Whether a calculated gamble or one born of necessity, Jarrod Saltalamacchia represents one of the known unknowns on the 2011 Red Sox. Marc’s profile of Salty shows the immense promise of just a few years ago, and the injuries and disappointment which has prevailed since. Still, the Sox are committed to Salty, at least for a little while, and so far this spring Salty has delivered with a batting line of .355/.432/.645 (through Tuesday’s game).
That line is Albert Pujols-like, but as Marc discussed in the above profile, the correlation between spring stats and regular season stats is minimal. This is for a few reasons. First, it’s a small sample. Salty’s impressive hitting encompasses only 36 plate appearances. It’s near impossible to draw relevant conclusions from any 36 PA sample. As Marc said, sometimes even a full season’s worth of PAs isn’t enough. Second, Spring Training rosters are a mish-mash of major and minor leaguers. Some of the competition doesn’t yet belong in the major leagues and some never will. Away teams frequently feature lineups composed of only a third major leaguers, with the rest minor league veterans and prospects who will be sporting AAA and AA uniforms by early April. Hopefully we can agree hitting a homer off a 19 year old in his first big league camp is less of an accomplishment than doing so off a major league pitcher.
We can’t do much about the sample size, but I thought it might be instructive to look at Saltalamacchia’s hits individually and see what conclusions can be drawn from them. The games in which he got hits, the pitchers off of whom he got those hits, and the type and direction of the hits are below.
March 5th v. Florida: Double (LD to LF/CF) off Adalberto Mendez
March 8th v. Houston: Double (LD to RF) off Aneury Rodriguez; Single (GB up the middle) off Jose Valdez
March 12th v. Florida: Walk off Josh Johnson; Single (GB up the middle) off Ryan Webb
March 16th v. Atlanta: Double (FB/LD to base of LF wall) off George Sherrill
March 21st v. Philadelphia: Single (GB up the middle) off Roy Halladay
March 24th v. Florida: Home Run (LD RF), Double (FB CF) off Javier Vazquez; Double (FB/LD to base of LF wall) off Victor Garate
March 26th v. Minnesota: Single off (GB LF) Brian Duensing; Double (FB CF) off Carlos Gutierrez
March 29th v. Tampa: Single (GB to RF) off Joel Peralta
Somewhat surprisingly, all of his hits came against major league pitchers. He managed a single off Roy Halladay and a walk against Josh Johnson, two of the best pitchers in baseball. A few of the doubles are off more fringe-y guys, though they are expected to start the year in the majors. His homer came off a former All-Star in Javier Vazquez, though it should be noted the wind was blowing straight out and Salty’s homer was one of six on the day. It doesn’t seem as if he’s benefited from facing mediocre competition.
The GameDay data shows Salty getting good wood on the ball. His doubles are fly balls or line drives in the gap or over the heads of the outfielders, not weak grounders down the line. What’s more, with doubles to left, center, and right field he is showing power to all fields. Most of the singles are grounders, but I’m going to guess that most singles are grounders to begin with.
All in all, there doesn’t seem to be any extenuating circumstances here. He’s not getting cheap hits off of minor league pitchers. Instead, he’s squaring the ball up off of major league arms. Even if he continues to hit the ball hard, his end of the year slash lines won’t look like his spring training line. But he doesn’t need to be Albert Pujols to be an effective offensive catcher. If he keeps hitting the ball hard the Red Sox will have a find on their hands. Only time will tell if he can continue into the season, but the (very) early returns are good.