Roberto Perez is looking to quit looking.
He gets that he’s a defense-first catcher, and admitted as much to T.J. Zuppe of The Athletic, but he’s committed to rounding his game out and showing that he can be the complete package for the Cleveland Indians. The first step toward improvement: less looking at strike one.
It’s just a mindset. Don’t waste an at-bat. Just be ready to hit your pitch and drive it. It’s been working.
It seems he’s on to something. Last season, Perez hit just .191 after falling behind 0-1 with 43 strikeouts (per FanGraphs). Of course, it’s rare that a player does better the deeper in the count they get, as the pitcher is working from a point of strength, and Perez’s Statcast pitch count graph doesn’t really provide us with anything unique.
However, looking at the numbers a little closer it’s clear just how significant a disadvantage it is for Perez to fall behind. For his career, Perez is below average in terms of weighted runs created-plus (82), but the split between behind and ahead in the count in terms of wRC+ shows where he could improve.
Roberto Perez wRC+ by count
By being more aggressive, it stands to reason that Perez could be a more effective hitter. Of course, simply squaring up the first pitch may not elevate the backstop to above average offensively overall (100 wRC+) or even at his position (mean wRC+ for catchers in 2017 was 91, min. 200 AB), and it could even be a detriment. Perez has a career walk rate of 11.6 percent, which is quite good, and his projection is nicely in line with that number for 2018. But if more aggressiveness early in the count leads to a lower walk rate, any gains from making contact would be rendered neutral in terms of on-base percentage.
That said, Perez’s out-of-the-zone swing rate is a stellar 19 percent, same as Joey Votto in 2017, which provides some reassurance that Perez’s new aggressive approach will allow him to improve. With many fans eagerly awaiting Francisco Mejia claiming a spot on the big league roster, Perez is working hard to make Mejia’s path to consistent big league time that much more complicated.
If it works, he’s creating the right kind of problem for the Tribe.