Roberto Perez is one of the best game managing catchers in the league and his ability to get the most out of his pitchers is invaluable to the Cleveland Indians.
The Cleveland Indians made a big, if not surprising, move on November 30, 2018, when they moved their primary catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals. Many fans were shocked and upset by this move for two important reasons.
Gomes was coming off of an All-Star campaign in 2018 and has been a staple for the Tribe since joining the team in 2013. The Indians also lost several key hitters and with Gomes coming off of one of his better offensive season this move looked like part of a major overhaul.
His backup catcher, Roberto Perez, has now stepped up into the starting role, but that appears to leave the club with something to be desired. Perez has a career .205 batting average and that doesn’t look good for a team struggling to find offense in 2019.
Don’t be too hasty when judging the move, or Perez’s ability as a backstop. Obviously, his batting average leaves a lot to be desired, but he mitigates that deficiency with a proportionally high on-base percentage.
Perez carries a career 11.2% walk rate, which means that he is able to produce value without necessarily getting hits. Walk rate increases a hitters’ on-base percentage. That’s important because OBP literally measures the rate at which a hitter makes an out.
With his career walk more than double Gomes’ career 5.0%, Perez is able to make outs at a nearly statistically even rate. The difference in their career OBP is only .015.
Gomes averaged 348 PA per season as a starting catcher. Over that same span, the difference in their OBP only equates to 5 more outs over the course of an entire season. A significantly insignificant value when faced with a 162 game schedule.
Another aspect of Perez’s high walk rate is that it helped him to reach a career 5.2 fWAR, which, among the 19 American League catchers that have logged at least 900 plate appearances since Perez made his MLB debut in 2014, he ranks 8th in that category.
It is not, however, his offense that makes him such a valuable commodity for the Indians. That bit of gold is due to his high-level defense and game management. Among those same 19 AL catchers, Perez ranks 4th with 59.8 dRAA. All of the catchers above him have more time at the dish.
Where Perez really shines is in his game management, and particularly his management of the pitching staff.
Of course, we all are aware that Trevor Bauer much preferred to throw to Perez, 159.1 of his 175.1 innings last season were thrown to the Indians Puerto Rican catcher. We know how that turned out, Bauer struck out 211 batters and finished second in the AL with a 2.21 ERA.
That great season aside, Bauer wasn’t the only one that benefited from Perez’s game management. Roberto actually caught each of the Indians primary starters during the season and they all saw an uptick in their ability to suppress the opposing offenses when Perez was their battery mate.
When catching Corey Kluber, the Tribe ace performed better across the board. With Gomes behind the plate, Kluber held opponents to a .227/.263/.370 slash with a 6.06 K/BB. When Perez was his battery mate last year, opponents hit just .200/.219/.345 with a 14.00 K/BB.
The same holds true for Bauer. Of course, Perez caught Bauer more than any of the other Indians pitchers and unsurprisingly he pitched better when Perez was his backstop. When Gomes caught, Bauer’s opposition hit .234/.308/.298 with a 3.25 K/BB, while Perez was a little better with a .207/.281/.301 slash and a 3.89 K/BB.
Carlos Carrasco was the only Indians pitcher that was very consistent with both catchers, though Perez still arguably out caught Gomes in those instances. Gomes helped Carrasco hold offenses to a .241/.287/.380 batting line with a 5.47 K/BB. With Perez, Carrasco was just a slight bit better in all but slugging as teams hit .237/.279/.441 and a 5.57 K/BB.
Mike Clevinger may have the biggest disparity between the two catchers. When Gomes teamed up with Clevinger last season, sunshine’s opposing lineups hit .232/.304/.381 with a 2.74 K/BB. With Perez as his partner, Clevinger improved drastically to a .194/.249/.317 slash and a 4.67 K/BB.
Finally, Shane Bieber, like Carrasco, saw improvement in all but slugging when throwing to Perez. While Gomes paired with Bieber to allow a .289/.323/.466 slash and a 4.63 K/BB, Perez helped the rookie to a .265/.310/.471 slash with a 5.71 K/BB.
If two or three of the Indians starters pitched better when Perez was behind the plate as opposed to Gomes, that would most likely be an instance of luck more than any skill on the part of Perez, but for all five starters to show markedly better numbers when partnered with Perez is a clear sign that he managed the staff and the game better.
The starting staff all allowed hits and walks at a better rate with Perez and all but two showed a decrease in slugging (Bieber’s instance was statistically insignificant).
Gomes brings arguably the slightly better bat to the table, but the difference in the production of the starting staff more than bridges the gap between the two backstops. The Tribe is in better hands when Perez is catching and the team will need his leadership behind the plate if they are going to compete for a pennant in 2019.