Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 55 days
The pressure was on Roberto Perez for the 2019 season when the team traded mainstay and All-Star backstop Yan Gomes in November of 2018. To the credit of the Cleveland Indians’ front office, Perez lived up to all expectations and showed himself as a worthy full-time catcher at the Major League level.
After years of serving in a part-time capacity on the Cleveland roster, Perez was thrust into the role of the team’s regular catcher. Coming off of the worst offensive season of his career in 2018, Perez left that all in the past as he burst onto the scene with a significant offensive showing, but even better, he cemented himself as one of the top defensive weapons at the dish in the game.
Paired with Kevin Plawecki, Perez spent the majority of his time handling the top flight Indians pitching staff and did so at an expert level. For his efforts, he took home some of the top hardware at his position, including the Rawlings Gold Glove at catcher, the 2019 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year behind the plate, and the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year honor.
The accolades were well deserved as he put up top marks throughout the season while handling the pitchers on the Cleveland roster. He made just three errors on the season behind the plate, earning a .997 fielding percentage that was second-best in the American League. He went the entire year without a passed ball in a span of 993 2/3 innings (the next highest inning total by a catcher without a passed ball was Los Angeles’ Kevan Smith with zero in 430 innings). Perez’s 1,082 putouts were number one overall and his 52 assists were second-best at his position. He turned in a dozen double plays from behind the plate and caught 20 runners stealing, third-most in the league and good for the top caught stealing mark in the league at 40.8%. He provided 15 total zone runs at catcher, also the top tally in the league.
Perez was no one trick pony, however, as he also found success at the plate. After coming into the season with a lifetime .205/.298/.340 slash in 295 games with 21 homers and 99 RBI, he blew those numbers out of the water. Appearing in nearly three out of every four games for the Indians (119 times in total), he posted a .239/.321/.452 triple slash while more than doubling his career home run output in just one season’s work by parking 24 long balls over the fence while driving in 63 runs. His hit total (93) and total bases (176) figure were more than double his previous career bests (45 hits and 81 total bases, respectively) set in the 2017 season over 73 games.
He owned some interesting splits over the course of the campaign. He put up some impressive numbers against left-handed starting pitchers, owning a .308/.401/.566 slash against them with five doubles, ten homers, and 24 RBI in 169 plate appearances over 43 games (comparatively, he slashed .199/.273/.386 with 14 homers and 39 RBI in 280 plate appearances against right-handers). He was a model of consistency in the clutch – with two outs and runners in scoring position, he boasted a .326/.431/.628 slash with 21 RBI in 51 plate appearances. He drove in 40 of his runs in 121 plate appearances with runners in scoring position while hitting .250. In high leverage situations in 2019, he hit .333 with a .394 OBP and a .617 slugging mark. He was productive when jumping on the first pitch, hitting .385 in such circumstances, and he posted plump hitting numbers when hitting ahead in the count. He supplied his best numbers against pitchers more typically categorized as fly ball pitchers.
His numbers cooled off some in the second half of the season, as he hit 16 of his homers while batting .256 in the first half and just eight in the second half while hitting .220. He struggled during an underwhelming month of August that saw him post a .139/.225/.278 slash with three homers and six RBI in 22 games, but he picked it back up in the final month of the schedule when he hit .344 with a .403 OBP and .508 slugging mark with three homers and 13 RBI in September.
Now in the prime of his career and with no real threats approaching at the upper levels of the Tribe’s farm system, the 31-year-old Perez could be the man for years to come behind the plate (he will be joined at catcher by switch-hitting veteran Sandy Leon for the 2020 season). Perez is under contract through the end of the coming season at least, when he will play at the affordable rate of $3.625 million. He has a $5.5 million team option for 2021 and a $7 million option for 2022, with a $450,000 buyout attached in the event that either one is declined.
A superb 2019 season by Perez put himself on the radar as one of the top catchers in the game today. While he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he has just started to shine and the team expects to continue to get top marks from him from both sides of the plate. The Indians will need that kind of contribution, both with the bat and with his handling of the pitching staff behind the plate, to find the kind of success that they hope to achieve while pursuing a dangerous Minnesota Twins and an upstart Chicago White Sox for the top spot in the American League Central this coming season.
Perez has held down 55 for six years for the Tribe, the second-longest stretch in that number by any player in Tribe history.
