by John Viril— Opening Day means very little in the grand scheme of things. Your team’s year is rarely foreshadowed by what happens in 1 of 162 regular season games. Yet, because that one game becomes everything that we know about this year’s team, anxious fans cannot help but make a few judgments. Consequently, I cautiously make this observation from yesterday’s 1-0 loss to the White Sox: C Salvador Perez does have some holes in his game.
I make that last statement somewhat tongue-in-cheek. All off-season, pundits have competed to see who could heap more superlatives on the young Venezuelan anytime someone mentioned the Royals. Salvador Perez can gun down a would-be base-stealer with throws faster than a speeding bullet. Sal Perez could destroy Tokyo by taking an afternoon stroll outside his hotel room. Superman has a poster of Salvador Perez on his bedroom wall.
Compared to what was said this off-season, those comments are understatements.
A few days ago, ESPN posted an interesting data sheet about Perez. From his hit zone chart, you see he swung at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone—yet you can understand why he continues to do it. This talented kid hits over .400 on pitches low and outside, .400 on low pitches over the middle, and .500 on low and inside pitches. The other striking factoid was that he swung and missed at an offering from a left-handed pitcher a mere 10 times in 200 swings. Good luck trying to strike this kid out if you happen to be a southpaw.
The top of yesterday’s ninth inning put a number of Perez’s flaws on display. First, Chicago brought in right-handed closer Addison Reed to finish the game. Right-handed relievers are Salvador Perez’s kryptonite. He’s a mere 3 for 27 against them in his young career. Perez also has a tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone, but he makes up for it with an exceptional contact rate (4th highest in MLB last season). His former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer contends that Perez needs to learn to miss when he’s fooled in order to get better pitches to hit.
Reed enticed Perez to swing at a low breaking ball with one strike. Perez adjusted to the pitch and made contact, but hit a weak grounder to short for the first out of the 9th inning. Of course, the 245 lbs. Perez lumbered to first base, putting no pressure at all on White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez to make the play. This one at bat encapsulated all of the weaknesses in Salvador Perez’s game.
Salvador Perez shows a strong platoon split at the plate. He absolutely mashes left-handers for a .393/.426/.670 career line in 112 plate appearances (including a single against LHP Chris Sale on Monday). Perez hits .283/.308/.403 in 341 PAs against RHP, for a .711 OPS. To put this in perspective, Jeff Francoeur has a career .702 OPS against right handed pitchers and is considered barely replacement-level against them. Salvador Perez’s real nemesis, however, is right-handed relievers. Against right-handed starters, Perez hits a much more healthy .299/.329/.440 for an OPS of .759.
It is curious why right-handed relievers have so thoroughly dominated Perez to this point in his career. Perhaps he has trouble adjusting to new right-handed pitchers, or maybe harder throwing right-handers give him problems. If this is indeed his problem, it would make sense that relievers who let it all hang out for a single inning could exploit such a weakness. Or maybe it’s just an artifact created by small sample size. After all, we’re talking about 27 ABs.
As for Salvador Perez’s free swinging tendencies, age will hopefully make him more selective at the plate. While hitters with high contact rates can thrive despite free swinging ways, Perez will drive the ball more consistently if he learns to lay off pitches that fool him. With Perez’s ability to adjust his swing to pitched balls, he can afford to be very selective until a pitcher gets two strikes on him. After an 0-2 count, Perez still hits .299, after 1-2 he hits .292 and after 2-2 he’s a .274 hitter in his career. By being picky, he can give pitchers more chances to make a mistake.
Getting ahead in the count unlocks Perez’s power. When hitting from ahead, Perez bludgeons pitchers for an 1.025 OPS, hits a solid .821 OPS when even, and a defensive .653 OPS when behind. Learning to lay off pitches out of the strike zone could turn Salvador Perez into the first elite slugger in franchise history.
Perez’s speed also limits his game. He will have a hard time keeping an average over .300 if he does not improve upon his 4.1% career walk rate. With his limited speed, he will not get the added bonus of legging out hits. Even so, Perez’s high line drive rate, all field power, and natural contact ability give him tremendous natural tools that could transform him into a terror at the plate. Combined with his phenomenal defense, Salvador Perez has all the talent necessary to build a fabulous career.