Royals catcher Salvador Perez this season has been able to count on very few constants.
Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, teammates he loved like brothers, departed Kansas City as free agents in the winter and signed with National League clubs. Perez’s batting average, historically a middling stat when compared to other backstops, has teetered at the bottom of the list of catchers with at least 250 plate appearances throughout the first half of the season. His team has plodded along at a historic rate, on the brink of losing a franchise-record 116 games and having already endured three separate streaks of at least nine losses.
Usually a fan favorite, Perez didn’t even win the fan vote for the All-Star game like he did the previous five summers. Instead, he was chosen to the team by fellow players.
But the 28-year-old Venezuelan experienced some semblance of normalcy at All-Star game workouts Monday at Nationals Park, where he was surrounded by familiar faces and just as familiar praise.
Perez ran into Cain on the way to the ballpark, rode the American League bus next to him and uploaded a photo of the two of them to Instagram for old time’s sake.
The conversation flowed during the short drive. The two hadn’t spoken in a few months, Cain said, and there was plenty to be shared. Cain, in his first season back with the Brewers, received his first All-Star nod since 2015 on the heels of amassing a 3.6 WAR, according to the Fangraphs version of the stat. He also finished the first half ranked second among National League outfielders with a .393 on-base percentage.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Perez, struggling at such unprecedented levels that he arrived in Washington, D.C., with an abysmal .259 OBP.
“The season is definitely not going the way he wants it to go,” Cain said.
For all his troubles this season, including missing most of April because of a left knee injury sustained carrying luggage up the stairs of his Kansas City home and earning the “Fun Police” moniker shortly after his return from the disabled list, Perez can still find some solace.
He is so highly regarded among his peers that two Venezuelan catchers at the All-Star game were in awe of his success.
“He’s the best catcher that Venezuela has ever produced,” said the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, who made his first All-Star game roster as the backstop for a pitching staff that owns the National League’s fourth-best ERA (3.56).
“I think there’s no doubt,” said the Rays’ Wilson Ramos, who injured his hamstring during the weekend and relinquished his spot in the American League starting lineup to Perez. “He’s proved it with both his bat and his glove.”
Perez’s efforts to provide an edge with his glove have kept him both at the forefront of his peers’ minds and the top of a few defensive categories. He leads all catchers who’ve logged at least 500 innings with a defensive runs above average measurement of 8.3, according to Fangraphs. He’s the only catcher in MLB with no errors, and he has thrown out 12 of the 28 runners who have attempted to test his arm and steal a base.
The package of numbers, which includes a .221 batting average, isn’t what Perez would prefer. But it’s enough to get him here, to his sixth consecutive All-Star game, as he tries to find his footing in a season long ago knocked off course.
“I don’t think you could ever have imagined (this many selections),” Perez said. “I’ve had a great day today, and I’m really happy to be here.”