All We Are Saying Is Give Salty A Chance

by Matt on April 28, 2011

in Red Sox

photo courtesy Portland Press Herald

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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim April 28, 2011 at 6:32 am

Matt, in complete agreement. The inpatient would do well to remember the first month as a starter of a certain second baseman. Not that Salty is going to begin turning in Pedroia like performances but players with solid backgrounds do turn it around. And it’s not as if the Sox have a young catcher with the PawSox who will wow anyone.

As far as pitchers preferring Tek, they need to get over it as that Teddy bear won’t be around much longer. Frankly if they don’t like throwing to Salty, how are they going to feel about Chris Snyder?

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BigNachos April 28, 2011 at 7:05 am

Obviously, the Sox are pretty unhappy with Salty’s defense which is understandable–his throwing is very erratic, and he’s let a lot of balls he should handle get by him.

Varitek has in the past been one of the best catchers at blocking pitches and is generally very good at catching the ball–skills that he still seems to have. Of course, his throwing has always been substandard and is not getting better.

The whole “knowing the pitching staff” and “calling a great game” argument is vastly overrated. Pitchers throw what they want to throw and will shake the catcher off until he puts down the right sign. Every catcher, including Varitek, regularly gets shook off.

So, it basically comes down to Varitek’s superior ability to catch a baseball versus Salty’s superior ability to hit one, as well as the superstitious mumblings of pitchers that have better luck with one catcher.

I would guess they’re doing a lot of work with Salty on the side to improve his catching (while temporarily appeasing those finicky pitchers), with Varitek in the meantime getting more playing time. I’d be surprised if they’ve truly given up on Salty already, since clearly Tek has little left to offer.

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Bear July 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Gosh, I wish I would have had that ifnmoraiton earlier!

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