The Brewers may face something of a roster crunch entering 2019, or at the very least a potential wave of contractual non-tenders. A non-tender is a basic roster tool that allows the Brewers to release a player facing salary arbitration or a renewal contract for the coming season; these are typically players that can be released for little or no cost to the organization. In combination with the depressed league minimum and arbitration salaries, the ability to non-tender these players is what makes these players valuable to organizations, when compared to players with guaranteed contracts (for example, if the Brewers wanted to release Lorenzo Cain, they would have to pay the balance of his $80 million contract, compared to Keon Broxton, who can be released for very little). According to Cot’s Contracts, the Brewers have 15 players potentially entering salary arbitration, and (at least) another 15 players under reserve; that’s a lot of roster decisions for GM David Stearns, especially when one considers that the GM will be building off of his second consecutive contending team.
On the face of it, Hernan Perez looks like a potential non-tender candidate. If one cites the “bubble gum slash” of batting average (AVG) / on-base percentage (OBP) / slugging percentage (SLG), Perez’s .267 / .301 / .424 line looks like relatively easy production to replace. According to the Baseball Prospectus Team Audit, Perez’s True Average (TAv) of .276 ranks sixth among players with more than 200 plate appearances. By total Wins Above Replacement Player (1.1), Perez’s overall batting and fielding production ranks sixth on the team. When one assesses his three-(and a half)-year WARP profile against his remaining two years of salary arbitration, Perez exhibits a depreciated surplus of approximately $14 million and a maximum surplus of approximately $17 million. In short, taking into consideration park context, league context, fielding context, and long-term production makes Perez’s profile look better than his surface statistics, but the superutility player hardly appears to be indispensable (for example, Scooter Gennett boasted a depreciated surplus of approximately $11 million and maximum surplus of approximately $15 million when the Brewers released him). Now, there are more data to reassess the valuation of perhaps the best rag-tagger among our Beloved Milwaukee Nine.
As I’ve written in the past (see above links in “Related Reading”), the value of Hernan Perez goes well beyond simple replacement player theory and surface statistics. Specifically, the fielding flexibility profile of Perez is historically singular, which should not be viewed as mere trivia. My past arguments about Perez can be summarized in such a manner: while Perez may not be viewed as a true starting player, he fills the gap between minor-league replacements and short-term, part-time roster filler in a manner that significantly improves his value. Basically, manager Craig Counsell can trust Perez to be relatively competent at the plate, surely better than nearly any organizational depth minor-league call-up, while also provided decent infield defense and excellent outfield defense (including a rather solid right field arm).
At Baseball Prospectus, Russell A. Carlton recently provided defensive data to analyze replacement fielding depth across the league, in order to address concerns about how to value fielding in the “Wins Above Replacement Player” model. Carlton’s feature is necessary reading to get into the “guts” of fielding, especially to answer the question of how good, or bad, a player might be expected to be if they simply move to a new fielding position. If I may expand on Carlton’s argument, I believe this defensive analysis can further improve claims about Perez’s fielding value: basically, hardly anyone across the league is able to provide consistent, quality, flexible defense, especially not when they are moved to new fielding positions (on average). This amplifies Perez’s value because it suggests that the “replacement cost” for “oh crap, I need a right fielder” (or “oh crap, I need a second baseman”, or “oh crap, I need [insert any other fielding position here]”) is much higher than the seemingly minimal cost of expending a 40-man roster spot and prorated league minimum salary (e.g., prorating the league minimum salary to the number of days needed at a given position). Hernan Perez provides two clear advantages to Counsell (and Stearns): he’s now a known quantity at every defensive position except catcher, and he’s already on the roster every. day. of. the. season. This cost certainty and role certainty should not be underrated.
