Every week, while the fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus is rolling out our positional series, we will be running a “Tale of the Tape” series as well. For the new readers out there, or those who just don't remember the series from last year, it will be an in-depth, category-by-category comparison between two players who are ranked right next to each other in the positional rankings. We start this week with a battle between a couple of backstops, Russell Martin and Salvador Perez. The former is a veteran coming off the best year of his career, while the latter is a young player coming off the worst year of his short career. So, if you find yourself deciding between one or the other for 2015 only, let’s take a deeper look at how they match up.
A big part of both Martin’s career year and Perez’s down year was batting average. The new Blue Jay’s .290 mark was his best since 2007, while Perez’ .260 was 32 points lower than any mark he’s posted in his short MLB tenure. Looking purely at that, it’d be easy to give the edge to Martin, but the years prior to 2014 tell an entirely different story. From 2011-2013, Martin hit just .225, while Perez hit .301 in 989 plate appearances over the same span. Now, Martin showed some encouraging signs that point to his higher average staying, including a lower strikeout rate and a much-improved line-drive rate. On the other hand, Perez was hurt by a career-high K rate and O-swing rate. Both were also affected by BABIPs that belied their career norms. So, with all of the information we have, I’m confident in Martin hitting better than he did from 2011-2013, but would guess he won’t match the 2014 heights again. In the same vein, Perez may not get back to the .300 plateau next season, but he should improve upon his 2014 success. I would guess both players finish in the .270-.290 range, giving the edge to the youngster.
Advantage: Perez, very slightly
While batting average was a very tough call to make, those in OBP leagues will have a much easier decision. With their prospective AVGs looking to finish very closely, this battle will come down to who will draw more walks, and it is really no contest. Perez is the definition of a hacker, swinging at anything and everything and drawing free passes in just four percent of his plate appearances. However, Martin has been one of the better catchers at drawing walks in his career, culminating in his .402 OBP season in 2014. While he won’t be quite that good next year, he consistently draws walks in more than 10 percent of his plate appearances, and that rate has been trending upward, blowing Perez out of the water.
Like with AVG, HR is another category in which both players figure to finish relatively closely. Though Martin had the best overall offensive year of his life last season, his eleven dingers was his lowest total since 2009. Perez had a down year at the plate, but his 17 homers represented the best power showing of his career. Martin’s batted-ball distance tells a different story, though, as his fly-ball average of 292 feet handily beats Perez’ and is consistent with his career average. On top of that, he’ll now be playing his home games at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to offset the big age difference between the two, Martin’s high ground-ball rate compared to Perez’ fly-ball approach or the way both have been trending in the power department.
Advantage: Perez, slightly
Runs Batted In
This category is tough to judge without knowing exactly where each player will bat in their respective lineups, but it’s we can make some educated guesses in that area. While the Blue Jays’ revamped lineup looks terrifying for opponents, Martin figures to be hitting near the top, giving him fewer opportunities with men on base. Perez, though, should be back in the middle of Kansas City’s lineup. Judging by their recent past, they should both finish with around the same extra-base hit rate, but Perez gets the edge here given his likely placement in Kansas City’s lineup.
While the lineup placement will hurt Martin and help Perez in RBI, the situations reverse for runs scored. With the assumption that he will spend much of his time in the two-hole in Toronto’s lineup, Martin will have the privilege of batting ahead of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson on a regular basis. Perez, on the other hand, will be in front of guys like Mike Moustakas, Alex Rios and Omar Infante. This clear edge for Martin, combined with his superior OBP skills, make this one of the easier categories to call between these two.
My expert advice would be to not pick up either of these players with the idea of helping your overall stolen-base profile. Thank you for reading.
Really, though, neither guy is going to be anything close to a big contributor here. Alas, I have to pick someone, and the answer is somewhat obvious. Perez has one stolen base in his 403 career games. Martin actually used to be a solid base-stealer, with four straight double-digit campaigns to start his career. He’s slowed down considerably since then, but he’s still good for a few token stolen bases per year, which is more than I can say for Perez.
Both of these players have proven to be very durable at a position with more injury risk than any on the diamond outside of pitchers. Martin has hit the DL just once since 2011, with a three-week layoff due to a thigh injury last year. Perez has one DL stint in his big-league career, when he missed half of 2012 after undergoing knee surgery in spring training. So, we’re left with two issues to separate the two. Firstly, the age difference suggests the 32-year-old Martin is more likely to break down than the 25-year-old Perez. Secondly, Perez is coming off a year in which he caught 150 regular-season games with 15 additional postseason contests. The latter is more worrisome to me, since 32 still isn’t terribly old and Martin has been so durable over his career.
Advantage: Martin, slightly
If he can stay healthy, Perez could possibly see another huge workload in 2015. As of now, Kansas City’s backup catcher is Erik Kratz, who they presumably want to start as rarely as possible. Toronto, on the other hand, still has Dioner Navarro, who is good enough to justify resting Martin whenever he needs it. He’ll still probably get some starts at DH when he gets days off behind the plate, but if both remain healthy, Perez figures to rack up more games and plate appearances.
When his career is complete, it is very likely we’ll look back and consider 2014 to be Martin’s peak. While he still remains a strong offensive asset behind the plate, it’s hard to see him topping last season. Perez, though, almost certainly has not seen his best season yet. Even with his less-than-ideal plate discipline, he’s a talented hitter who squares up the ball very well and is yet to play his age-25 season. Obviously, there is clearly no guarantee that he will hit it, but Perez definitely has the higher ceiling as of right now.
When I started this, I was pretty sure I would come away with Salvador Perez as the clear victor in the matchup. After further review, it wound up being an extremely even tilt. Perez took five categories to Martin’s four. However, two of those categories were won in extremely close fashion that could have gone either way. One of Martin’s victories came in a category of very little consequence in the grand scheme of things, though. After careful consideration, I will go with the youngster with the higher ceiling.
And the winner is… Salvador Perez.
Thank you for reading
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