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Roberto Perez, unlikely postseason hero

The catcher position was a black hole for the Indians in 2016, but it could have been so much worse.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game One Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When you reflect on Roberto Perez’s season as a whole, he really only had two all-around fantastic games. But both of them happened to be in playoff series opening games against two of the league’s best teams, though: the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Perez’s first postseason flourish came in his first ever postseason appearance. With Yan Gomes healthy(ish) on the bench behind him, Roberto made the Terry Francona’s decision to stick with him over a limping Gomes that much easier. He did just about everything any Roberto Perez fan would expect him to: he played defense, he walked, he ran the bases well, and he ran into a home run, almost single-handedly carrying the Indians to their first playoff win since 2007.

Perez came through even bigger in game one of the World Series. With Corey Kluber on the mound working the shutout, the Indians technically would have won without Roberto, but his two home runs and four runs batted in once again made him a national household name — even if it just lasted a day.

The rest of Perez’s season, while mostly filled with great defense behind the plate, was a major struggle offensively. His approach at the plate was as good as ever with a 12.5 percent walk rate and a 23.9 percent strikeout rate, but when bat met ball he just was not getting anything done. He finished 2016 with a .183/.285/.294 slash with three home runs, good for a wRC+ of just 58.

Looking at Perez’s batted ball numbers in 2016 compared to his relatively impressive 2015 campaign, the one thing that sticks out most is in-field fly balls, which rose sharply from 6.1 percent in 2015 to 11.8 percent in 2016. He hit balls on the ground at nearly the exact same rate (53.3% in 2015, 53.6% in 2016), and he hit 4.2 percent fewer line drives. The problem was that so many of his hits were weak pop-ups, or easily found their way to defenders.

This weak contact shows in the numbers and it really shows when you watch the Perez’s every at-bat, waiting for him to do something to justify your baseball man-crush on him.

As disappointing as Perez’s season was, overall, a lot of could probably be attributed to a thumb injury. Perez broke his thumb on April 14 when he was diving to stop a run from scoring against the Philadelphia Phillies. He would end up requiring surgery on the broken digit and was expected to miss significant time.

His rehab assignment began on July 3 with the Indians’ Rookie League squad, and was likely accelerated due to the ineffectiveness — and eventually injury — of Yan Gomes. Perez did not look ready to be playing baseball every day when he took over the starting job on July 18, but he split time with Chris Gimenez as the Indians tried to Frankenstein a replacement for Gomes.

Despite all this, I still really want to see what Roberto would do over a full season. I suspect Yan Gomes will get another long look in 2017, with only an injury leading to an opening for Perez in an everyday starting role. And if his time never comes, and if Yan Gomes stays healthy and hits much (much) better than he did in 2016, the Indians can rest easy knowing they have a pretty solid backup waiting in the wings.