Salvy, Barlow, Lopez honored by KC BBWAA

November 30th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- added more hardware to his collection on Monday, when he was named one of three players to take home the Royals’ 2021 team awards.

The veteran catcher won his second straight Les Milgram Player of the Year Award after tying for the Major League lead and matching the single-season franchise record with 48 home runs in 2021. Reliever was given the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award, and infielder earned the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award.

The Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted on the awards at the end of the season.

“Looking into the past offseason, I put a lot of hard work into that, and to see it pay off for the season that I had this year definitely feels really good,” Barlow said during a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. “Makes me want to work even harder this offseason and hopefully do it again.”

Barlow is the second reliever to win the Royals’ Pitcher of the Year Award in the last six seasons, following Ian Kennedy in 2019. Undoubtedly the Royals’ highest-leverage reliever, Barlow was also their most-used reliever -- appearing in a career-high 71 games and leading the bullpen in innings, with 74 1/3.

“Scotty was perhaps the most consistent and dominating pitcher from the first day to the last day,” president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said. “He took the ball, he was in a lot of high-leverage situations, and he delivered.”

Barlow posted a 2.42 ERA this season with 91 strikeouts and 16 saves, and he led the club with 56 scoreless outings. Among qualified relievers, his 2.1 WAR, per FanGraphs, ranked eighth.

Barlow got plenty of experience in the ninth inning in 2021 and learned what it takes to be a closer, whether it's a four-out save or a two-inning save. That bodes well for 2022, when he will be at the back end of the ‘pen again -- and his offseason plan revolves around replicating his dominating season.

“I think I’ve found a really good base level for what to do in the offseason, so I don’t want to change too much,” he said. “But the excitement level goes up every time I’m going to the gym or am working on something new mechanically.”

For Lopez, this offseason is about building on his breakout season. Voters honored the 26-year-old with the Special Achievement Award after he hit .300 and established himself as an elite, everyday shortstop.

Lopez was slated to begin 2021 in Triple-A after struggling to perform in Spring Training, but he was needed on Opening Day after Adalberto Mondesi went down with an injury. Lopez turned that opportunity into a career year, hitting .300 and posting a .365 on-base percentage with 43 RBIs, 78 runs scored and 22 stolen bases.

“Being able to hit .300, to be the first Royals shortstop to hit .300 in the team’s history is something very special,” Lopez said. “Because that was one of the main reasons why I got sent down -- because of my hitting. So to be able to show them that, 'Hey, I can do this, it’s in there, and I just have to go out and show it,' was very special to me.”

On top of his offense, Lopez led AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.987), with a franchise-record 72 consecutive errorless games at the position from May 5 to Aug. 13. He was left off the Gold Glove finalists list, but was no doubt one of the better shortstops in baseball in 2021.

“I think he was the best infielder in the game,” Moore said. “His consistency with everything he does, the multiple positions that he can play on the interior part of the diamond, all the different skills that he mastered. I would never put any limitations on Nicky Lopez. Players like him are the reason that so many of us fall in love with the game.”

Lopez admitted his frustration when learning he wasn’t a Gold Glove finalist. But he’s been able to turn it into fuel for next season, too.

“Do I think I put together a good campaign this year? I do,” Lopez said. “I think it was a little bit more special because the past couple years, I’ve been playing second base. To go over to play short and play it well, and to lead the league in multiple categories, but then nothing to show for it -- [there's] kind of a little sour taste in my mouth.

“But there’s nothing I can change about it, and we got other things to look forward to. I was sick and tired of watching other teams play in October -- I want to play in October, and I want our team to play in October. So it left a sour taste in my mouth, but I had to flip the switch and be like, ‘All right, how can we get to where we want to be?’”

Perez, who was unable to join the Zoom call, became the first player to win consecutive Les Milgram Awards since Eric Hosmer in 2016-17, and the fifth to do so since the award was established in 1971. The 31-year-old also won his fourth Silver Slugger, was named to the All-MLB First Team and finished seventh in American League MVP voting.

Perez’s 48 home runs were the most in a single season by a player who spent at least 75 percent of games at catcher, three more than Johnny Bench’s 1970 mark of 45. Perez hit 33 home runs as a catcher -- he hit the other 15 as the designated hitter -- falling just two shy of Ivan Rodriguez’s AL record of 35, set in 1999.