Petriello’s case is more of a conversation starter than anything, noting the similar OPS+ marks for both catchers through their age 30 seasons; both debuted at the same age (21), and Perez is currently at 101*, while Molina was at 99 at the same age. Yadier was already getting some Hall of Fame buzz by this point (2013 was his age-30 season), but Salvador hasn’t seen a similar outpouring of Hall support that Yadi had at that age. So why is that the case? Petriello mentions a few other similarities between the two as well, including their defense and intangibles.
*I’m going to be using stats only through the 2020 season and ignoring the first few days of 2021, since that’s when Petriello’s original comparison was made.
So let’s just start from the top. Using rate stats made me a little suspicious; that can be a good way to gloss over major playing time disparities, which might explain the difference. In this case… it’s not the full story, but it is part of the issue. Molina through 2013 had over 200 more games played than Perez does at this point, thanks to the shortened 2020 season and Perez missing all of 2019 for Tommy John surgery. And in comparing those lines, I noticed the other major issue with this comparison: Molina’s age-29 and -30 seasons were his two best ones, with the backstop finishing fourth and third in MVP voting those years, respectively. Baseball-Reference puts his combined value from those seasons at 13.4 Wins Above Replacement, while Fangraphs (thanks in part to their inclusion of catcher framing) has him at 15.5. That’s a lot of value that Perez just doesn’t have.
In fairness to Perez, his shortened 2020 was fantastic, and over a full season, it may have looked a little like Molina’s 2013 campaign. His offensive rate stats were better, with a 160 OPS+ to Molina’s 133 mark. But again, a 160 OPS+ over 37 is still no match for a 133 mark over 274 games (especially given that 37 games removes a lot of the wear and tear a catcher might face; there’s no guarantee he’d keep it that high over 240 more games, so we can’t just multiply it by six or something). If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it seems like Perez is still capable of having an MVP-caliber season like Molina’s, but the problem is still that Molina actually has two MVP-caliber seasons rather than just the potential for one.
Of course, there are other issues in this comparison that hurt Perez. For example, let’s look at their status as “catching gods” that Petriello mentions. I’m assuming he’s referring to defense, and that is an area where Perez is usually highlighted; he has five Gold Gloves, after all (Molina was at the same point by this age, and has gone on to win four more since then).
Of course, as we’ve seen in other cases, two players can both be “good at defense”, and one can still far outrank the other in value that they bring in. See, for instance, the Ozzie Smith-Omar Vizquel comparisons that have cropped up since Vizquel reached the ballot, which note that both are historically great shortstops (which is true!) while still obscuring that most advanced stats we have on the matter still put Ozzie Smith ahead by quite a bit, usually something like 100 full runs saved ahead of Omar.
That is another one of the factors complicating the Molina-Perez comparison. Perez is good at catching, but there’s still a good gulf between him and Yadier by just about any metric that we have. Total Zone Rating? Perez has saved 59 runs, while Molina saved 108 through the same age (and is now at 149). Runners caught stealing? Perez has 189, while Molina had 236 at this age (and has reached 350 since). Caught stealing percentage? Molina again has the edge, 40%-35%, and by Sal’s current age, already had four seasons that matched or bested Perez’s career high of 48% (and given that Perez is only at the start of his 30s and just had an arm surgery, it wouldn’t be shocking to see this gap grow wider). Catcher Framing? Both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus say Yadier is one of the best catchers on record at framing pitches, saving hundreds of runs, while this is one of the few weak spots in Salvador’s defense.
Of course, there are still a lot of things we don’t know how to quantify exactly when it comes to catcher defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that Molina has the edge there as well. For one example of this, back in my Future Hall of Fame Hitters piece for the year, I linked to a Fangraphs article about this phenomenon. One point they visualize is that not only has Molina caught a large number of opposing base stealers, but teams have also attempted notably fewer steals against the Cardinals during his tenure when compared to the rest of the league, which has a compounding effect on total steals.
I ran a simple search covering just the span of Perez’s career to see if the Royals stand out similarly. In the stolen bases allowed category, the Cardinals were of course well ahead of the rest of the league, but the Royals weren’t even in second place here; they were 18 steals allowed behind the runner-up Diamondbacks, who were in turn 106 steals behind St. Louis. So once again, Perez isn’t bad at throwing out runners, it’s just that Molina really is on a different level from everyone else.
