Roberto Perez makes Yan Gomes’ Days Off Bearable

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For the last month or so, Cleveland Indians fans have been subject to Roberto Perez behind the plate. Yan Gomes, being one of the best catchers in all of baseball, was of course sorely missed after Rajai Davis of Detroit decided to distribute wanted posters of himself in Cleveland. The love of Yan in the Wigwam is iron clad, pure and sweet as a mountain spring of delicious Fresca, but at the same time it was a nice little tryst with Roberto. We knew it wouldn’t last, and had no expectations, but damn if it hasn’t been lovely.

For all Perez can’t do, for all the Gomes he isn’t, I’ll go so far as to say he is the best backup catcher in Major League Baseball.

Maybe my judgement is flawed, and I’ll admit haven’t had much exposure to other backup backstops lately. Bryan Holliday on Detroit is alright, Sal Perez has no backup because his manager is a part-time nutcase, and Bryan Pena exists. I think David Ross has a job in Chicago. That’s all I have off the top of my head. It’s an unglamourous position, for good reason.

Catchers are often unnoticed compared to other, flashier positions and since they wear all that armor it’s hard to tell offhand whether it’s the guy you think it is. During a recent Tribe-Reds broadcast, the announcer on TV called the Tribe catcher Santana a couple times. If a broadcaster has that problem I feel comfortable not having a firm grip on second string catchers and their areas of dominance.

Perez is quite the awesome player though. He is no less than excellent defensively. His biggest highlight this year is a blown defensive play, when Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox scored the eventual deciding run on a wild pitch. He made the play but the ball popped out of his glove. Besides that he’s been a rock. He’s got a .280 caught stealing percentage, good for 15th in baseball and according to Inside Edge he’s made all plays that were a 40% chance of success or better, and 10% of all “impossible” plays. Impossible things are typically pretty hard to do, so the man is doing something right. Plus he gunned down Billy Hamilton, a rare and incredible feat. He’s built like a fire hydrant, much more conventionally sized for a catcher than Gomes or even Perez in KC.  Sometimes you wonder if he’s actually sitting down behind the plate with how short his legs are. But it works for him whether blocking the plate or with a quick pop time. And it makes for results.

A good glove is all it takes to be a great backup catcher. That and and a good grasp of situational defense. That’s not all Perez has though. He’s walked 21 times as of the this writing, one of the best numbers on the Tribe. His .339 on-base percentage is 160 points higher than his batting average. If nothing else the man finds a way on base.

At the risk of resurrecting Billy Mays — but wait, there’s more!

His swing is the most selfish I’ve seen in baseball in a long time, in a good way. It doesn’t matter the count or the situation, if Perez is at the plate it’s going to be the biggest swing you’ve ever seen. Every time. It’s an amazing approach, I feel like most of us would bat that way if given the chance. He just wants to cream the hell out of the ball if he sees even a glimmer of a chance to make contact. I’m beginning to think he never learned how to choke up on the bat. Just the other day he hit a high, arcing homer into the wind that if he’d shortened up on at all, would have flown out to right. He plays like it’s his last shot too. He seems to fight every at-bat and runs like a stub-legged demon to first with every contact, a huge underdog batting under the Mendoza Line that is second on his team in walks. Even as it began he could see his time in the sun coming to an end, took every opportunity and ran with it.

Yan coming back is a good thing, and even as he gets back in the groove he’ll need a break from time to time. Knees and catchers are rarely friends, even in the best of times. Having Perez able to step in is a luxury really no team has. There’s not likely to be a huge dropoff now that the pitching staff is more comfortable with Perez and he’s proven himself to not be a black hole of offense when asked to play. He knows he’s forged himself a place on the roster for a long time. If he doesn’t then Tito should give him a good talking to.

Next: Webb should replace Shaw as the Tribe's set-up man

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