The Baseball Hipsters' War Against Salvador Perez: Episode II

For Episode II of this trilogy, we'll examine the perceived "weakness" of the five-time Gold Glover Salvador Perez.
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It's time to hop into the way-back machine and travel to early October of 2014 and re-examine the 2014 American League Wild Card game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics. When you think of the biggest moments in that game, you might think of pulling James Shields for Yordano Ventura, Brandon Moss’s two bombs, or Salvador Perez’s game-winning RBI past the outstretched glove of Josh Donaldson.

But the real biggest moment of that game came in the third inning when A’s manager Bob Melvin had to pull starting catcher Geovany Soto and replace him with Derek Norris after Soto had hurt his thumb on his throwing hand. Soto, since joining the A’s earlier that year, had thrown out over 50% of base runners while Derek Norris only managed to throw out 17%. Combine that with the fact that Jon Lester is slow to home, and you have yourself a target-rich environment for an aggressive baserunning team like the 2014 Royals.

If Soto stays in the game, do the Royals successfully steal third with Jarrod Dyson in the ninth inning or have Christian Colon steal second in the 12th before Salvy’s famous single? Even if you answer yes to both of these, what are the odds that a defensive ace like Soto drops a pitchout in the 12th and doesn’t at least get a throw down to second base?

What I’m trying to say here is that having a strong arm behind the plate matters, but yet people seem to forget this when it comes to evaluating catchers.

So, since we’ve already established the best catchers in baseball outside of Perez, so let’s take a look at how each of these backstops ranks when it comes to caught stealing percentage (CS% — the MLB average is 24.5%). 

(1) Yadier Molina (41%)

(2) J.T. Realmuto (28%)

(3) Will Smith, Mike Zunino, Omar Narvaez, Yasmani Grandal, Willson Contreras (26%)

(4) Sean Murphy, Buster Posey (24%)

(5) Tucker Barnhardt, Christian Vazquez (23%)

(6) Jacob Stallings (22%)

(9) Gary Sanchez (12%)

This illuminates the very obvious fact that only fools run on Yadier Molina and that pretty much everyone else is average to below-average when it comes to throwing out baserunners. So, while Jacob Stallings might be able to steal the occasional strike, it's very unlikely that he’ll be able to keep a speedster like Terrance Gore or Whit Merrifield from eating his lunch on the basepaths.

Now let’s add Perez back into the mix and see what things look like at the top. 

(1) Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez (41%)

This result should come as no surprise to anyone who actually watches baseball games that Perez and Molina are two of the best theft prevention officers in the league. However, seeing as most baseball hipsters don’t actually watch the games, this hopefully might emphasize the gap between the elite arms and the mediocre ones.

Quick side note: Perez actually leads the American League in CS% and has only had two seasons below the league average for CS%. The first was his rookie season and the second came in 2015 when he threw out 31% of runners — one percent below league average. But seeing as the Royals won the World Series in 2015, I’m sure Royals fans will forgive him for his “sub-standard” performance.

Baserunning and stolen bases are becoming lost arts, but not for the Royals. They have managed to have the league leader in stolen bases four times since 2014. Please go ask the 2014 A’s or the 2015 Mets if they wish they could’ve had Salvador Perez’s arm behind the plate instead of the pop-gun arms of Derek Norris and Travis d’Arnaud.

Common Ground ... Kind Of

Now I know I’ve spent the previous two segments taking a pretty sharp dig at baseball hipsters but to be fair, they do manage to come up with interesting concepts. One of those concepts is the idea of Good Fielding Plays Runs Saved runs above average or rGFP for short. The main thing that contributes to rGFP is how well a catcher is at blocking pitches.

We’re going to use this stat as essentially an indicator of how good each of these catchers is at blocking pitches due to the challenges of finding specific blocked-pitch data.

First, we’ll go down the best without Perez.

(1) Jacob Stallings (7)

(2) Tucker Barnhardt (5)

(3) Willson Contreras (4)

(4) J.T. Realmuto (3)

(5) Buster Posey, Christian Vazquez (2)

(6) Yadier Molina (1)

(7) Will Smith (0)

(8) Yasmani Grandal, Gary Sanchez (-1)

(9) Mike Zunino, Sean Murphy (-2)

(10) Omar Narvaez (-3)

Now, let's add Perez back into the mix. 

(1) Jacob Stallings (7)

(2) Tucker Barnhardt (5)

(3) Willson Contreras (4)

(4) J.T. Realmuto (3)

(5) Buster Posey, Christian Vazquez (2)

(6) Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez (1)

(7) Will Smith (0)

(8) Yasmani Grandal, Gary Sanchez (-1)

(9) Mike Zunino, Sean Murphy (-2)

(10) Omar Narvaez (-3)

Middle of the pack grade for Perez here, as he comes in at 1 rGFP. Seeing that six players finished above zero and six finished at zero or below, I think it's safe to assume that blocking — while it's not a strength — is certainly not a weakness of Perez's game either.

A simpler stat we could use to judge blocking ability would be passed balls or PB, which counts the number of times that it was the catcher's fault that the ball got by them.

This time, for the sake of brevity, we’ll include Perez from the get-go.

(# Indicates the number of times a player has led the league in PB.)

(1) Jacob Stallings (0)

(2) Sean Murphy, Salvador Perez (1)

(3) Tucker Barnhart, Buster Posey (2)

(4) J.T. Realmuto, Willson Contreras (3)

(5) Yadier Molina (4)

(6) Omar Narvaez, Yasmani Grandal ### (5)

(7) Gary Sanchez ### (6)

(8) Will Smith (8)

(9) Christian Vazquez (9)

(10) Mike Zunino ## (10)

It seems for someone who supposedly can’t catch, Perez does a halfway decent job of keeping the ball in front of him. To complete this defensive journey, we’ll take a look at fielding percentage and see who is the best at not making those backbreaking throwing or fielding errors.

(1) J.T. Realmuto (.999)

(2) Salvador Perez (.998)

(3) Buster Posey, Tucker Barnhart (.997)

(4) Mike Zunino, Yadier Molina (.996)

(5) Sean Murphy, Jacob Stallings, Will Smith, Gary Sanchez (.994)

(6) Omar Narvaez, Christian Vazquez, Willson Contreras (.993)

(7) Yasmani Grandal (.989)

Who would’ve thought that the guy who won four gold gloves in a row is one of the best catchers in the league when it comes to not committing errors? The defensive numbers are what they are and if you have to start pulling out stats that were created in someone’s basement to disprove them, perhaps you’re trying a bit too hard to fit a narrative.

That concludes Episode II. If you simply can't wait for Episode III to drop this weekend, feel free to go back and read Episode I!

Read More: The Baseball Hipsters' War Against Salvador Perez: Episode I