Judging the Royals

The position we haven’t talked about: who backs up Salvador Perez?

Royals catcher Eric Kratz
Royals catcher Eric Kratz

If you follow Royals baseball you probably know the team needed a DH, a right fielder and a starting pitcher, but there’s been little talk about another crucial position; backup catcher.

In 2014 starting catcher Salvador Perez appeared in 150 regular season games (144 of them as a catcher), then played 15 more games in the postseason. After appearing in 165 big-league games, Perez then went on to play exhibition games in Japan.

On July 4th (game 85) Perez finished the day hitting .290. After that the Royals catcher suffered a steady decline; finishing at .260 for the regular season. The 15 postseason games were even worse: Sal hit .207. Some of that drop in average can be attributed to good postseason pitching — the weaker teams have been eliminated — but it’s not a huge leap of logic to assume being tired also played a part in Salvador’s decline in batting average.

Talk to guys who have caught in the major leagues and they’ll tell you they’re pretty much exhausted at the end of a season. They feel like they have no bat speed and that means they have to start their swing earlier to catch up to a fastball. Start your swing earlier and don’t be surprised if your pitch selection is lousy; you’re swinging before you know what the pitch is and where it’s going. That might partially explain why Perez was swinging at so many sliders off the plate during the second half of the season.

Timeout:

Salvador Perez’ Wild Card Game-winner was one of the most exciting hits in Royals history, but it was a bad swing at a bad pitch; Perez and the Royals got lucky.

Christian Colon was on second base and the Oakland A’s had Jason Hammel on the mound. With the exception of a 93-MPH pitchout, Hammel was throwing Perez nothing but sliders. Despite the fact that their pitcher was throwing off-speed pitches in the low 80s to a right-handed hitter, the A’s had their third baseman—Josh Donaldson — positioned off the line. When Perez threw his bat at a 2-2 slider away and off the plate, he hooked it down the line between Donaldson and third base. Bad swing at a bad pitch, but it worked. Perez and the Royals would not get so lucky against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants — but that’s another story.

Time back in:

Salvador Perez’ career average is .285. He appeared in 39 games in 2011 and hit .331, 76 games in 2012 and hit .301, 138 games in 2013 and hit .292. The number of games played is only one factor among many, but there does seem to be a pattern.

Perez is listed as 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds by ESPN’s website, the Royals website is a little kinder; Sal’s listed as weighing 240. You might wonder if those weights are accurate, but there’s no doubt Perez is a big catcher and big catchers tend to have knee problems and Sal has already had one blowout.

Manager Ned Yost has admitted he needs to have Perez catch fewer games, but big-league managers — whose jobs are almost always on the line — may not have much incentive to worry about what’s going to happen to a catcher’s knees two year from now. Fans want their teams to win right now and like to see managers fired when that doesn’t happen. If a big-league manager is worried about losing his job before the end of the season, he might not spend a lot of time thinking long term. But let’s assume Yost is going to let Perez rest more often; if so, who’s going to catch those games?

Say the Royals decide to stick with their current backup catcher, Erik Kratz. Erik appeared in 13 games for Kansas City in 2014 and hit .276. Kratz also played in 34 games for Toronto while hitting .198 — overall his batting average was .218, one point short of his .219 lifetime average. If a backup catcher is going to catch a dozen games, you might live with a .219 average. But if the backup is going to catch more like 30 or 40 games — and I have no idea what the Royals have in mind — you might want a little more offense.

On the other hand, if a catcher is good enough defensively—if he keeps enough runs off the scoreboard—you can live with the fact that he doesn’t put that many runs on the scoreboard. What a catcher does behind the plate is much more important than what he does at the plate, so only looking at offensive numbers might lead you to some bad conclusions.

But no matter how you look at it, if you don’t want Salvador Perez exhausted, risking a blown knee and swinging at sliders a foot outside, you’ve got to have a backup catcher who can handle all the games Perez doesn’t catch.

So who’s going to backup Salvador Perez?

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com.

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