Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pivotal

Another blast from the past:
Imagine if Jason Varitek ends up getting 300-325 at-bats this year. Not good, because he's really only good for about 200 at-bats a year. I have a strong feeling that from at-bats 201 and beyond, Varitek's batting average is .175 at best. (My apologies for not actually looking this up - the 2008 version of me would have.) It's like Pedro Martinez 2003 after pitch 105.


If Jarrod Saltalamacchia can't provide a trustworthy level of production on both sides of the ball, the Red Sox' catching position could be a serious, serious problem. Not that I think this will make the Red Sox an 85-win team. But if Saltalamacchia is below-average and unreliable enough that Varitek requires more than 200 at-bats, the team's catching position will revert to its 2008 level. A scary proposition. The only Varitek any of us - including Varitek himself according to his recent NESN appearances - want to see from here on in is Varitek, Backup Catcher.

Perhaps the single most important thing from the first half that will affect the second half is the emergence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia as an above-average major league catcher.  He started out in the exact way that would have made all of our worst fears (described above) come true.  But here we are, halfway through July, and the Red Sox have the third- and fourth-best catchers in the AL on their rosters with a certain number of at-bats (don't know the number of at-bats, as I heard this stat on the radio).  Their OPSes are .757 and .773, both above league average.  It's been more than half the season and Varitek's only come to the plate 150 times over more than half the season, with one third of those PAs taking place in May when Saltalamacchia was really struggling. 

The catcher position is hitting .251 with eleven home runs and 42 RBIs.  The strikeout totals are 87, which is very high, but let's say Varitek got as many at-bats this year as he did in 2009.  He'd literally give you a .130 batting average through the end of the season.  Saltalamacchia seems to be a guy who has his ups and downs, but he is hitting .272 since April 30th and a staggering .301 since June 1st!  So here's the bottom line:

1.  Saltalamacchia has been awesome and a direct contributor to the success of the Red Sox in the first half.
2.  Saltalamacchia's awesome-ness has indirectly contributed to the success of the Red Sox in both the first and second halves, because Jason Varitek still has some gas left in the tank for when he's needed.  If Saltalamacchia hadn't put forward a solid B+ effort so far, his at-bats would have been worthless and Varitek's at-bats starting right about now would have been worthless.

It's been a long time since I advocated his trade to the Red Sox for Clay Buchholz.  They got him on the cheap, but he arrived as the player we all thought he would be.  Welcome.

5 comments:

ZWeiss said...

GM-
I'm a big Salty fan, and it's great to see him shut everyone up. I hadn't seen the statistics you mentioned before, and all I can say is: who's a minor league catcher now? He's shown that he can hit, and he's played some pretty solid defense behind the plate. Good for him.

Hope your All-Star Break was good dude.

ZWeiss

Anonymous said...

DV

Salty has been the biggest of the pleasant surprises this year for the Sox, along with Wakefield, Aceves, Albers, and Andrew Miller. Of course John Lackey, Carl Crawford and JD Drew have all colossally underperformed, so it's really all a wash (Read that last sentence--those three guys combine to make about $50 million per year. If this was a blog where swearing was condoned I'd have laced a string of expletives). If Salty can continue his post-April play this year the Sox should be very solid behind the plate.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

if you take out the first 2 weeks of the season, salty is hitting .273/.339/.487 across 43 starts, which is pretty much all that needs to be said about his value thus far. not a huge sample size, but that's production you are going to sign up for every time out of the catcher's spot over 25% of the season.

- pf

Anonymous said...

I was going to make a snarky remark about how I would rather have Russell Martin, but then I checked the stats and they don't really back that assertion. The two have been fairly even, with Martin having more homers but Salty hitting for a better average.

Any time you can turn back Jon Bandi sarcasm you know you are doing something good.

the gm at work said...

Thanks for the comments today, guys.

ZWeiss, as the old timers on HYD already all know, I've been a Saltalamacchia fan for a long time, and it's great to see that at least at this point in time, he's not only a major leaguer, but a good one. Once again, at least currently, he's not battling the yips, he's not hitting .210, and he's not a sieve behind the plate. It's awesome. He's not a minor leaguer anymore - he's the major league catching prospect that the Red Sox have failed many times to develop themselves.

Gunn, Wakefield, Aceves, Albers, and Miller are lower than Saltalamacchia on the pleasant-surprise scale, and I think Beckett and Ortiz deserve a spot on that list, too. I think it's unfair to put Crawford on that list quite yet - his numbers from May 1st until the time he got hurt were fine with me. And it's amazing that two guys with the temper and propensity to swear our mouths off as me and Pat have been able to keep this largely PG-13-rated.

PF, even including the first two weeks, the Red Sox catchers are 3rd and 4th in the American League. You gotta think overall, they might be second in the league in production from that position!

Bandi, I've been happy with Saltalamacchia since last September. F Russell Martin.