Sunday, May 19, 2024

MLB trends: How Royals catcher Salvador Perez leveled up into the best season of his impressive career so far

Entering play Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals owned a 21-15 record, their best record through 36 games since the 2015 World Series team started 23-13. The Royals have won 21 of their first 36 games. Last season, they picked up their 21st win in Game 75.

“We’ve seen it over and over. They just don’t quit,” manager Matt Quatraro said following Monday’s come-from-behind win over the Milwaukee Brewers (via “I wish I could put my finger on it and say, ‘Let’s do that in the first,’ but for whatever reason, the game gets later, and they come through.”  

Bobby Witt Jr. is a bona fide superstar and the rotation, led by Seth Lugo and Cole Ragans (and Brady Singer), has been among the best in the game. So too has the bullpen. The heartbeat of the Royals is still captain Salvador Perez though. Perez is the lone remaining member of that 2015 team and is still an impact player.

“When he goes, we go,” second baseman Michael Massey told the Kansas City Star recently.

Perez turns 34 this Friday and he took a stout .328/.391/.560 batting line into Tuesday’s game. He’d also slugged eight home runs and driven in an AL-leading 30 runs. You can attribute that gaudy RBI total to Perez’s .452/.564/.839 line with runners in scoring position. That’s great production period. For a catcher, it’s MVP stuff.

As good as Perez has been throughout his career — expect him to get plenty of Hall of Fame support when the time comes — the case can be made what we’re seeing this year is the very best version of a player who’s made eight All-Star Games. Here’s how Perez and the Royals took his game to another level.

1. He’s cut down on his whiffs

For the majority of his career, Perez ran league average-ish strikeout rates with elevated swing-and-miss rates. It’s a difficult needle to thread but Perez did it because he’s so swing happy that his at-bats infrequently got to two-strike (and/or three-ball) counts. He would swing and miss a bunch, but he’d also put the ball in play fairly early in the at-bat.

That is still true this season. Perez has struck out in 14.5% of his plate appearances, below the 22.5% league average and below his 24.1% strikeout rate from 2021-23. He’s cut his swinging strike rate (i.e. whiffs per pitches seen) from 17.5% from 2021-23 to 11.8% in 2024. The MLB average is 10.9%. Perez’s whiff rate hasn’t been this low since 2017, his age-27 season.

Set the minimums to 400 plate appearances in 2023 and 100 plate appearances in 2024, and no player has cut his swinging strike rate as much as Perez.

2023 2024 Change

Salvador Perez, Royals




Christopher Morel, Cubs




Trea Turner, Phillies




Anthony Volpe, Yankees




Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers




At one point recently, Perez went 40 plate appearances between strikeouts, and he had a stretch in which he struck out only four times in 86 plate appearances, or 4.7%. In this era of big velocity and breaking balls that are quite literally designed in a lab, striking out that infrequently for any stretch of time is remarkable.

Perez is putting more balls in play and, given the fact that he perennially ranks among the league leaders in exit velocity, it has led to more production overall. He’s in the top 10% of the league in hard-hit rate (i.e. batted balls at 95-plus mph) and also sweetspot rate, which is batted balls in the 8-32 degree launch angle range. That’s the optimal range.

Simply put, Perez is among the game’s best at hitting the ball hard on a line. Has been his entire career. Now he’s significantly cut his strikeouts and whiffs, so more balls are being put in play. More balls in play plus premium contact quality equals one of the best hitters in the game, as Perez has been six weeks into 2024.

2. He’s greatly improved his framing

Perez has always struck me as someone who would benefit from a “works with pitchers” metric. Over the years, Royals pitchers have praised his work behind the plate while the various metrics rated him one of the worst defensive catchers in the game, particularly at framing. The stats universally agreed Perez was one of the sport’s worst pitch framers.

That has changed this year. The same metrics that once rated Perez as a terrible framer now rate him about average. Average isn’t good, necessarily, but it is a massive improvement from the last few years. Here are the numbers on Perez’s framing:

Baseball Prospectus FanGraphs Statcast


-17.6 runs

-19.6 runs

-18 runs


-14.7 runs

-12.6 runs

-8 runs


-8.1 runs

-9.0 runs

-7 runs


+0.0 runs

+0.1 runs

+1 runs

Anything around minus-10 runs makes you an unequivocally bad framer. Get down around minus-20 runs and we’re talking about a player who has no business being a regular catcher. The guy who frames that poorly regularly turns borderline pitches (and even some pitches that aren’t borderline) into balls and hurts his pitchers. That was Perez for a very long time.

