Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jason Varitek Can Do No Wrong...


We're over a month into the season and it's become glaringly apparent that the Red Sox have an issue at the catcher position. The defense is below average, the offense is worse than below average, and there's been constant talk of trading for a catcher, signing a catcher, calling up a catcher from AAA, etc. While I may disagree with some of the inane ideas that journalists, bloggers and fans are tossing out, I can't really disagree with the intentions. If you look at the performance (or under-performance) of the offense, and you look at where the Sox can upgrade, catcher seems to be the most logical spot.

Let me also point out that I am not here to defend Jarrod Saltalamacchia. While the Red Sox seem to be in love with him, he hasn't lived up to the expectations that have been following him around since he was 10 years old (seemingly). However, it seems all of the criticism of the Red Sox catching tandem falls on him, and none of it on Jason Varitek. Check this out from the World Wide Leader, for instance:

"The Boston Red Sox are hoping that Jarrod Saltalamacchia comes around and becomes their No. 1 catcher. However, the 26-year-old is off to a slow start, hitting just .203 with an OPS of .522 and 19 strikeouts in only 69 at-bats. Although he is improving behind the plate in calling a game and throwing out runners, it's still unclear whether he is the long-term answer.

As the Red Sox allow him to play through his slow start, they are blessed to have a veteran and a winner in Jason Varitek to help him out."

Yes, so blessed! Except that for all his winningness, veteran wiliness, and awesome captain-esque intangibleness, he is actually WORSE than Salty! Observe:

Saltalamacchia: .203/.247/.275
Varitek: .157/.246/.216

Saltalamacchia: .231
Varitek: .220

Saltalamacchia: -0.2
Varitek: -0.3

(courtesy of FanGraphs)

And let me also point out that I am not a Varitek hater by any means. I'm just being realistic and rational - the guy is no longer a viable Major League hitter. He's 39 and his best years are way, way, WAY behind him. But somehow, because he calls a good game and caught a few no hitters, he is somehow immune from criticism and that all has to fall down on Saltalamacchia. (As a side note, "calling a good game" and "helping a pitching staff" is insanely overrated. Want proof? The Red Sox as a team have allowed two or fewer runs in 8 of Salty's 19 starts [42%] They've allowed two or fewer in 3 of Varitek's 10 starts [30%]. What a game caller!)

By comparison, Saltalamacchia just turned 26 and at least he has an upside - he hasn't even entered his prime yet. I'm not predicting a huge turnaround, but at least he has some time, whereas Varitek is a season or two away from retirement. If a change is going to be made, I don't see why Varitek is immune from the discussion. I'm sure a intangible-laden baseball-smart catcher that can help a pitching staff has as much trade value as a young, former-top-prospect catcher with a sweet swing, especially when their offensive numbers are pretty comparable. Only difference is Saltalamacchia is making $750,000 this year while Varitek is making $3 million.

In any event, we as Sox fans should hold out hope that Salty can break out and start hitting like the Red Sox apparently think he can.

And we should start realizing that Varitek can't hit like a lot of fans think he can.

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