The man once named Fausto Carmona but more appropriately known as Roberto Hernandez Heredia spent his seven-year Indians career in the number 55. Signed out of the Dominican Republic under false pretenses (both in alias and age), Hernandez reached the Majors in 2006 in his fifth season with the organization. After a good overall showing as a starting pitcher in the minors, he was thrust into bullpen action after just three MLB starts on the way to an awful 1-10 record with a 5.42 ERA. He worked as a seventh and eighth inning option for manager Eric Wedge, who saw his young pitcher lose ten straight decisions after winning his MLB debut.
The next year was a completely different story for Carmona/Hernandez. He took charge and went 19-8 in 32 starts, posting a 3.06 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young race (won by teammate CC Sabathia). The Indians came a game away from the World Series, and it was possible given the strong breakout from the big right-hander.
Injuries slowed Hernandez in 2008 and 2009, but he was an All-Star in 2010 for the first time. He would finish the year 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, his best numbers since his second season. He could not replicate the numbers the following year, falling to 7-15, and then his world fell apart. He was arrested in the Dominican as he prepared to join the Indians for spring training and was accused of using a false identity to try to obtain a U.S. visa. As a result of the arrest, his real name and age were discovered and he was suspended by MLB for identity fraud.
The runaround cost him nearly all of 2012 and he would be on the move as a free agent in the offseason. He spent 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays and started 2014 with the Philadelphia Phillies before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He began the 2015 season with Houston before being designated for assignment midseason and he worked with Toronto’s and Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliates afterwards. He made his final big league starts with the Braves in 2016, earning a win and a loss before being released.
A bulldog of a pitcher took the digits to the playoffs in the glory days of the 90s, continuing a trend of wearing the 55 throughout the majority of his successful MLB career. Orel Hershiser left his longtime home of Los Angeles in 1995 when he signed as a free agent with the Indians. It was a homecoming of sorts for the right-hander, who attended college at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.
Hershiser was well decorated by the time he joined the Indians. A 17th round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1979, he broke into the Bigs with eight relief appearances in 1983. After splitting the following season between the rotation and the bullpen, he latched on to a spot on the starting staff and led all of baseball with an .864 winning percentage, thanks to a 19-3 record in 36 games with a tiny 2.03 ERA. His efforts helped carry LA into the postseason, where they were knocked out in the National League Championship Series by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two years later, he would make the first of three consecutive All-Star teams. He would also dominate the game in 1988, when he went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA in 35 starts and was named both the NL Cy Young Award winner and the World Series’ Most Valuable Player after throwing two complete games and one shutout in the Fall Classic against the Oakland A’s.
He joined the Indians at the perfect time, filling the team’s need for an established starter to join Dennis Martinez and the young Charles Nagy on the staff. Hershiser made 26 starts and returned to his old form in his first action in the AL, going 16-6 with a 3.87 ERA for the Tribe as they raced through the regular season with a 100-44 record and earned their first trip to the World Series in 41 years. He was brilliant in the postseason, going 4-1 in five starts with just six runs allowed over 35 1/3 innings of work, and he was named the MVP of the ALCS.
His win in Game 5 of the World Series against Atlanta would be the last postseason win of his career. Hershiser went 15-9 in 1996 and 14-6 the following year as the Indians returned to the Fall Classic, but came away heartbroken in seven games to the Florida Marlins. After the season, he returned to California, signing a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. He followed it with a year in the Big Apple, making 32 starts for the New York Mets. His career came full circle in 2000, his 18th season in the Majors, when the 41-year-old started the year with his former club, the Dodgers. He lasted just three starts before he was moved to the bullpen and he lost a month on the disabled list. When he returned, he was back in the rotation, but after three straight losses and short outings, he was given his release in the final work of his big league career.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below!
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 99 (Daniel Robertson)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 90 (Adam Cimber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 88 (Phil Maton)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 77 (Jack Armstrong)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 76 (Tom Magrann)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 75 (Mike Walker)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 73 (Ricardo Rincon)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 72 (Jason Giambi)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 71 (Johnny Hodapp)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 70 (James Karinchak, George Kontos)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 69 (Luis Medina)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 68 (Jefry Rodriguez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 67 (Aaron Civale, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 66 (Yasiel Puig, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 65 (Zach Plesac, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 64 (Tom Kramer, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 63 (Josh Smith, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 62 (Nick Wittgren, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 61 (Dan Otero, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 60 (Jhonny Peralta, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 59 (Carlos Carrasco)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 58 (Neil Ramirez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 57 (Shane Bieber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 56 (Cody Anderson)