Salvador Perez and the History of Catchers’ Homers
Author: Amy Cooper
Salvador Perez made his major league debut on August 10th 2011 and hit his first career home run on August 29th. He was the sixth youngest player to appear in the majors that year at just 21. He had only advanced past A ball that same year, collecting 358 at bats between AA and AAA. While catchers are notoriously slow developers, Perez hit .292 with 13 homers in 496 big league at bats at the age of 23.
Since his MLB debut, he’s led all players who have predominantly played in catcher in home runs. He’s accomplished this despite missing all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. In 2021, at age 31, Perez is having his best power year. He hit his thirtieth homer of the season on Sunday. His previous career high was 27 homers, which he reached in both 2017 and 2018. Perez is currently in the top 5 in baseball in homers. Where might his season rank historically among catchers? And where does Perez himself rank?
If Perez remains in the top ten in homers, it will be the first time a player who primarily played catcher finishes in the top ten in home runs since Javy Lopez whallopped 43 dingers in 2003. The only catcher to lead baseball in home runs is Johnny Bench, who did it twice before he turned twenty-five. He mashed 45 homers (most ever in a season for a catcher) in 1970 at the age of 22. Two years later he hit 40 to lead baseball again. Perez currently sits at 30, 20 of which have come in 350 at bats while playing catcher and 10 of which have come in 93 at bats in which was DHing. His 2021 home run total is the 46th season of 30 or more homers most by a player who predominantly played catcher.
Only nine of these 46 seasons have come since the turn of the century, despite increased home run totals throughout baseball. Perez is just the third predominant backstop to have a 30 homer season in the last ten years. Since 2011, there have been just three 30 home run seasons by players who primarily played catcher (Gary Sanchez in 2017 and 2019, Mitch Garver in 2019.) Going back further to the year 2000, there’s been an additional five seasons, three by a guy named Mike Piazza, who leads all players who predominantly caught in career home runs. (Piazza in 2000, 2001, 2002, Charles Johnson in 2000, Jorge Posada in 2003.) Career-wise, among players who have played at least 3/4ths of their games at catcher, Perez is already 22nd among catchers in home runs with 182. Perez has achieved this while appearing in ten seasons but has only been able to get at least 400 bats in seven seasons. Piazza is the all time leader in homers by a catcher with 427. While it isn’t probable that Perez approaches Piazza’s record, if he has a few more seasons with similar production, he will find himself on the top ten list. The tenth spot is currently occupied by Javy Lopez and Roy Campanella who sit at 260.
Another impressive part of Perez’s season is he did not miss a game until August. Most starting catchers missed their first game of the season the first time their team played a day game following a night game. Perez either caught or was the DH. Last year, when Perez was coming back from Tommy John Surgery, there was talk of him playing first base often. Fantasy owners aren’t interested in how many games Perez plays at first or at DH, as long as he qualifies at catcher. The extra playing time is a boon.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is that Perez has reached his power ranking while batting .270 throughout his career. It often seems in fantasy that when it comes to the position of catcher, you can either have home runs or have someone who won’t hurt you in batting average. There are currently five catchers who have enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. Perez leads these players in BA with a .278 batting average. The only other catcher who has at least 20 homers on the season so far this year is Mike Zunino. For all Zunino offers in pop, he’s batting just .209 on the year. That can damage a fantasy team, especially in Roto. The only other two catchers with at least 15 homers batting over .250 are Will Smith (17 homers, .263 BA) and Buster Posey (15 homers, .331 BA). Perez has been the best catcher fantasy-wise in 2021. Where he ranks all time, we will know after Perez finishes what is hopefully a long career. In the meantime I won’t be surprised if he’s the number one catcher to go in 2022 redrafts. Given the power and solid batting average, as well as the Royals’ willingness to play him at DH, I might even reach for him.
*all information from stathead.com and baseball-almanac.com