by John Viril—
Before the 2013 season, the young Kansas City Royal that excited the fanbase was Salvador Perez. Pundits and fans alike perceived potential super-stardom from the young Venezuelan. Multiple articles compared Perez to the best young catchers in major league history. Combined with a favorable contract that is likely to keep Perez in Kansas City through 2019, he looked like the franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Then Perez turned into a 245 lb. slap hitter for the first four months of the season.
Perez somewhat disguised his struggles with a high average and outstanding defense through the spring and early summer. He hovered around .300 through July 6. Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland named Perez to his first American League All-Star team. He gunned down baserunners at a 35% clip. Yet, his power at the plate deserted him. Perez hit a mere 4 home runs before the All-Star break. His slugging percentage dipped to .396. More importantly, he had become an opposite-field singles hitter.
By August 22, Perez’s average had dipped to .269 and his OPS to a well-below league average .672. He was a shell of the powerful young catcher that had taken the league by storm in his first two partial seasons.
Since August 23, Perez has hit a torrid .402/.439/.714—for a Barry Bonds-like OPS of 1.153.
The difference has been patience. Early in the season, pitchers figured out they needed to pound low and away to Perez. While Perez could hit that pitch—even well out of the strike zone—by chasing it, he lost his power. Even if he managed a hit, he would get nothing but soft singles.
Perez’s power is high and outside. He can drive that pitch to all fields for extra-base hits, including home runs. By inducing him to chase the outside pitch, hurlers had rendered Perez mostly harmless.
Beginning in July, you could visibly see Perez making a greater effort to be more selective at the plate by laying off that low and outside pitch. He did not get immediate positive results. While his BB% (walk rate) jumped to 7.1% in July over his career 4.2%, Perez hit a mere .208/.271/.273. Perez was clearly adjusting to a new hitting approach and he was suffering from the change.
The reward came in a late-August surge in which Perez bashed 12 hits in 29 at bats over 7 games (.413), including 1 double, 4 home runs and 2 walks. Perez has continued his hot hitting into September, where he is batting an impressive .396/.434/.625. Perez has 3 doubles, 1 triple and two home runs for the month, while his walk rate has stepped back a hair to 5.7% over August and September.
Since his late-August surge, Perez has been carrying the offense. His batting average has rebounded to a healthy .291 and his OPS to an above league average .754 (104 OPS+). Once again, Perez looks like an emerging superstar.
He just had to endure some growing pains.
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