And it doesn’t appear that Perez’s presence deters attempts in the way that Molina’s does, either. The Cardinals’ lead in opponents’ Stolen Base Attempts during this span is similarly massive, 556 to the Diamondbacks’ 698. And the Royals’ total of 732, while third place, is much closer to the fourth-place Indians (756) than either of those two. Even changing the span to end at 2018, prior to Perez’s injury, doesn’t move the Royals up the rankings, in either category.
We can probably treat a lot of the other “intangibles” in a similar manner. Perez and Molina both have postseason success, but Molina has notably more of it, playing on two World Series champs and four total pennant winners to Perez’s one and two. And Molina has a lot more postseason experience beyond that, making it to October in eleven of his seventeen seasons; Perez just has 2014 and 2015. I don’t really think we should be punishing Hall candidates for a lack of postseason success, but I do think it can serve as extra credit (especially for edge cases). In either case, Perez clearly has a lot of ground to make up here, and given the state of both teams in 2021 and going forward, I’m really not sure he can make up a gap that big.*
*And the Cardinals of course have a much better record during Yadi’s reign than the Royals do in Sal’s, if you’re the type of Hall voter that thinks it’s evidence of their leadership or something. In my opinion, that seems even more specious than the postseason success reasoning, but given there are still plenty of less statistically-inclined Hall voters, and they’re the ones who will likely be the ones making intangibles-heavy cases, it’s probably worth keeping in mind, at least.
Of course, there’s another thing that could be an issue with my evaluation: I’ve always felt a bit more hesitant on Yadi’s Hall chances, at least relative to some of the other writers I’ve seen. My first full breakdown on his future Hall of Fame case, from back in 2013, came away optimistic about his chances.* But I also noted that he wasn’t all the way there yet.
*It wasn’t a full article, but my earliest writing of any length on the topic (that I can find) came as a blurb in a larger piece published partway through the 2010 season. I was concerned about his offensive downturn as a 27-year-old and what that might mean for his future. Over a decade later, it’s probably safe to say that was just a momentary blip.
Here we are eight years later, and at this point, I think it’s fair to say that he’s more than deserving of induction. But I also remember seeing people speaking about him as a future Hall of Famer for years already, even back in 2013. I had reasons for my hesitance then. Part of it was a skepticism towards the “intangibles” arguments (at least, when they served as the bulk of his case), and part of it was that we did not yet have as good of an idea how much Yadier’s defense was worth; but a significant part of it was also how good he’s been in the time since (not every catcher can remain a solid contributor that long into their 30s!).
But one of the bigger question this does raise is, how do the earlier adopters of “Yadier for Cooperstown” see him, and how does that affect their view of Perez? Particularly the people who already thought Yadier was already a clear Hall of Famer back in the early 2010s, for whom the last decade or so has been just a particularly thick layer of icing on the cake.* Like, I think Molina is in the Hall, but I don’t know if he’s so far above the bar that a player who is, say, 75% as good would deserve induction.
* I guess for most people, excessive icing ruins the cake, so maybe this analogy doesn’t work. But I don’t mind it, so I’m sticking with it.
But if you’re one of the people who think he’s an inner-circle type, maybe being 75% as good is more than enough. Perez could easily hit that, I think. Of course, I also don’t know how big this voting bloc is, or if it would be enough to get Perez close to induction. But given how momentum-based Hall voting can be, even if it’s only something like 30% of the electorate, starting at that point could be more than enough to get some players to Cooperstown one day.
At this point, I’m not going to completely write off Salvador Perez’s Hall of Fame chances. He’s still young enough to add a lot to his case, there are plenty of examples throughout history of Hall of Fame players who have done that, and Perez’s strong 2020 showed that he’s a great player who is more than capable of joining that group. But he’s also not quite as neat as match for Yadier Molina through age 30 as it might appear at first glance. And barring some eventual Veterans Committee weirdness down the line or a narrative build up while he’s on the Baseball Writers’ Hall ballot, Perez is probably going to need to be even better in his 30s than Molina has been to secure a plaque.