In yet another year in which the Brewers failed to make the playoffs, there were plenty of surprises along the way to help alleviate the stress of another losing season. A handful of trades dug the depth within the farm system to yet another level, potentially setting the team up even more for competition in future years. Young players received ample opportunities to show their worth. Junior Guerra, well, we all know what Guerra did. But frequently forgotten about is the year Hernan Perez put together.
Claimed off waivers from the Tigers back in 2015, Perez brought versatility that was a signature addition to the tone that many gave last year’s Brewers team. So many times, people have characterized this group as competitive and always fighting to the last out, despite being mismatched in terms of talent on the field. Craig Counsell recently mentioned it during his appearance at Brewers On Deck this past weekend. The usage of Perez as a utility man was one of the many igniters to that formula.
Perez boasted career-high numbers in all three primary offensive categories (.272 average, .302 OBP and .428 SLG). Like so many other players on the team, he capitalized with the chances he was given. Taking a glimpse at the advanced offensive stats, a signifying reason behind this stems from his ability to place the ball in all fields of play. Of all the batted balls he made contact with, 36.9 percent of were pulled, 35.6 percent went up the middle and 27.4 percent were driven to the opposite field. It’s always encouraging to see a player like his caliber relish in letting pitches get in on his hands and letting his bat angle create proper contact with the ball. Here’s a spray chart that illustrates what I’m talking about:
Could this be due to the familiarity Perez has with Hitting Coach Darnell Coles? The two spent a year with each other back in 2014 in Detroit. A tip of the cap can definitely be saluted toward Coles when one considers the adjustments other young players such as Orlando Arcia and Keon Broxton made along the way as well.
Getting back to Perez, his offensive coming out party cannot be discussed without acknowledging the spike in home runs. It reminds me of when Jabari Parker hits a 3-pointer for the Bucks. Last season, seeing him hit a shot from deep was like seeing a bald eagle in the wild. It just didn’t happen much. This season he’s constantly stroking it from deep with a 37.3 percentage. Now, there’s still a vast difference in the comparison I’m attempting to make, but you should get the gist of it. By the later months of the season, we grew accustomed to seeing Perez go yard.
Perez put 13 balls over the fence in 2016. Looking back through his stats, even in the MiLB, he failed to hit more than eight in a season and had never eclipsed single digits. That improvement at the dish also translated into a very satisfying 53 RBIs, a number very few Brewers fans could’ve predicted prior to Opening Day.
Despite the excitement Perez produced, it’s important for fans to not overhype the utility man for the upcoming season. Everyone knows how tough Major League pitching is and how difficult it is to produce at an above-average level of play year in and year out. Flashes such as the one Perez provided last season can force fans into a world of disbelief, especially when it comes in the time of a rebuild. The same can be said about Junior Guerra, Keon Broxton and Orlando Arcia’s final month.
The main component of Perez’s game that fans should keep an eye on is his plate discipline. Going into the heat maps of his play, it’s discovered that a pattern of swinging at pitches outside the zone comes into play:
As one might imagine, that developed into some areas of concern regarding his BB/K ratio. Opposing pitchers were able to strikeout Perez 21.9 percent of the time, while he was only able to reach first via the walk 4.2 percent of the time. That’s definitely one of the primary adjustments Perez needs to make this upcoming season if he wants to continue serving as a utilizable talent.
If Perez can boost his OBP even just a small handful of points, it might spin into drastic improvement for the Brewers. The offense lost Chris Carter in the offseason, but it also picked up big bats in the names of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw. Perez ranked fourth in the National League in stolen bases with 34 and was caught only seven times. Coupled with the speed and OBP of Jonathan Villar, the Brewers could frustrate opposing teams on the base paths. But it all cycles back to the ability to get on base, and by limiting his strikeouts and boosting his walk rate, Perez has a better chance of causing havoc.
The other area of improvement fans can cross their fingers for comes in the field. We all know Perez serves as a utility man, as the stats below indicate:
The numbers show a clear favor toward a familiarity with the infield, and rightfully so. Perez is a natural infielder and has expanded his game to reach the outfield grass. Moving forward, more action in the outfield should be on the radar. It’s likely that’s where some playing time might open up. There are questions about staying healthy with players such as Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana (knock on wood), along with the occasional slump from Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Keon Broxton. Now, who knows when Lewis Brinson will be called up to the big league level but with Villar and Arcia managing the middle-infield positions and Travis Shaw likely holding down third base, it’s unclear how many starts Perez will receive in the dirt. That makes it even more crucial for him to expand his skill set to a further level in the outfield.
If I were to put money on it, I’d say that Perez produces at a level slightly below last season’s. Obviously I’m hoping he continues his rise of improvement, but in times such as these, I try to keep my expectations tampered and will graciously accept any further improvements that come our way. Seasons like the one coming up in a few months lay the foundation for players such as Perez. If he’s able to continue his advancement, he could play a very vital role on this team as they begin to contend in the coming years.