Royals star Salvador Perez homered for the fifth straight game Sunday afternoon, tying Mike Sweeney’s 19-year-old team record and ascending even higher among the most powerful seasons ever had by a catcher.
Perez went deep for the 38th time in a 4-3 loss to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, tying him for eighth all time for homers in a season among major leaguers who played at least 75 percent of their games at catcher. Perez's solo homer in the sixth inning also gave him the most in a season by an American Leaguer who caught that many games, surpassing Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk of the White Sox in 1985. The major league standard is 45 by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench of the Reds in 1970.
That mark and more are within reach for Perez, who hit eight homers, including a pair of grand slams, during the Royals’ 10-game road trip.
The only thing that’s surprising about Perez, manager Mike Matheny said Saturday, is that he can’t conjure a grand slam every time up.
“I mean, that’s just the kind of player he is right now,” Matheny said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Because 12 of Perez's home runs have come at designated hitter (and not when he was in the lineup as a catcher), he still has more work to do over the final 32 games of the season in chasing records that are recognized by MLB. He still needs nine home runs as a catcher to reach 35 and the all-time top 10 for that position over a single season. Doing so would tie Mike Piazza (who did it twice), Iván Rodríguez and Walker Cooper.
Perez has a good chance to get there, considering he has 12 homers in August and 28 since June 1. It’s just a matter of how often he can catch down the stretch and keep up his home-run pace.
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The record for most homers in a season by a player in the lineup at catcher belongs to Javy López of the Braves, who hit 42 of his 43 homers in 2003 while playing behind the plate. Five times in history has a catcher crossed the 40-dinger threshold. Todd Hundley and Roy Campanella also hit 40 or more as a catcher, and Piazza did it twice.
Even the greatest ever, Bench, takes a back seat to other catchers in this regard — when he hit 45 homers in 1970, 38 of them came as a catcher. Manager Sparky Anderson and the Reds were smart to use Bench at five other positions that season (including twice in center field!) to keep his bat in the lineup. Fisk in ‘85, too, hit 33 homers as a catcher and four as a designated hitter.
Since the start of the 2020 season, Perez has had one of the best rides of any player regardless of their defensive position. In that span, only Fernando Tatís Jr. of the Padres and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels have more home runs. Only five more players have more RBIs. Only six players have better isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). Perez is just outside of the top 20 for all players in weighted on-base average in that span, and he is ahead of, for example, Matt Olson of the Athletics, Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees and Max Muncy of the Dodgers.
So how is Perez, in his 10th major league season at age 31, having his best season — even beyond home runs?
Perez says one of the keys to his career-best power — and possibly having more endurance — is more strenuous workouts in the offseason. He’s also curious (asking hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and others) about how he can continue to refine his own approach at the plate. Perez says he feels more informed than ever about how opposing pitchers might attack him.
The extra muscle and brain power show in Perez's results.
- He's getting the barrel on the ball 15.3 percent of the time, which is in the top 8 percent of all hitters.
- He's hitting the ball harder than at any time since 2015 (when MLB's tracking system Statcast went online) with an average exit velocity of 92.7 mph, which is in the top 6 percent of the league.
- Along those lines, 55.3 percent of his contact is hard, which is in the top 2 percent of the league. Hard-hit means anything that leaves the bat at 95 mph or greater.
So, despite a career-high 26 percent strikeout percentage and a 3 percent walk percentage that's in the bottom 1 percent of the league — he had just 20 walks in 526 plate appearances heading into action Sunday — Perez is making it count when he makes contact.
He's always been the kind of player who hits the ball hard, strikes out relatively often and hardly ever walks. He definitely is maxing out traits he already has. But what else is happening?
For one, Perez has improved against breaking balls. He is batting .301 with a .564 slugging percentage and 11 home runs on breaking balls in 163 plate appearances. By far, it's the most success he's had on breaking pitches since he was a rookie in 2011. In his most recent full season of 2018, Perez batted .155 with a .292 slugging percentage over nearly the same number of breaking pitches.
Specifically, he is batting .333 with a .609 slugging percentage against sliders.
His fastball hitting has always been about what it is this season: .267 batting and .538 slugging with 21 homers on 964 fastballs (before clubbing an 89-mph sinker from Marco Gonzales that didn’t sink on Sunday).
And it's a good thing that Perez has adjusted to something other than a fastball because pitchers are throwing him fewer than ever over a full season. That’s where the preparation comes in. Perez’s most recent adjustments have made him one of the top power hitters in the majors.
Perez continuing his all-time power climb among catchers and nearing the Royals' single-season home run record (48 by Jorge Soler in 2019) give Kansas City fans fun side events to watch in the final month of the 2021 regular season.