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Perez-stroika: Royals Cut Neifi-rious Shortstop
2002-11-19 16:30
by Mike Carminati

Perez-stroika: Royals Cut Neifi-rious Shortstop

The Royals have released Neifi Perez and handed the starting shortstop job to rookie Angel Berroa. The buzz is that Perez' defense was on the decline since he won a Gold Glove in Coors in 2000, but I don't buy that.

Perez' 20 errors this season (only 19 at short and 1 at second base) are cited, but Perez had 18 the year that he won the Gold Glove. His fielding percentage (if that mattered) is just six one-thousandths below his Gold Glove year's figure. His Zone Rating (The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.) and Range Factor ((PO + A) * 9 divided by innings) have dropped since leaving Colorado, but it appears that instead of a dropoff, he has just established new performance levels after playing in a rather unusual stadium. Perez had similar fielding numbers his entire career in Colorado, and his numbers have been consistently lower in KC. I find it hard to believe that he just forgot how to play short when he arrived at the Royals' doorstep, especially given that his Rockie successor (Juan Uribe) has almost identical fielding numbers to his with Colorado. I know he aged three and one-half years since he was traded last year-he confessed that he was actually two years older than his playing age in spring training this year-but I would doubt that a fielder under 30 would have such a dramatic change. I also see no reason why it would happen when he left one team for another.

I believe that shortstops may have better numbers at Coors though I am not sure why. Perhaps, it's because of the number of flyballs that end up being home runs that there are more chances throughout the game and where would those chances most likely go? To short. Perhaps, it's because pitchers throw less junk at Coors and try to keep the ball down. Therefore, there are more ground balls to short on good pitches and more home runs on the mistake pitches. Perhaps, it's because his shoes are too tight.

Whatever the reason, I think Perez benefited by it to the tune of a Gold Glove. The Royals traded a useful player in Jermaine Dye to get Perez because they thought they were getting a slick-fielding shortstop with decent pop and the ability to score runs. What they got was a player who played a decent shortstop and hit four home runs, slugged around .300, had an OPS in the .560s, and scored only 83 runs in over 800 plate appearances.

Should the Royals have seen this coming? Well, he never had overwhelming numbers at Coors, just respectable ones. He has never been able to take a walk. He was hitting .298 when they acquired him but had only a .326 on-base percentage (16 walks in 403 plate appearances with Colorado in 2001). Also, Perez benefited greatly from Coors vast outfield, which should have been apparent from his high triple and double totals in Colorado. His average and power numbers dropped off greatly on the road throughout his Colorado years. His league-adjusted OPS was consistently under that of an average player.

OK, maybe they even realized that his offensive numbers would fall off, though perhaps not as much as they have. But did the Royals have any reason to suspect that his defensive numbers were bloated by playing on the Rockies? Well, his predecessor Walt Weiss had aberrantly high fielding numbers at Coors as did his predecessor, Vinny Castilla, who was switched to third because of his range. Should they have known? Coors' affect on fielding stats is not widely discussed, but couldn't they have checked it out before acquiring Perez?

So now the job is being handed to a 24-year rookie. That's got to be an improvement, right? Berroa batted .212 with a .355 slugging percentage at Triple-A Omaha with only 15 walks plus 84 K's in 293 at-bats. I hope his fielding is as good as the numbers from his 20-game tryout in 2002 indicate, because he is going to make Rey Ordonez look like Alex Rodriguez at the plate. At least he's cheaper than Perez.

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