Salvador Perez is building a case for MVP consideration

Salvador Perez is hot. Michael A. Taylor is not. And Edward Olivares probably could use some help with gas money.

Good morning. Today at Into The Fountains, we have a couple of mini-player profiles. Colby Wilson will lead things off with a look at Salvador Perez and how he fits into a discussion for MVP. I’ll counterbalance those good vibes with Michael A. Taylor and his contact issues. Then, it’s more of the usual content to sate your Royals thirst. Happy Friday!

Salvy wants your (downballot) vote for MVP

At, roughly, a third of the way through the season, 1.5 fWAR is not very much. It is not going to turn heads on a team below .500 and already double-digits behind in the loss column, and it’s not likely to ever give much credence to the endless referendum about what we’re talking about when we talk about valuable baseball players. 

Salvador Perez is not the best player in the American League. He’s the league’s best catcher, although I’ll cop to some biases on that front, and easily the best player on his own middling team that is presently in the midst of one of the worst stretches of baseball you’ve ever seen. In the abstract, I can’t give you any clear picture of what this amounts to—the latest lost season in a borderline Hall of Fame career, I guess? The tarnishing of a player’s legacy for all the bad teams he was unfortunate enough to be isn’t what we’re litigating here, and even if we were it’s only fair to mention that he was instrumental in winning one World Series and another American League pennant for one of baseball’s most snake-bitten franchises. Pros, cons, etc. 

This is about Salvador Perez’s 2021 season, to this point at least, and how if we’re going to have an MVP discussion at this stage in the season, then he has a place in it. Among American Leaguers, he’s 25th in fWAR; he’s tied for 18th on Baseball Reference. I am not making a particularly compelling case here in the beginning. Please keep reading. 

WAR, b or f, is not the only metric we use to measure a player’s value. And some like Salvador Perez a lot more than WAR. WAR is a particularly tricky number to pin on a catcher—in modern terms, it hasn’t been good for the long-term legacies of Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, two players who in different times, given their respective bodies of work (tons of All-Star appearances for both, tons of Gold Gloves for Molina, an MVP and a bunch of Silver Sluggers for Posey) would merit deeper discussion for how history will remember them. What the number doesn’t take into account is how important the catcher is to every single thing that happens during a ballgame, and how Perez has spent this season trying to be a soothsayer to the precocious pitching the Royals have tried to bring to the next stage of their respective careers, in many cases probably earlier than would be advisable. Sal looks pretty bad when you consider his negative-0.7 blocking runs and negative-3.4 framing runs (per Baseball Prospectus), until you discover he’s faced more blocking chances than any other catcher in baseball this season. These boys have alternated between being pretty wild and pretty hittable and the 31-year old man usually behind the plate isn’t as spry as he once was. 

(For comparison, the dastardly Molina, who certain people in Missouri feel is baseball’s best catcher, is also a negative by both blocking and framing runs, and not so coincidentally is also among the league’s top-five in blocked pitch chances.) 

The season has been short on moments of fun and frolic for the Royals, but when they have been available Perez has capitalized.

It’s kind of difficult for a guy on a bad team to get many chances for meaningful production when he’s on a team that’s awful, yet there Perez is with a 1.59 FanGraphs’ Win Probability Added (13th) and 6.09 f+WPA (10th, which is basically the accumulation of all positive WPA events). Of the players hanging around the top of both leaderboards, only Perez, Texas’ Adolis Garcia, Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. and Seattle’s Mitch Haniger are doing so on sub-.500 teams. 

Perez also boasts a 0.62 Clutch mark, 15th in baseball. FanGraphs calculates Clutch = (WPA / pLI) – WPA/LI and it factors in how good he is in general versus how he performs in the clutch. It’s not predictive, merely a barometer of that which has occurred, and over the course of a season Perez is trending toward a great number in limited Clutch reps, right alongside mainstream MVP candidates Shohei Ohtani, José Ramírez and JD Martinez. 

Is it Salvador Perez’s fault he’s on a bad baseball team? This isn’t basketball, they can’t just toss him the ball every possession and have him create. He does his job to help his team win as often as he can, and when called upon to deliver he does more often than not. If the Royals didn’t have Salvador Perez behind the plate and batting third (or cleanup), would they be last in the AL Central? Worse than the Orioles? Worse than the Diamondbacks? 

Hard to say. Don’t really want to know, frankly. 

Look, this has been fun but here’s where we acknowledge that Salvy isn’t going to be the MVP; I’d wager, given the Royals descent toward the far reaches of the cellar, his work at a position we still can’t really quantify well with stats (and his poor framing runs number, which we can quantify), he probably won’t get much more than a smattering of down-ballot votes. This is not a tragedy—a tragedy is the smoking husk of an orphanage or a kitten getting swept away by a river. But Perez, entering what can be assumed is the latter stages of his prime, won’t put together many more campaigns where even someone like me, someone who spends a lot of time pondering the Royals, can make even a halfway-reasonable claim that he should be in the mix. He’s never finished higher than 17th in MVP voting; if nothing else, that needs to change this season.  

-Colby Wilson

The hole in Michael A. Taylor’s swing

Does this look familiar?

That’s Michael A. Taylor swinging and missing at high cheese. The gif above was from Monday’s loss against the Tigers. While that may have been from this week, his inability to connect with the elevated cheddar is something that has plagued Taylor all year.

