September 13, 2012
Salvador Perez and the Art of Setting Up
Jeff Zimmerman wrote an interesting post on Wednesday morning over at Royals Review, in which he claimed that Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez was tipping Will Smith’s pitches during his start on Tuesday night against the Twins. Zimmerman shows Perez, preparing to receive a breaking ball, remaining in his rest position until Smith lifts his leg, rather than giving his pitcher a firm target. Zimmerman’s interpretation was that the Twins noticed this and used it to try to steal on Smith’s breaking ball.
My first impression was that it would be awfully difficult for a baserunner to ascertain the catcher’s posture and try to get the jump necessary to steal third at the same time. I went back and looked at some of the footage, and although I believe Perez is hurting is team in a rather subtle way—as we’ll examine later—I have something of a different take on how and why. Here’s one of the examples Zimmerman cited, a curveball to Pedro Florimon in the fifth with men at first and second and none out. Note the change in Perez’s stance as Smith goes through his motion:
Perez isn’t tipping pitches—he’s disguising them. A runner at second probably can’t read the catcher and pitcher simultaneously and then steal third, but he can see what side of the plate the catcher has signaled for and communicate that to the batter. Perez wants to wait as long as he can before making that information public, so he remains at rest until the last possible moment. Different teams handle this transition differently—you’ve probably seen many versions of this move from various catchers over the years—but that’s the thinking behind it.
In Zimmerman’s defense, Perez generally gives away the location a little more for the fastball, but he still begins in his rest position before establishing a firm target only after his pitcher has started his delivery. Here’s a first-inning 0-1 fastball to Josh Willingham with a runner on second: