Opinion

A closer look at Salvador Perez’s pitch framing

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

Salvador Perez — for good reason — is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

There’s one area he’s yet to refine, though.

This graph isn’t the only place that says Perez is struggling with pitch framing. According to the numbers at StatCorner, Perez is the worst framing catcher in baseball this season while ranking at 15.6 runs below average.

This, obviously, all seems conceptual without looking at some tape. So where can Perez improve?

For help with that answer, I compiled Perez’s three “worst” frames this month, according to the RoyalsUmp Twitter account to see what I could find.

No. 3

So what makes a good framer? Posey — the best in the MLB this season — discussed it in this 2015 article on MLB.com.

“Umpires are so good that if you move the glove too much it’s almost counterproductive,” Posey said. “Because they’re going to say, ‘Well, if he’s moving the glove that much, he thinks it’s a ball.’ So I think more than moving the glove, it’s just subtly making sure you can keep the ball in the zone as best as possible without too much movement.”

We can see here that Perez is hurt by excess shifting. He rotates his hand to catch the pitch and stabs at it late, making it appear to be inside when it’s not.

According to RoyalsUmp, this pitch is called a strike 88 percent of the time.

No. 2

It’s been the butt of a lot of jokes since, but remember when Johnny Cueto suggested that Perez put up a lower target last season? Don’t laugh: It’s something that could potentially help Perez in the future.

This from Posey in the article above:

“If you’re not starting lower than the ball, your natural move is going to be to go this way with the ball.” Here, he makes a downward groping motion with his left hand. He added, “That’s not going to look presentable.”

Perez, who is a tall catcher at 6 foot 3, has trouble staying below the ball in this instance. Instead of keeping a low target, he flips his glove to catch the off-speed pitch, which makes it appear to be sinking out of the zone.

In actuality, the pitch is a strike.

So what’s a better way to receive a low pitch?

Here’s an example from Posey this year, catching — you guessed it — Cueto.

Notice how Posey doesn’t rotate his wrist to catch this low pitch? He also freezes the pitch and subtly brings it higher after receiving it.

Though this looks like a strike, it is not actually in the zone (or close to it).

No. 1

This is easily the worst of Perez’s frames. Perez sets up well outside with his target, has lots of movement and drags the ball outside the strike zone on contact. It leaves Yordano Ventura wondering where the pitch was afterward.

The pitcher has good reason to be upset. Only one pitch in 50 in this location is not called a strike.

Posey is a model on these outside pitches as well. See how little he moves when he catches this one? He makes it look like this pitch is supposed to be there.

That’s in the strike zone, right? Nope, not even close.

The point here isn’t to pick on Perez. He’s been the Royals’ most valuable position player according to nearly every metric with a strong arm and above-average power production.

This is still a major area for improvement, though. StatCorner’s framing data goes back to 2007, and in that time, Perez’s five seasons all rank in the bottom seven among Royals catchers, with this season ranking as his worst.

Perez doesn’t have to become Posey, but a bit more work on his receiving skills could only help a Royals staff that could benefit by getting one or two more called strikes a game.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .263/.312/.395

Last 7 days — .245/.283/.356

The Royals have been the worst-hitting team after the All-Star break, according to the all-encompassing stat Weighted Runs Created Plus. KC’s wRC+ is 64 in the second half, meaning the team is hitting 36 percent worse than league average. Philadelphia is second-worst during that span with a wRC+ of 73.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .266/.323/.387

The Royals are the MLB’s most impatient team with runners in scoring position, walking just 7.7 percent of the time in these instances. Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs are on the other end of the list, as both walk 13.1 percent of the time in the same situation.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.83, 20.7, 8.7

Last 7 days — 4.21, 16.3, 11.3

Your weekly home-run update: The Royals starting staff has improved to third-worst all time in home-run rate, as it has now allowed 1.60 home runs per nine innings this season. This year’s Reds (1.61) and the 1987 California Angels (1.60) remain as the two teams keeping the Royals from history.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.46, 23.0, 8.3

Last 7 days — 4.86, 29.9, 9.1

Could the Royals have an emerging option out of the ’pen? Matt Strahm struck out 64 percent of the batters he faced this week (seven of 11) and has fanned 10 of 16 hitters in four innings since getting the call from Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 through last week — 17 defensive runs saved (.160 per game, 8th in MLB)

Baseball-Reference’s defensive runs saved wasn’t displaying properly Wednesday, meaning a defensive update will wait until next week.

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Duffy 2.6, Perez 2.2, Cain 1.8, Herrera 1.5, Dyson 1.5

It was another tough week for two of KC’s top hitters, as Perez (.158/.158/.211) and Cain (.238/.238/.381) struggled while also drawing no walks in 40 combined plate appearances.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Young -1.3, Escobar -0.7, Morales -0.3, Pounders -0.3, Gee -0.3

Chris Young continued his homer-free streak, as he’s now gone 11  2/3 innings without surrendering a longball. He’s pitched better as a result; the right--hander hasn’t allowed a run in his last three relief appearances spanning 4  2/3 innings.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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