That’s from Opening Day when Taylor had arguably his best offensive game of 2021. He really didn’t have any business swinging at that pitch—very few hitters are going to touch 97 mph with rising action in that location aside from Vladito—but bless his hitterish soul, he just can’t help himself.

If you’ve watched any Royals games at all this year (and since you’re reading this newsletter dedicated to the Royals, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you have) you’ve seen something similar to the two gifs above almost every single game when Taylor is in the lineup. It’s a pattern and one that Taylor just can’t seem to escape from.

According to Statcast data, opposing pitchers have thrown Taylor a fastball up in the strike zone 92 times this year. He’s swung and missed at 38 of those offerings. That’s a swing and miss rate of 41 percent.

Overall, Taylor has a lot of swing and miss in his game. He’s seen a total of 844 pitches this year. He’s swung and missed at 183 of those. That’s a 21.7 whiff rate. Guess where most of those are coming from?

Yep. There’s a hole in that swing.

The above is Taylor’s heat map on all his swings and misses this season. You don’t need to be some sort of super scout to know where his weakness is. Of course opposing pitchers are going to attack that. Let’s break it down a little further to see exactly how often he’s missing on that high cheddar compared to his other swings and misses in other locations and with other offerings.

Again, no surprises here. Taylor is getting fastballs elevated in the zone 14 percent of all pitches he’s seen in 2021. That’s a healthy rate compared to the rest of the league. Show a weakness and opposing pitchers will attack. They’re so ruthless! Honestly, the fact that Taylor swings and misses at high heat (and also has a difficult time laying off the sliders down and away) isn’t all that different a profile from just about any other major league hitter. There’s a reason pitchers are dominating this season. The issue with Taylor is the frequency with which he’s swinging and missing.

Among hitters who have seen at least 750 pitches this season, Taylor’s overall swing and miss rate is second-highest.

Whoops. There’s another familiar name on the list…Salvador Perez. Perez almost is a lite version of the elder Vladimir Guerrero, where he’ll swing at anything but you can live with that because when he makes contact, it’s of a certain quality.

Taylor’s quality of contact? Not so great.

You can see that in the overall numbers, but it’s especially stark when breaking it down on the elevated fastball in the strike zone.

Taylor’s approach at the plate is one that gets more and more exposed over time. You just can’t have that kind of hole in your swing and consistently produce on an every day basis. Taylor is slumping in June.

There are a lot of fingers to be pointed at a lot of players during this June swoon of the Royals offense. That the Royals continue to hit Taylor at or very near the bottom of the order is an acknowledgment that he’s not one of their better hitters. Indeed, nearly all of his value comes from patrolling the expanse in center field at The K. But how much longer can the Royals carry a one-dimensional player who is contributing next to nothing on offense? It’s not like they have a ton of options at their disposal, but it would likely behoove them to be thinking of alternate plans as we near the midway point of the 2021 season.

The Olivares Expressway

For real. Have they renamed the Kansas City to Omaha stretch of I-29 after Edward Olivares yet? Let’s just give a brief recap of his transaction log starting at the end of last month:

  • 5/30 - recalled from Triple-A

  • 6/3 - optioned to Triple-A

  • 6/6 - recalled from Triple-A

  • 6/9 - optioned to Triple-A

  • 6/14 - recalled from Triple-A

  • 6/17 - optioned to Triple-A

That’s just kind of crazy. For the Storm Chasers, Olivares is hitting .370/.452/.610 in 100 at bats. Meanwhile, he’s produced just .261/.292/.261 in 23 at bats for the Royals.

It’s a shame they aren’t giving him a longer look in the outfield now that Andrew Benintendi is sidelined with his rib injury. Maybe he’s just a Quad-A type of player who is laying waste to pitching in the Pacific Coast League along with the rest of his teammates. Still, wouldn’t it be interesting to hand him a few weeks of steady time in the outfield and just see what happens?

The Royals didn’t announce a corresponding move to this latest Olivares option. I just adore how this team handles transactions. Although Jackson Kowar has been listed as the Royals’ Friday starter for most of this week, it’s now officially “TBD” on the website. This is after he’s thrown two disastrous starts and was up in the bullpen late in Wednesday’s loss to Detroit.

I would assume the move to replace Olivares will be a pitcher. But Jakob Junis threw on Thursday in Omaha. Daniel Lynch, who I suppose could be an option, went on Tuesday.

Oh, the intrigue!

Central issues

  • Orioles 3, Cleveland 10

Cleveland banged out four home runs in finishing off a four-game sweep of the Orioles.

  • White Sox 2, Astros 10

The Astros clubbed three home runs, marking the 10th consecutive game they’ve hit multiple dingers. That ties a Major League record. Maybe the offenses are coming around? Dylan Cease gave up one of those home runs, a three-run shot to Michael Brantley in the bottom of the first.

  • Tigers 5, Angels 7

Detroit leaves Kansas City and forgets how to win. Strange! And their bullpen was knocked around. Wild!

Kyle Funkhouser was tagged for five runs (four earned) in a disastrous seventh inning. A grand slam from Taylor Ward did most of that damage.

Up next

Boston visits The K for a three-game set. Nick Pivetta goes tonight for the Sox while the Royals starter is…TBD! First pitch is 7:10 CDT.