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Why is Roberto Perez still getting at-bats?

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In the midst of a career-worst season, it’s hard to understand Perez’s role.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

I’m likely alone in this, or at the least part of a very small club, but if there were a way for me to use my will to make just one player on the Indians better, I’d use it on Roberto Perez.

Others would likely give Yandy Diaz a couple extra degrees of launch angle or (especially after this weekend) restore Cody Allen’s command. But not me, I’m the weirdo that wants to see Bebo do this more often.

My first article for Let’s Go Tribe was about Perez, detailing how he was changing his approach at the plate to be more aggressive. I was optimistic that the changes would raise his offensive profile to something more in line with his excellent defense.

My optimism has not been rewarded.

Instead, Perez has put up career lows in every category this year. From their previous lows, his batting average is down 29 points, on-base percentage is down 41 points, and slugging is down 86 points. Never a league-average producer, Perez’s OPS+ this season is just 28 and his wRC+ is 30; coming into this year his career totals were 78 OPS+ and 82 wRC+. It seems entirely unlikely he will reach the plate appearance threshold to qualify, but Perez’s wRC+ as it stands would be third worst ever from a catcher. I suppose this is what happens when you drive in just eight runs and strike out in 61 at-bats while only walking 17 times.

As for being more aggressive, Perez has been better this year on the first pitch but still boasts only a 56 OPS+ in that situation. After he’s thrown a strike, however, he’s been downright terrible. After an 0-1 count his OPS+ is -3, after 1-1 it’s 3, after 2-1 it’s 17, and after 3-1 it’s 21. With few exceptions, as soon as a pitcher has a strike on him Perez is already out.

To make matters worse, the defensive numbers that have for so long buoyed Perez and validated his place on the roster have also taken a tumble. Via Baseball Prospectus’ fielding runs above average, Perez has fallen from a career high 19.8 last year (which boosted his WARP to 2.4) to 5.8 this year. He’s fallen behind his batterymate, Yan Gomes (6.0), for the first time since 2014 and the reasons for his continued presence on the big league roster are straining for credulity.

The worst batter on the team, Perez has been more than half a win worse than the next guy (-0.8) and ninth worst in MLB (minimum 170 plate appearances) by FanGraphs’ version of WAR. Baseball-Reference also rates him well below replacement by their flavor of WAR (-0.6), and Baseball Prospectus’ version, WARP, adds more weight for catcher defense but considers Pérez merely at replacement level, 0.0 — far from a vote of confidence.

Had the Indians not dealt Francisco Mejía for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, Tribe Twitter would surely be lit up with nightly barrages of #FreeFrankie to complement the #FreeYandy chorus. As it is, perhaps fans should be clamoring to #FreeHaase, as Columbus backstop Eric Haase has slugged .424 this year, 15th highest in the International League. His .229 batting average and 140 strikeouts to 30 walks leave... a lot to be desired, but compared to the Indians’ current backup catcher, well, it could be an upgrade.

Of course, even a hot performance during a September call-up is unlikely to see Haase knock Pérez from the postseason roster. As with Jason Kipnis, as Matt Lyons wrote, Bebo is one of Terry Francona’s “guys,” and therefore his roster spot is safe. For what it’s worth, the pitching staff loves Perez, too, and their opinion surely makes a difference.

I also have a special affection for Bebo, but I can’t make him better through affection and willpower alone. That just leaves me to question why a player creating runs 70 percent worse than league average is receiving even infrequent at-bats and wishing I had a good answer.