10 worst hitters in the game at making “correct” swing choices. If he’d had enough plate appearances to qualify in 2012 (a knee injury cost him most of the first half), he’d have been tied with teammate Mike Moustakas for 18th-highest O-Swing%. In 2013, he was tied for Ichiro Suzuki for 20th. That’s just who he is. He’s never had a walk rate of even five percent, and even in the minors, he’d walked more than 18 times in a season just once. He’s not as talented a hitter as Pablo Sandoval, but the profile is similar. It’s who he is.

This year, the O-Swing% jumped to second, but at least it had remained somewhat steady through the first three months of 2014. But then…

perez_o-swing

In the second half of this season, his O-Swing% was 52.6, easily the highest rate in the big leagues. More than half of the pitches that head to the plate that wouldn’t be within the PITCHf/x strike zone, Perez offered at, and that’s a tough way to succeed. And he didn’t — in the second half, Perez hit just .229/.236/.360, good for a 61 wRC+, which was not only one of the worst marks in the bigs, it was basically identical to the last few months of the Derek Jeter retirement tour.

Interestingly enough, in that same span, he’s had the second-highest first-pitch strike percentage, behind only Jose Altuve, and the strategy there has been clear: Get an early strike, and then let Perez get himself out by giving him nothing but garbage. While he doesn’t necessarily strike out at excessive levels — a 14% K rate this year is well below the league average — it’s hard to make solid contact at lousy pitches, a fact reinforced by the fact that he led Major League Baseball in infield flies, the lowest-percentage contact a player can make.

Unsurprisingly, Perez’ offensive production has suffered, with his wRC+ dropping from 126 to 114 to 106 to 92, a decline that has been somewhat masked by his reputation as a fine defensive catcher — he’s not a good framer, but has a very good arm — and the fact that he’s hit more homers in each season, topping out at a career-high 17 this year, despite the fact that his slugging percentage keeps dropping to a career-low .403. Overall, that’s still a valuable player, especially since he’ll still only be 24 on Opening Day next year, and he was actually No. 7 in our Trade Value rankings this summer, in no small part due to the fact that he’s signed to an insanely team-friendly contract, one that guarantees him just $5.25m between 2014-16 and gives the team club options for the next three years at only $14.75m.

But in the postseason, Perez really has taken this to new levels. In 38 plate appearances, he has just five hits, and as you can see from this heat map generated from Baseball Savant, it’s not all that difficult to see why. This is crafted from two different images, so the way to read this is that the blue/green marks are showing all pitches he’s seen this postseason, and the red ones are swings he’s made:

perez_postseason_swings

That’s 23 swings, and I count 13 that are clearly outside the zone, with a few more on the borders. Even when Perez has succeeded this postseason, it hasn’t exactly been in the way you might have planned. Take, for example, his walk-off single in the 12th inning of the wild card game, his only hit in six plate appearances. As it was described by Sam Mellinger:

Jason Hammel threw a 2-2 slider low and well outside the strike zone. It’s the same pitch coaches have been pleading with Perez to lay off, because it’s the same pitch that every opposing team’s scouting report says he’ll swing at and miss. Perez has struck out on that pitch time and time again these last few months. Actually, he struck out on that pitch earlier in the same game — twice.

This time, however, Perez leaned across the plate, lunged his bat toward the path of the pitch, and somehow, pulled it down the left field line for a moment that will be replayed in Kansas City forever with the smile the franchise fell in love with eight years ago. The man signed on the new front office’s first trip through Venezuela, the cornerstone catcher around whom so much of this is being built, gave the franchise its first playoff win in 29 years by swinging at a pitch the coaches have been begging him not to swing at.

Hammel threw Perez nothing but sliders, with the exception of pitch No. 4 below, which was a pitchout.

perez_wild-card

As Mellinger indicated in his recap, even the game-winning hit was a low-and-away slider, one that might have been an inning-ending out had Josh Donaldson been just an inch taller.

Back to last night,, it’s fair to note that Perez did hit a homer later in Game 1, as Bumgarner attempted to repeat his strategy from the game’s first at-bat by pounding him high and inside with fastballs.

perez_ws_homer

Unlike the first at-bat, however, Bumgarner’s spots weren’t quite as precise, understandable for a pitcher working into the seventh inning of a World Series game. The third pitch caught a ton of plate, and Perez fouled it off. The fourth was a borderline strike, and Perez crushed it out to left field.

Big hit or two aside, it’s been a really, really rough few months for Perez, and perhaps that makes this Kansas City run all the more spectacular. Their best starting pitcher hasn’t been all that great in nearly two months. One of their two best players entering the season, depending on how you felt about Alex Gordon, has been a complete disaster at the plate for far too long. They still made it to the World Series. Baseball is great.

There’s been a lot of talk about fatigue setting in with Perez, given that he caught the most innings in baseball both this year and over the last two years, and certainly there’s something to that, especially since he had a solid first half (115 wRC+). But how much? Perez is still very young and only has two full seasons in the big leagues, and I haven’t seen many studies that indicate that being tired causes a player to swing at anything and everything. For next year and the future, whether Perez can reign in his aggressiveness will go a long way towards determining if he’s a star or a defense-first catcher with some pop, like Miguel Olivo. For the remainder of the World Series, the Giants would do well to just let Perez get himself out. Lately, and for months, he hasn’t needed much help.





Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

newest oldest most voted
Bruce Chen
Guest
Bruce Chen

Why do you think Ventura and I stopped taking him along to the strip clubs?