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Is the 2021 Version of Salvador Perez Officially Back?

The Royals' slugger is getting close to matching his 2021 production since returning from injury.

This isn't an article trying to argue that Salvador Perez's 2022 season as a whole is on par with his 2021 campaign. This isn't even an article trying to argue that Salvador Perez has been the exact same as his 2021 form since returning from the injured list on July 29.

This is, however, an article designed to point out how eerily similar things have been as of late for the Kansas City Royals' seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover and four-time Silver Slugger winner.

The 2022 season hasn't been particularly kind to Perez, as he's battled both injury and inconsistency throughout the year. With that said, Kansas City's August Player of the Month has been one of the best hitters on the team since officially returning near the end of July. Perez's season stats — a .236 batting average with a 101 wRC+ — won't show it, but he's been genuinely good as of late. Just take a look at his numbers in his past 36 games entering Wednesday's play:

  • .277/.311/.504 (.815 OPS)
  • 125 wRC+
  • 4.0 BB%
  • 24.5 K%
  • .227 ISO
  • 9 home runs (.25 HR/G)

Now compare that to 2021, the year in which Perez finished seventh in American League MVP voting: 

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  • .273/.316/.544 (.860 OPS)
  • 126 wRC+
  • 4.2 BB%
  • 25.6 K%
  • .271 ISO
  • 48 home runs (.30 HR/G)

Call it sheer dumb luck, not enough of a sample size, a coincidence or whatever else may come to mind, but those similarities are startling. Perez may not be hitting quite as many balls out of the park on a routine basis as he did a season ago, but most of his numbers since being reinstated from the IL are extremely close to what they were when he was garnering legitimate buzz as one of the best players in the sport. Considering his immense struggles before missing such an extended period of time (.211/.254/.426 line with a wRC+ of just 86), that's quite the development.

Sep 4, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) hits a single in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Some good fortune could be in play here, as Perez's BABIP during this stretch is a minorly abnormal .309. For reference, his BABIP in 2021 was .298 and his career BABIP is .287. That difference may seem slim, but it adds up when combined with multiple other factors. Perez is seeing small improvements over that 36-game sample size relative to his season averages in stats such as exit velocity (91.6 mph to 92.0), launch angle (17.9° to 19.1°), barrel rate (11.7% to 13.2%) and hard-hit percentage (48.5% to 50.9%). It doesn't stop there, though.

Continuing along that path of post-injury vs. early-season data, Perez hasn't changed a ton in regards to his hit locations. Each of his pull/center/opposite splits are within 1.1% or fewer of each other when comparing samples. His heat maps also fail to indicate any majorly discernible trends, as he's still doing damage on the same pitches while failing to connect and record hits on others. Two additional (seemingly) small differences, however, are his swing rate and contact rate. Since returning from injury, Perez is swinging 3% more often. In turn, he's making contact at a 71% clip as opposed to the 68.9% figure he's averaging for the year.

Perez's pitch tracking data doesn't contain a ton that stands out, but his curveball runs above average has done a complete 180. Before hitting the IL, that number was -2.7. From July 29 until now, it's 1.3. Secondly, Perez is hitting line drives at a much higher clip in stretch two (22.6%) than in stretch one (16.7%). In 2021, he hit line drives 22.7% of the time. 

You're likely sensing a common theme here — small changes and improvements joining forces with possibly heightened luck to form tangible differences in Perez's stats. For the most part, that would be correct. Perez is taking more swings and when he connects, he's doing more damage than he did earlier in the season by making better contact and launching the ball a bit higher while also getting far more line drives to get into play. When combining that with everything else, it paints the picture of a player who isn't just some random hot streak. 2021's version of Perez may not be all the way back, but he's been somewhat close. As the 2022 campaign comes to a close and Perez's 33rd birthday next May inches closer, that should be a welcome sight for the Royals.