I’m going to say something which may ruffle some feathers. Salvador Perez is a little overrated. But I’m going to follow that up with something that hopefully will win everyone back, George Kottaras is very, very underrated. He’s also the best back-up catcher in baseball and is as much the reason The Royals are on this hot streak as anyone else on the team.
The praise for him online has been around for a while, long before he was on The Royals. Here is a Fangraphs article from last year, criticizing The A’s for using Derek Norris over Kottaras at catcher.
Meanwhile, Kottaras, in his incredibly limited amount of time, has outproduced Norris offensively. Norris may have the edge defensively, but it’s really not by that wide of a margin. Not wide enough to play an offensively inept guy in lieu of, that is. And while the offensive difference between the two hasn’t been that significant in August, the overall numbers for the season show that Kottaras is better suited to play during this home-stretch playoff run.
Kottaras is an incredibly modest guy who admits he tries to puts team first. He claims getting on base and trusting the guy behind you is the best philosophy to play with. Being quoted in this article:
“The whole ‘Trust the guy behind you’ really made sense finally,” he says. “It’s about patience and doing the little things. You don’t always get a pitch to bring in the guy from third with less than two outs. So if it’s not there, let it go. Take the walk and let the next guy have a shot at it.”
Originally I wanted this article to be a comparison between The Cardinals and The Royals and how they were doing (or did, now that Perez is back)without their starting catchers. Essentially comparing Kottaras to Cruz. But two paragraphs in I realized it was no contest, Kottaras was much better. So the comparison I want to make now is Kottaras versus Perez.
If you look at standard statistics, Perez is much better. Kottaras is hitting .176, 5 hrs, 12 rbis. Those stats place him statistically in line with other back-up catchers, and would indicate he is possibly one of the worst. Perez on the other hand is hitting .278, 4 hrs, 43 rbis. Perez is clearly better right? Not so fast.
When you evaluate their slash lines, it tells a different story. Kottaras: .176/.384/.432 verses Perez: .278/.309/.382. Kottaras is a walking machine. I realize his sample size is much smaller than everyday starters, but if Kottaras was able to maintain that as a starter, he would be 12th in all of baseball with on base pct. He’d also lead The Royals, just over Billy Butler. But what’s more impressive is his slugging pct. Kottaras slugging is about 50 points higher than Perez. Kottaras only has 13 hits this year, but 5 of them are homeruns and 4 of them are doubles. Kottaras’ objective at the plate seems to be to take a walk. But when he does decide to swing for a hit, he really makes it count. In his career, he has 143 hits. 40 have been for doubles and 29 for homeruns. His 2013 ISO is .257. And not to be accused of small sample size, his career ISO is .200. His career slash is .215/.328/.414. He has never posted an on base pct under .300 and has only finished twice with an on base under .310. But even with an impressive career .328 on base pct, it’s been even higher the last 2 years as a result of him coming to terms with what he does best. From the same article as above:
“Just keep the line moving,” Brett says(about Kottaras). “Each guy just keeps it all moving. Don’t be that guy that tries to win it all yourself. You have guys behind you.”
Still, Kottaras, 30, wasn’t able to connect that philosophy to his game right away. In his one full season in Boston and his next two in Milwaukee, his on-base percentages were a modest .308, .305 and .311.
“It took me a couple of years to totally understand that because when you’re in the minors or when you just get up to the big leagues,” he says, “you’re always searching and finding what you do right.”
Also, for the last 3 years, his slugging has been well over .400.
Since the All Star break, Kottaras has an OPS of .853. He is as hot as anyone else on the team, yet the general consensus in the media is The Royals were dying to get Perez back. When Kottaras was starting at catcher with Perez out, The Royals were 5-2. I’m not saying that Kottaras is necessarily better than Perez. In fact, he probably isn’t. But I do think he is much more in the conversation than people think.
Losing Perez for a while should have been a bigger blow. But Kottaras was there to really soften that blow. And unfortunately, to a much larger degree than he gets credit for.