The Cleveland Indians' catching corps has a certain profile. Whether Yan Gomes or Roberto Perez, they’re about as good as you can get defensively behind the plate and manage the disparate personalities and talents of their pitching staff to perfection.
They also can't hit worth a damn.
On the year, the team leader at the plate is Yan Gomes' 82 wRC+, which tops the 76 Perez posts. They're dead even on the year in home run rate (12.8 percent HR/FB rate for Gomes, 12.5 for Perez) and in general have performed like some sort of combined Jose Molina. That belies the bad start Perez had to the year though, and more importantly, the incredible tear he's been on since the All-Star break.
A list of the best Indians hitters since the break is actually kind of surprising. Some have had more chances than others, but among those with at least 50 PA's, it looks like this:
Indians Offensive Output post-All-Star Break
Santana at the top is no surprise, though right behind him with Yandy Diaz is more a pleasant hello than anything. And right there behind Edwin Encarnacion, ahead of the human furnace Jose Ramirez and Austin Jackson and everybody's favorite, Jay Bruce, is Perez. He's been excellent since the break, and has only gotten better as each month has worn on. The second half of July he hit like Gomes, an 83 wRC+ (.667 OPS) with just three doubles. Then he found a magic gem or something in early August, because he put up a .286/.374/.486 line, working out to a 128 wRC+ in 43 plate appearances. While September is still young, he's 7-for-23 this month with five of those hits for extra bases (two home runs) and a couple walks. Simply put, he's been excellent.
Placed in context, Perez has been the 10th best-hitting catcher since the break by wRC+. Gary Sanchez has a commanding plate appearance lead and is fifth on the list, but the 91 plate appearances are relatively close to others on the list. And it puts Perez above Buster Posey and on the same mark as the Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Velasquez, though Posey does have 103 more plate appearances. maybe it's not sustainable. In fact, considering the .370 BABIP and the fact he's gotten a chance to face a whole lot of bad pitching, particularly in August, it probably isn't. But in this span he's elevated his line drive rate from 17.3 percent before the break to 22.4 in the second half, while cutting down on ground balls. Nobody is more doomed by grounders than Perez, the man moves like frozen sludge. He's also pulling the ball 48.2 percent of the time since the break, up from 30 percent in the first half. It's something. Whether it’s real is the question.
It’s probably a good idea to see if there’s anything visibly different in Perez at the plate. Small adjustments can pay dividends, adding loft or quieting a swing down out of nowhere.
So here's a GIF of him back in May, singling to he opposite field:
Notice the hands more than anything — held out away and behind the body as the pitcher begins to deliver. Now, here’s a double down the left field line from last week:
The angle is a bit different, but the hands seem a bit higher here. He does drop them a bit as Shields delivers, but not so much as before. This could allow for a big more uppercut in the swing, which leads to more balls in the air. He also appears to not wind his torso back as much, which could perhalps help him get to the ball quicker, making the swing less noisy. Like I said before, it could be something.
No, it's probably not a good idea to assume Perez is now one of the best hitters on the team in addition to being one of the three or four best defensive catchers in baseball. But he's still awesome, and is capable of these runs. He still has an absurd walk rate (10.8 percent) considering his comparatively weak offensive output in general. He does see a lot of hitters counts though, going 2-0 14.6 percent of the time (league average is 13.8), 3-1 12.3 percent of the time (8.4 league average) and sees 4.38 pitches per plate appearance. Maybe he's finally taking advantage, and he just took a while.
Perez is only 28, after all, his prime has to look like something. He has to flourish in some way for a bit. I have always wondered why he doesn't produce better at the plate considering his incredible strike zone feel and all the chances he gets. I've thought the same about Santana, though, even if Carlos at least has been a very good hitter for a while. I just figured he’d go nuclear eventually. He has since the break too, but that’s another story. Regression will bite back on Perez, but maybe not as much as we'd think. You know he's not happy with being a comparative black hole in the offense even if he does bring a ton on defense. Were that line drive rate to stick anywhere close to what he's done since the break, it's a scary thought for what he turns into. He was valuable last October for his timely hitting and great catching.
What if he was just getting started?