Royals catcher Salvador Perez is nominated for his fourth Gold Glove, and as we’ve already done with his fellow nominees — Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer — we’re taking a look at his strengths and limitations.
Arm: Top of the line. If a big-league catcher throws out 30 percent of would-be base stealers, that’s considered good; in 2016, Salvy threw out close to 52 percent. His throws are accurate and straight. You sometimes see infielders come out in front of the base to take a catcher’s throw, and that’s a good thing if the catcher’s throw tails to the arm side. But Salvy’s throws are straight, and that makes it easier on infielders to catch the ball and make a tag.
Hands: Salvy is strong enough to “stick it” — he can catch a 100 mph fastball and hold it in place. If a catcher lacks that hand strength, those C-note heaters will push the mitt around and make the pitch look less like a strike. When he has to pick short hops or balls in the dirt, we can see just how good Salvy’s hands really are ... but as we’ll see shortly, having great hands can also allow a catcher to become lazy.
Quickness: Pop time (the time between a pitch popping in a catcher’s mitt and then hitting the middle infielder’s glove after a throw to second base) is usually around 2 seconds for most catchers. Salvy can get a ball down to second base in 1.8 seconds, and that makes things easier on his pitchers; they don’t have to be quite so fast delivering the ball to home plate.
When Salvy first came to the big leagues home plate umpires were warned to give him some room. He was surprisingly quick getting out of his stance, and if an umpire was hovering over him, the two might collide. Salvy’s quickness is also apparent on bunts just out in front of the plate.
Receiving skills: This is a little bit of a mixed bag: If umpires are going to back up to give Salvy room to throw to second base, they’re also going to have a hard time seeing a pitch that’s down in the zone. Salvy’s size is a mixed blessing; pitches caught between his shin guards look more like strikes, but his size can make it hard for him to set a low target. If an umpire is set up “in the slot” — in the space between the batter and catcher’s shoulder — seeing pitches down and away can also be a struggle.
Now that we supposedly can see which pitches are balls and which pitches are strikes (strike zones shown can differ, so the system still seems to have some bugs in it), it’s become popular to talk about “pitch framing” and give credit to catchers who get balls called strikes.
There’s certainly some skill involved in receiving a borderline pitch and making it look like a strike, but the catcher’s skill isn’t the only factor. Umpires may like or dislike the pitcher or batter or be swayed by hometown crowds. If a hitter showed up the umpire in an earlier at-bat, and the umpire decides to get payback by calling a borderline pitch a strike, the catcher’s skill doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it.
And if a catcher has to handle pitchers with nasty-nasty stuff — and the Royals have a few pitchers who throw nasty-nasty — framing pitches might go out the window; it’s all the catcher can do to keep the ball from going to the backstop.
I just read a piece on pitch framing that said Erik Kratz was one of the five best receivers in 2012, and after watching Kratz catch for the Royals over parts of two seasons, that seems pretty unlikely. So don’t get too worked up about framing reports that show Salvy as a bad receiver.
Durability: Any guy who catches an average of 142 games per season in the big leagues — Salvy’s average over the past four years — is pretty durable. But big catchers tend to have knee problems, and Salvy’s already experienced that. I do not make predictions, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Toughness: Like a lot of ballplayers, it’s pretty clear Perez likes his camera time. Photo-bombing or Salvy Splashes don’t affect the game, but having the trainers come out almost every time he takes a foul tip does; he almost always stays in the game, and the TV announcers tend to assume that means Salvy’s tough. But insisting on attention for some of those lesser foul tips can slow the game and disrupt a pitcher’s rhythm.
Pitch-blocking: Perez has the hands and the quickness to be great at this ... and when he gives it an effort, he is. But he also sometimes gets caught trying to glove a ball he should block — that’s how great hands can make a catcher lazy.
Pitch-calling: It’s one of the most important things a catcher does, but because we don’t know much about it, we tend to ignore it — and this might be the weakest part of Salvy’s game.
I’ve tried to educate myself on pitch-calling. I’m still learning, but I’ve seen Perez make mistakes that I’ve been told good catchers avoid: calling too many first-pitch fastballs in a row, calling sliders for strikes on older hitters who can’t get around on a good fastball anymore, or calling inside pitches in extra innings when every hitter is looking to pull an inside pitch for a game-winning home run.
You sometimes see the veteran pitchers shake Salvy off, and that’s good — they shouldn’t throw a pitch they don’t believe in — but having to shake off a catcher too many times is bad. A good pitcher-catcher combination should be on the same page most of the night.
As usual, I can’t tell you much about the other nominees for a catching Gold Glove — Carlos Perez of the Angels and James McCann of the Tigers — but I can tell you that Salvador Perez has the talent to be the very best. He just doesn’t always get the most out of that talent.