Cleveland Indians: Roberto Perez, number-one catcher

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians received contributions from some unexpected sources in 2019, but no player was more pleasantly surprising than Roberto Perez.

When Yan Gomes was dealt to the Washington Nationals last November, there was a high level of concern regarding just what the front office of the Cleveland Indians thought they were doing.

Michael Brantley was pretty clearly not coming back to Cleveland for the 2019 season, and the Indians had presumably weakened another part of their regular lineup by trading away a starter and getting no obvious immediate value in return.

Further compounding what looked like a questionable decision at the time was that the Tribe had traded top catching prospect Francisco Mejia at the 2018 deadline for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber.

That left Roberto Perez as the top candidate to replace Gomes behind the plate, a prospect that appeared less than ideal on paper as winter crept over Cleveland.

Perez had never taken more than 250 plate appearances in a season, and his last campaign with an on-base percentage above .300 was in 2015. 2015 was also the last time Perez slugged above .400, and twice since then he had come in with a mark below .300.

Gomes was not an offensive standout in his own right, but the decision to turn over everyday catching responsibilities to a player with Perez’s track record at the plate was not met with resounding approval.

Perez would go on to prove himself in one of the most unlikely of breakout campaigns throughout the league in 2019. If Perez’s career-high 24 homers can be largely attributed to the new baseballs in use, so be it. But then it must also be acknowledged that he was one of only six catchers to reach that threshold despite ranking ninth in total plate appearances at the position.

Perez ranked sixth among MLB catchers in fWAR at 3.0, ahead of household names like Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez.

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But as impressive as Perez’s hitting numbers were (at least compared to what was expected from him), nothing he did at the plate compares to what he did behind it.

Perez didn’t just lead all MLB catchers in defensive runs saved with 29, he led all MLB players. As for his positional counterparts, the second-highest DRS among catchers with enough defensive innings to qualify was J.T. Realmuto with 11. Perez allowed zero passed balls in 993 2/3 innings.

Passed balls are the type of occurrence that even the occasional stroke of bad luck should result in at least a few of them throughout the course of a season. He didn’t allow one. If Perez doesn’t win the AL Gold Glove for his efforts behind the dish in 2019, the award may as well lose all legitimacy.

Next. A fan poll on 2019 postseason viewing. dark

For as many disappointments as the 2019 season ultimately yielded, and as many question marks as the Indians have going forward to 2020, one thing is for certain: The Tribe has a genuine number-one catcher, and his name is Roberto Perez.