Author's note: Salvador Perez walked literally as I was writing this article. So all of these numbers don't reflect that. His walk rate now sits at a sizzling 2.0%. The walk came on only five pitches from Raisel Iglesias.
These days, it’s fairly easy to say that someone on the Royals is doing something remarkable. The Royals seem to have good players growing on trees. Perhaps that’s why they’re sitting at 25-14 as of this writing. Salvador Perez is one of those good players that Kansas City employs. Perez has been hyped as the next Best Catcher In The League for quite some time now for his mix of plus defense and plus power. He’s coming off back-to-back Gold Glove seasons in which he registered at least 3 fWAR, and he just turned only 25. There seems to be quite a bright future for Salvador Perez, as long as the fact that he was a shambling mess at the end of the World Series due to overuse doesn’t impede him.
Perhaps it’s a hint of residual exhaustion; perhaps it’s a result of the Kansas City hitting philosophy. Either way, Perez has something weird going on this season. He’s walked only twice in 142 plate appearances. The Royals as a whole have managed only a 5.5 percent walk rate, but Perez is simply doing everything he can not to walk. In fact, one of those walks was an intentional walk. So in reality, Perez has walked once. Once!
That one lone base on balls came at the hands of White Sox closer David Robertson. Perez worked a full count before being awarded first base on this pitch.
It was hard not to take ball four on that one, but Perez almost managed to swing.
Perez’s lack of walks has lead to him managing only a 101 wRC+ despite hitting .288 and slugging .446. A .296 OBP will do that to you. Due to his excruciating lack of speed, Perez can’t rely on beating out plays to run up his OBP. It’s not that Perez is too busy striking out, either. He’s done that in only 9.9 percent of his plate appearances, and that’s despite swinging at pitches more often than not. 54.5 percent of the time, to be precise, which is the 16th highest mark in the game. How does he pull this off?
In short, he makes lots of contact. When Perez has swung at a pitch, he’s made contact at an 85.4 percent clip. That goes up to 92.1 percent if you throw him a pitch over the plate. Because of that, he’s simply not affording himself the opportunity to take a free base. Per ESPN, he’s seeing only 3.31 pitches per plate appearance. That’s the 8th lowest rate in the league among qualified batters. Anybody who watched the World Series has seen Perez’s plate discipline at its absolute worst. Perez swings at junk, especially junk high and away. Not only is it easier to whiff on pitches far outside of the strike zone, it’s also easier to make really poor contact unless your name is Pablo Sandoval. Perez is hitting more grounders, more popups, and fewer line drives, and his BABIP is actually higher than it was last year. Go figure. Obviously a .288 batting average is nothing to complain about, but that’s going to regress unless Perez cleans up his act at the plate.
For fun, I ran a Baseball-Reference Play Index search on every player who’s registered 10 or fewer walks since the start of the expansion era in 1961. Nobody has reached 500 plate appearances and done it. Carlos Baerga is the man with the most plate appearances in such a season when he walked only 10 times in 1994. He had 469 plate appearances that year. Of course, nobody minded that he walked 10 times because he hit .314/.333/.525 with 19 homers. Salvador Perez likely isn’t going to do that.
He’s also not likely going to walk 10 or fewer times this season. Small sample sizes make for fun little exercises such as this one early in the season. What makes this truly fun is that I don’t think anybody would be 100% shocked if Perez pulled off a full season of baseball with 10 or fewer walks. I certainly wouldn’t be. Stranger things have happened, like the entire Kansas City roster becoming good at baseball at once. Like Chris Young arguably being Kansas City’s best starter so far. Baseball is a weird game, which is why I think a lot of us love it. Sal Perez is a bit of a weird player. He’s not Hunter Pence levels of weird, but a little weird nonetheless while still being good at the game. That’s what makes him and the Royals fun.
But maybe he should work a walk every now and then. Adding OBP to his skillset would be terrifying.
. . .
Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and covers the Yankees and their Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, at Pinstripe Alley. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.