One of the most memorable moments in baseball history took place on Monday as Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez passed Johnny Bench for the most home runs by a primary catcher in a single season with his 46th blast of the year. Bench responded to this accomplishment exactly the way you’d expect him to: by showering the Royals' backstop with praise.
Baseball hipsters, on the other hand, reacted exactly how I thought they would and claimed that Perez was not indeed the true leader in this category because he committed the cardinal sin of hitting some home runs as a designated hitter. In their minds, this means that Bench and/or Javy Lopez are still the rightful holders of this record.
Let’s focus on the claim that has now become the most prized possession of baseball hipsters. That claim is: Perez is, in fact, just a DH who occasionally catches to keep up appearances so that he can qualify for a Gold Glove nomination.
Perez has made 35 starts as a DH this year, with the rest of his 114 starts coming as a catcher. This is the most appearances Perez has made as a DH in his career, which means he’s clocked in a 23.9% appearance rate as a DH in 2021. While I do believe that while Salvy’s future does lie at the DH role as M.J. Melendez is making major waves in Omaha, it is simply silly to believe that his DH appearances discredit what he’s done this year. The most logical explanation of why Bench and Lopez didn’t DH like Perez is that they both played in the National League where the DH is outlawed.
When Bench set the mark at 45 home runs in 1970, he also made 22 starts either in the outfield or at first base. In 2003, it was catch or sit for Lopez who made 117 starts behind the plate and only three starts as a DH in interleague play. The Reds were willing to shove Bench into the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup every day while unfortunately for Lopez, the Braves had arguably the best outfield of all-time in 2003 so there was no room for him to play.
I think it’s safe to say that if there was a universal DH in play for both the 1970 and 2003 seasons, Lopez and Bench would’ve spent a few more games with time off of their usual duty. Side note: Perez is currently on pace to catch more games this year than Bench or Lopez did in either of their historic seasons.
If you've read the first three parts of the Baseball Hipsters' War Against Salvador Perez, you would know that I’m not the biggest fan of sabermetrics when it comes to evaluating players. But in the spirit of embracing baseball hipsterdom again, I’ll make another exception. This time, we won’t be evaluating players — we’ll be evaluating stadiums.
Personally, I can’t help but feel that Perez putting together this type of season is more impressive than the other two because of his home stadium. Any Royals fan would know that Kauffman Stadium is a rather large park as it’s the second most spacious field in terms of fair territory behind only Coors Field.
But this type of knowledge is relatively anecdotal. I don’t like anecdotal evidence so instead, we’ll be using something called park factor (PF) which helps determine whether a park is hitter-friendly or pitcher-friendly based on how many runs a park allows for 100 runs against the league average. In a less convoluted explanation, 1.000 is a league-average park factor.
The 1970 Reds played at Riverfront Stadium, which posted a PF of 1.017 which is very similar to Kauffman Stadium's current PF of 1.061 and both of these stadiums have a better overall PF than Turner Field, which posted a .997 PF. When you adjust the PF to account for just home runs (HRPF), "The K" is in fourth from the bottom in baseball with a .820 PF. This puts it miles behind Riverfront's 1.042 and Turner Field's .997. This means that it was 22% percent easier for Bench and 15.7% easier for Lopez to hit a home run at home than Perez.
Using the above data, the drawn conclusion here is if Perez was forced to swap stadiums with Bench and Lopez, he would quite possibly already be sitting on 50 home runs. He'd likely have 120-plus RBIs as well, rendering this article somewhat pointless.
Alas, this article is necessary to illustrate the fact that Perez has hit 25 home runs this year in the fourth-hardest place to hit home runs. The other 21 bombs came at parks with an average HRPF of 1.005, which falls to a .987 HRPF if you take away his one jack at Camden Yards (HRPF 1.171) during the Royals' lone trip there this year. If you are looking for these numbers yourself, you can find them here and here.
Hopefully, this is the last addition I have to make to this series. With that said, I have a feeling that when Perez takes home his fourth Silver Slugger and sixth Gold Glove this year, I’ll probably have to make another.