Defensive stats in small samples can be unreliable, though in this case, Perez’s framing improvement matches the eye test, and it also matches the work. Perez was fully aware of his poor framing and sought to improve it. At the urging of catching instructor Paul Hoover, Perez inched closer to the plate so he could frame better. From the Kansas City Star last month:

Because he was so far back from the hitter, Perez was catching low pitches further away from the plate. That meant on some pitches — like one from 2018, which crossed at the same height as Friday’s strike call vs. the Tigers — Perez was receiving borderline pitches with his glove touching the dirt.

Making a change took trust. Perez had to believe in Hoover that getting closer to batters wasn’t going to result in his glove getting hit by additional swings. Hoover also communicated that moving up meant foul tips would hit Perez’s mitt more often, meaning he’d get hit less by fouls behind the plate.

“He was super far away from the plate two years ago — probably one of the worst,” Hoover said. “And now he’s up there with the best guys.”

Catcher interference — the bat hitting the catcher’s glove during a swing — has been on the rise throughout the league the last few seasons for this exact reason: catchers have moved closer to the plate so they can better frame borderline pitches. For lack of a better term, Perez was still an old school catcher who caught way behind the hitter. He scooted up and his framing improved.

Perez has been a strong thrower throughout his career and a league-average blocker. His framing made him a liability behind the plate though, at least according to the defensive stats, and that is no longer the case. Perez has turned himself into an average framer and that’s way, way better than where he was just last year. This level of improvement is remarkable, really.

3. The Royals have reduced his catching workload

Perez turns 34 later this week and the guy has been a workhorse behind the plate the majority of his career. From 2013-17 he averaged — averaged — 129.4 starts behind the plate. Only one catcher, J.T. Realmuto, made 120 starts at catcher in either of the last two seasons (Realmuto did it both years). Perez averaged close to 130 starts a year for a five-year period.

It is no surprise then that, since his first full big league season in 2013, Perez leads all active catchers in innings caught. It is not close either:

  1. Salvador Perez: 9,904 1/3
  2. J.T. Realmuto: 9,197
  3. Martín Maldonado: 8,825 2/3
  4. Yasmani Grandal: 8,422 2/3
  5. Yan Gomes: 8,378 2/3

Those are regular-season innings only. Perez caught another 283 innings in the postseason during Kansas City’s runs in 2014 and 2015. He caught every inning of every game those two playoff runs on top of his enormous regular-season workload. It’s incredible.

Catcher is the game’s most brutal position (think of all the squatting, all the foul tips, etc.) and the wear and tear is unavoidable. I assume every catcher Perez’s age has hamburger for hands. That makes his offense and improved framing even more impressive. The Royals, in an effort to make Perez’s life easier (and less painful), are giving him more time at first base and DH.

Here are Perez’s workloads in recent years (he missed 33 games with a thumb injury in 2022):

C starts 1B + DH starts




2022 (162-game pace)






2024 (162-game pace)



Perez is on roughly the same pace behind the plate, though expect the number of catcher starts to come down as the season progresses. All the scheduled off-days in April allowed Kansas City to put Perez at catcher often. He started eight of the team’s first 12 games at catcher, and only 13 of the last 24 as the off-days became less frequent. Backup Freddy Fermin gets regular run.

Point is, the Royals no longer treat Perez as a 120-games-a-year catcher. He’s now in the 90-ish starts a year range while seeing more time at first base (nine starts this year) and DH (four). Fewer innings behind the plate equals less wear and tear and, in theory, leads to a fresher and healthier and more productive Perez. If nothing else, he takes less of a beating back there.

The Royals are greatly improved — they lost a franchise-record 106 games last season, so it would be difficult to be worse — and Perez is a big reason for their improved play. He’s not the only reason, as Ragans, Witt and others deserve plenty of credit, but Perez is off to his best start in years and has shown legitimate improvement in his game. This is as good as he’s ever been.

“Who knows where we’d be without him?” Quatraro said earlier this month (via “In the clubhouse, behind the plate, at the plate. It’s the best I’ve seen him in the year-plus I’ve been here. Leading the league in hitting at his age (as of May 1), big clutch RBIs, it’s impressive.”

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