At his best, Roberto Pérez is a patient hitter that absorbs a lot of pitches and may occasionally find his way into a home run or two.
Last season, he got a little too excited about the latter, and as a result was a much less patient hitter. He had his worst season ever at the plate, with a career-high 33.3% strikeout rate, an abysmal 40 wRC+, and he was chasing pitches like a rookie.
He set out prior to the 2019 season looking to change that approach; to take more pitches when he’s up in the count and not focus in on hitting that one big dinger.
“When you get ahead in the count, you want to do some damage,” Perez said. “I think everyone is like that as a hitter. You get anxious. And who doesn’t love homers? But I have to control myself. I’ve been trying to do that and I think it’s working.
Pérez placed most of the blame of his aggressiveness on his lack of consistent playing time.
“I’ve always had good eyes, and it was tough the last couple of years that I didn’t get to play. I was chasing pitches. Hopefully, this year it doesn’t happen.”
That tracks pretty easily. You only get into the game once in a while, so you probably want to smack dingers more than draw a walk and help wear out the opposing pitcher. He is human after all.
But now with most of a month as the Tribe’s primary starter under his belt, and through the magic of Baseball Savant, we can see just how well he’s living up to his goal of patience.
As of this writing, Pérez has seen 20 pitches while ahead in the count (2-0, 3-0 and 3-1). Of those 20 pitches, he’s taken seven for balls, swung and missed on four, and had five called strikes against him. Curiously, he hasn’t fought off a single pitch for a foul, and he’s put three balls in play, including a hit.
Keeping to his promise to not chase pitches, his one hit was a dead-center meatball from the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd that Roberto lifted to center field, and he hasn’t chased a single pitch.
Being that he is Roberto Pérez after all (sorry, Bebo, I love you), opposing pitchers haven’t exactly been afraid to challenge him when they’re behind in the count, though. He’s seen a lot of fastballs still in the zone, up and inside on him. There’s no need to nibble against him, so maybe his patience hasn’t been fully tested yet.
It is worth noting, though, that Roberto is indeed not chasing pitches, just as he intended. The few whiffs he’s had when ahead in the count have been in the zone and missed as a result of poor contact, not poor patience. So, I guess that counts as a win?
Even with those attacking pitches up and in, Pérez has fought them off to put them in play, or has simply taken them for balls. The few called strikes he has against him could have easily gone as balls, save for one right down broadway.
Compare that to the rest of his career when was swinging and missing 15.2% of the time on pitches out of the zone. Of the 105 pitches he saw out of the zone in his career prior to 2019, he swung and missed 16 times.
Overall, Roberto is one of the most patient hitters in the game, swinging at pitches out of the zone (regardless of count) just 21.5% of the time — the 27th lowest chase rate in baseball. He’s never going to be a great-hitting catcher, but this is where he can shine
It’s far too early to tell if if there are any lasting changes to Pérez’s overall approach at the plate, or even if he’s truly made a change when he’s ahead in the count. Through a month of the regular season, though, he appears to be on the right track.