We’re not a month into the year and already the Red Sox have seemingly given up on Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher. You may recall all the glowing articles about Salty’s defense (“He’s just like Varitek!”) during spring training. Salty spent almost all winter with Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck. Tuck gave Salty rave reviews for his efforts and progress during those workouts.
You may also recall Salty tore the cover off the ball during spring traning. I looked at his at-bats here, and concluded that – with the huge caveat that it was only spring training – the quality of the pitchers he faced was surprisingly high. Do those at-bats mean anything? No, they don’t, but at the time they were at least a small sign that things were progressing in a positive direction.
Now twenty-two games into the year Saltalamacchia has lost his job. Why? He’s hitting .186/.255/.233 for one. That’s Kevin Cash without the power or patience. (That’s a joke.) He’s caught six runners trying to steal and allowed seventeen to steal successfully. That’s a 26% which isn’t great but it’s no worse than Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek provided the Red Sox with over the past few years. Ah! Jason Varitek. Maybe now we’ve hit on something.
Varitek is the recipient of Salty’s playing time, so he must be an improvement, right? Actually, no. Hard as this may be to believe, he’s been about half as good as Salty this year. Yes, he’s been half as good as awful. Numerically that comes out to .100/.206/.133. It’s hard to believe anyone could hit like that and avoid demotion to the minors or out-right released, let alone receive more playing time.
Is Varitek so much better behind the plate? Admittedly it’s hard to say. Clearly the Red Sox think so, so that holds some weight. Still, I wonder why the quick trigger finger? To me the choice comes down to a 26 year old with some small amount of upside and clear potential to be league average, or a 39 year old with no upside to speak of who it seems, despite glowing reports of his dedication to off season conditioning, is barely hanging on to the last shred of ability to hit AAA pitching.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, maybe there is tremendous value in Varitek’s knowledge of the pitching staff. Maybe Salty is preparing to publish a book titled, “Terry Francona: Puppy Strangler.” The Red Sox are stuck and clearly they find both choices unpalatable. Why they’ve given up on Salty so quickly though, I can’t say. It seems of the two options, it makes sense to give the playing time to the one who could maybe at some point in the relatively near future approximate a major league catcher.