To expand on this logic, I assembled two “back-of-the-envelope” analyses of Perez’s profile. First, I sought to assess his fielding profile in comparison to other part-time fielders across the league. These players were limited in two ways: on the one hand, I analyzed players with fewer than 75 percent of their fielding games at a position serving as starts (this arguably seeks out flexibility and in-game substitutions). On the other hand, I analyzed players within a certain threshold of Hernan Perez’s games at a given position (ranging from 40 at second base to fewer than 10 games at first base and center field). This amounted to more than 130 second basemen, 150 right fielders, 120 third basemen, 150 left fielders, 70 short stops, 100 first basemen, and 75 center fielders. These numbers alone should begin to demonstrate Perez’s value, and using the scouting-based Baseball Info Solutions Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) statistic underscores Perez’s value across each position:
|DRS by Position||Games||Perez||<75% GS||G Threshold||Difference|
On the whole, Perez is at least one run better than the average fielding player making less than 75 percent of their starts at the positions he plays, and he’s at least three runs better than the average fielding player working a comparable number of fielding games at each position. This type of profile should be compounded, however, when one considers that in each “replacement case” (i.e., each time Counsell and Stearns need to produce a RF, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, 1B, CF), the Brewers could have implemented another substitution or roster strategy requiring multiple players. Instead, the Brewers employ one player who is not materially worse than the average MLB comparison at each position, and who is in many cases better than the average MLB comparison at each position. Milwaukee has somehow landed on the flexible defensive roster replacement that they can employ throughout the season and receive overall quality play across the board.
My second question was simple: how do these players bat? Here I collected the batting stats of each individual player involved at these fielding positions, and assessed average, median, and <300 PA (comparable to Perez’s workload at the plate) batting statistics. For ease of calculation, I used basic Runs Created per Plate Appearance, which leans heavily on hits, walks, and total bases without sweating the small stuff. The table below summarizes these analyses, focusing on the basic slash line (AVG / OBP / SLG), Runs Created, and Power Speed number (PwrSpd), which I included because Hernan Perez is fighting to finish 2018 as a Top 50 Power Speed player (which takes the harmonic mean between Stolen Bases and Home Runs, or [(2*HR*SB)/(HR+SB)]).
Any sense that Perez is a liability at the plate ought to be called into question when compared with the batting production of relevant replacements. First and foremost, the Power Speed profile should not be underplayed, as that is a key area of the Brewers’ team batting identity and thus Perez’s value is amplified by meeting several important criteria for their run production (e.g., he can hit homers and steal bases). Second, the comparable players that the Brewers could employ to meet Perez’s defensive workload at each position….are not very good on the whole. Thus Perez is anywhere from one-to-eight runs better than his potential replacements, depending on how one prorates their batting production.
On the whole, Hernan Perez remains a singular player in the history of baseball. As more teams work to employ positional-flexible players, it will always be worth questioning the importance of Perez is demonstrating that that type of role can be truly playable in the MLB. It must be the case that as opposing GMs and managers watch the Brewers over the years, they wonder “How can I get my own Hernan?” Additionally, Perez can play nearly every position on the diamond with passable-to-good defense, while out-producing his potential replacements when he enters the batter’s box. As a bonus, Perez employs a dynamic offensive profile, meaning that he can hit the ball far when he runs into one, and he can cause some amount of trouble on the basepaths.
When the roster crunch comes this winter, do not pencil Hernan Perez into the “non-tender” category based on his surface performance and the fact that he is a “bench player.” In fact, much like other oddly-profiled players making a name for themselves in Milwaukee (everyone from Junior Guerra and Manny Pina to Josh Hader and even Jesus Aguilar come to mind here), there is a chance that Perez is one of the underrated reasons this whole operation works. Indeed, the team-building success in 2017 and 2018 demonstrates that there is a certain class of profiessional that is, simply, “a Brewers player.” I would even argue that given the future potential costs of developing this type of player, or replacing them, the Brewers ought to offer a contract extension to Perez. The Brewers’ superutility player could easily be worth a three-year, $20 million contract range, and if the club leverages Perez’s arbitration status for a lower contractual figure it should be viewed as a significant bargain.