As the Indians move towards the All Star Break, fans and players alike are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Michael Brantley, yet perhaps the most impactful addition will be Roberto Perez. This may be a Skip Bayless level take and is meant to say nothing about the value of Michael Brantley, former MVP Candidate. Rather, Perez is significant because of how poor the Indians catchers have been in 2016.
The Indians backstops are dead last in Major League Baseball in WAR. Mainly because they are last in essentially every meaningful offensive category. Gomes long term value is a complex topic that I will leave to the side with the assumption that 2016 is a lost season.
This is our backdrop, -0.6 WAR, least productive unit in baseball. It is pretty easy to cull out the Indians largest hole heading into the second half. Yet, Catcher is probably the easiest position for the Indians to improve for two reasons. First, adding merely a league average player (~2 WAR) is a huge marginal value addition over first half performance. (Adding a roughly 2 WAR player to a negative WAR position >> adding a 3.5 WAR player to a 2 WAR position). Second, Roberto Perez is just that player and he is on his way back from injury.
In 2014-2015, Perez was 23rd in WAR among catchers despite playing about 50% of the games of his competitors. There are a couple of reasons for this. First Roberto Perez has phenomenal plate discipline and during the aforementioned span, he is 6th in walk rate among players with 300+ plate appearances at 11.8%. Second, Perez like Gomes is an exquisite defender, but likely an even a better defender.
Perez has posted a positive DRS (defensive runs saved) in each big league season and the rotation has raved about his receiving/game calling skills. Perez also shines as a terrific framer, someone who can steal strikes for his pitchers.
Ranking from best per game value added to worst, Perez is clearly above average at framing. Whereas, Gomes similar to 2016 is below average at framing for his pitchers. This may seem small but is a huge boon to an already dominant pitching staff. Further, it highlights that there is likely a defensive gain alone in shifting to Perez in the second half.
The offensive value gap appears to be the largest potential gain. In 2016 Indians catchers are posting a .223 OBP and .310 slugging for an OPS of .533. Perez’ career OPS at the big league level is .719. Of course, Perez has not yet reached a full season so projecting him to sustain that production may be fool hardy.
Yet, projection systems which include in them a season which Roberto Perez battled with Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis) place Perez at roughly a .630-.640 OPS. Therefore, even what I believe is a bottom bound projection places Perez as an OPS upgrade of more than .100. It is incredibly rare that one can upgrade a position marginally defensively and add over 100 points of OPS but the Indians appear poised to do just that in the second half.
The reason I am particularly confident is that I believe one discernible tool of Perez’ lasts even when he is slumping which is his plate discipline. While Yan Gomes is very reliant on balls in play offensively because of his limited walk rate, Perez even when scuffling gets on base because he walks at an above average rate. This only serves to add depth to the lineup. Good defense and a good walk rate are a great start to stabilizing the Indians catching issues in 2016 not to mention Perez has a little pop in the bat as well.
As we look for upgrades near the trade deadline and additions that can elevate this team, Perez is clearly one of the biggest. Catcher has been a black hole for the Indians, and there is no reason to believe Perez will not play at a league average level, which is a massive marginal value gain.