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Roberto Perez continued to struggle at the plate in 2017

Is elite pitch framing, solid game calling, and a cannon for an arm enough to justify Roberto’s presence in the lineup?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Per Wikipedia:

The Mendoza Line is an expression in baseball in the United States, deriving from the name of shortstop Mario Mendoza, whose poor batting average is taken to define the threshold of incompetent hitting. The cutoff point is most often said to be .200[1] (although Mendoza's career average was .215) and, when a position player's batting averagefalls below that level, the player is said to be "below the Mendoza Line". This is often thought of as the offensive threshold below which a player's presence in Major League Baseball cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. The term is used in other contexts when one is so incompetent in one key skill that other skills cannot compensate for that deficiency.

Roberto Perez’s career batting average? .216.

Batting average, as we know, is not the most accurate way to define a hitter’s worth. But a hitter who struggles to get a hit more than every 2 in 10 at-bats is definitely cause for concern regardless of which stat you look at. Luckily for Roberto Perez, he excels in areas that Mendoza didn’t, so his presence on the roster may very well be justified. And despite having a slash line of .207/.291/.373 in 2017, it was an improvement over his ghastly .183/.285/.294 in 2016.

Transition into the starting catching role

Since Yan Gomes came over from Toronto in 2013, he has been the primary backstop for the Cleveland Indians, so much so that Jonathan Lucroy vetoed his trade to the Indians when the club couldn’t guarantee that he would be the starting catcher over Gomes. However, due to injury/general terribleness in 2016 and marginal improvement in 2017, the Yanimal has seen his playing time reduced in favor of Roberto Perez down the stretch. In September specifically, Gomes started in 13 games whereas Perez started in 17, the first time in the season that Perez outplayed Gomes. Perez is known primarily for being Trevor Bauer’s personal catcher, but he began to take on more catching duties into the postseason, including catching Corey Kluber in 2 of his final 3 starts of the season as well as starting in 3 of 5 ALDS games. Yan Gomes also looked better at the plate in 2017, but should he regress back to his 2016 hitting, it’s very possible that Roberto Perez will assume the starting catching role until Francisco Mejia is MLB ready.

Elite Defense

Roberto Perez has always been a defense first player for the Indians and 2017 was no exception. In addition to gaining more experience in his game calling, he continued to have elite pitch framing and a cannon of an arm, throwing out 43% of the would-be base stealers (ahead of Yan Gomes’ 42%). As Perez gets more time behind the plate, we should expect that his defense will continue to be elite. Defense was never the issue with Robo, it was his bat that was the problem. Folks like to look at Roberto’s OBP and point to it as a strength that Gomes does not posses. In 2017, however, Gomes actually had a better OBP than Perez (.309 vs. .291). Roberto Perez has never been great at getting on base either via the hit or the walk, but he on average does it better than his counterpart but only marginally.

What does 2018 hold for Roberto Perez?

At the end of 2016, many Tribe fans felt that Yan Gomes was a lost cause and that his shortcomings were paving the way for Roberto Perez to take over as the primary catcher for the Indians. Neither catcher hit well in 2016, but both had bounce back years in 2017. Perez’s slash line of .207/.291/.373 was not good, but it was better than his .183/.285/.294 the year prior. Roberto projects to be better than Yan Gomes in 2018, and if Yan regresses, Roberto could find himself starting in more games than he did in 2017. However, with Francisco Mejia looming in the next season or two, both Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are going to have to prove that they can be viable offensive players (i.e. not black holes) since their defense should both continue to be elite. Here’s to the continued upward trend of Roberto Perez!