It was not an easy series for Salvador Perez in New York, as the Royals’ 31-year-old franchise catcher went 1-for-11 in the three game slate against the Yankees. Salvy has been a revelation this year, as he is currently posting a .284/.314/.526 slash in 299 plate appearances, which includes a team-leading 18 home runs. Furthermore, he is hitting the ball harder than ever, as his hard hit rate is 55.8 percent, which leads the team, and his barrel rate is 14.4 percent, which is a career high for him, according to Baseball Savant.
Without a doubt, Salvy’s hard hit balls and home runs have not just helped the Royals on the scoreboard, and consequently, the standings, but also have been a delight for Royals fans.
In addition, much to the enjoyment of loyal Kansas City sports fans, he is leading all AL All-Star catchers in voting as well, and seems likely to be one of the Royals’ few All-Star representatives:
It’s difficult to imagine what the Royals would look like this season without Salvy. They are currently 33-40, and their playoff chances seem to nearly caput, as Depth Charts on Fangraphs pegs their playoff odds at 0.9 percent after Thursday’s loss to the Yankees. Without Salvy’s production at the plate and work with the pitching staff, it is likely that the Royals would be in the basement of the American League with the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, and perhaps even Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins, who both have been worse than the Royals in 2021 record-wise.
However, while Salvy is essential to the Royals lineup, especially in the midst of Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler’s struggles, the Royals may need to reconsider Salvy’s usage this season, both behind the plate and at designated hitter, if they want to maximize Salvy’s value in the long term. While Salvy taking more off days in the second half of the season may hurt the Royals’ chances of generating wins, some extra days of rest could help Salvy not just stay healthy for the remainder of the 2021 season, but over the course of the extension he just signed this off-season.
Of the Royals’ 73 games this year, Salvy has played in every single one of them. Manager Mike Matheny has been creative with Salvy’s usage, as he has given him some time at designated hitter this season to give him a break behind the plate. While he has played 57 games behind the plate, he has also played in 16 games as the Royals’ DH. This has helped Matheny keep Salvy’s bat in the lineup, while also giving Salvy the rest he needs from the wear and tear of being behind the plate, especially during the dog days of Summer.
However, the Royals did get a scare in Wednesday’s game, as Salvy did have to leave the contest due to a foul ball that ricocheted hard off of Salvy’s mask. Thankfully, after examination, it was deemed that Salvy wouldn’t have to miss any time due to injury, which was a sigh of relief for Royals fans, especially after the injury issues that have plagued the Royals as of late.
That being said, while Royals fans would love to see Salvy play 150-160 games this season for the Boys in Blue, history isn’t necessarily on his side. Salvy hasn’t played more than 140 games since 2015, and from 2016-2018, it seemed like the wear and tear of the long season had an effect on Salvy at the plate. Over that three-year span, Salvy posted wRC+ numbers of 89, 102, and 88 from 2016 to 2018, respectively. Furthermore, over that three-year period, he only accumulated a fWAR of 2.1, according to Fangraphs.
Thus, in order for the Royals to preserve Salvy’s durability and production, the Royals will need to give him some days off (both at catcher AND designated hitter), even if the Royals lineup will suffer without him. Even last year, Salvy only played in 37 games. To think Salvy can play all 162 this year is honestly wishful thinking, and probably not wise to the Royals’ top-paid player.
So while Salvy is having a career year of sorts (he currently is posting a wRC+ of 128), it may not be sustainable if he is over-extended in the Royals lineup, even with days at DH. Salvy’s approach at the plate isn’t the most sustainable either. He’s currently posting a strikeout rate of 25.1 percent, which is a career high. And while his walk rate is 0.8 percent higher than a year ago, his 0.11 BB/K ratio is the second-lowest ratio of his career.
Salvy has gotten some good luck on a BABIP basis the past couple of seasons. Last year, he posted a .375 BABIP, and this season, his BABIP has remained high at .332. To compare, the average BABIP for MLB hitters this year is .289. Thus, if Salvy’s BABIP regresses, then a lot of his other metrics could suffer, which in turn could make his production in the lineup a lot less impactful.
Let’s just say fatigue won’t help him maintain that BABIP, and we saw that a bit in the final Royals game of the Yankees series, as Salvy went 0-for-5 despite hitting in the DH spot.
Without a doubt, this isn’t an easy situation for Matheny. Right now, it doesn’t feel like the Royals will get much sustainable improvement from Dozier or Soler this season. If those two hitters were playing up to their potential, as expected in Spring Training, the decision to rest Salvy would be a lot easier. But without that production from those two in the middle of the lineup, as well as Mondesi, who’s missed most of the year to injury, Matheny has been forced to keep Salvy in the lineup, even if it seems like fatigue is starting to have its toll, as the Yankees series demonstrated.
Nonetheless, the long-term future of the Royals is more important than the short-term of 2021. And with the Royals seven games under .500, the playoffs look and feel like a long shot at this point, even for the most optimistic Royals fan. Salvy has four guaranteed years left after 2021 with a club option for a fifth. If the Royals want to maximize Salvy’s production over the length of that contract, they will need to make those concessions in the present. And that main concession is to give him some more off days, especially once the Royals hit July and August.
It won’t be easy for Matheny or Royals fans to stomach.
But it’s the right thing to do for the Royals. And besides, giving at-bats to Sebastian Rivero isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He has proven that he can hold his own behind the plate, and he was able to garner his first MLB hit in Thursday’s game, which could help get him going after a rough start.
And by 2022, hopefully Royals fans will be thankful Matheny made those concessions with Salvy, as he won’t be regressing next year, but still producing as effectively as ever…
Mostly because he will be fresh and healthy, a win-win for the Royals AND Salvy.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga-Getty Images