2012 Red Sox Player Preview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Saltalamacchia enters his 2nd season as the Sox' primary catcher

Many were surprised at the start of spring training last year when the Red Sox were seemingly ready to hand the primary catcher’s job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom they had traded for at the trading deadline in 2010 and spent the last few months of that season in Pawtucket.  Saltalamacchia was a big time prospect in the Braves organization and was the centerpiece of the trade that sent first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers to Atlanta in July of 2010 but toiled in the Rangers organization for 3 years until the trade to Boston.

Salty was not an All-Star by any means in his first year as Red Sox catcher but he did show that the risk the Red Sox took on him might be worth the reward in the long run.  Salty was solid at the plate for much of the regular season but tailed off towards the end as the increased work load caught up to him.  He also had a disappointing end to the season after he got hit in the shoulder by a foul tip in the 3rd to last game of the season and had to sit out the crucial final 2 games for the Sox.  Saltalamacchia’s work behind the plate was decent enough and he should be better this year with a year in the organization under his belt.

Here’s a look at Saltalamacchia’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses)

Games: 103 (103, 2011)
Average: .235 (.266, 2007)
On-Base Percentage: .288 (.352, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .450 (.450, 2011)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .737 (.737, 2011)
Home Runs: 16 (16, 2011)
Runs Batted In: 56 (56, 2011)
Runs: 52 (52, 2011)
Doubles: 23 (23, 2011)
Walks: 24 (31, 2008)

 

2012 Outlook:

As you can see above Salty set career highs in many offensive categories last year.  He did deal with fatigue problems as the year went on.  He played 101 games at catcher last season, 18 more than his previous career high of 83 in 2009 in Texas.  Saltalamacchia’s numbers suffered in September as the fatigue set in.  By the end of August Salty was hitting for a respectable .252 batting average.  After a 11 for 68 month of September Salty lost 17 points on his average to finish at .235 for the season.  Hopefully after the extended work at catcher last season Saltalamacchia has worked up his durability and his body will hold up at the plate for a full season.  One thing that was encouraging last season was his increase in power and the fact that he didn’t lose that late in the season.  His 16 home runs were a career high and even in September 3 of his 11 hits were long balls.  He also had career bests in double, triples, and RBI last season.

Salty was in the top half of the league at catching base stealers last season

Defensively Salty was much improved over his train wreck of a performance behind the plate in his time with the Rangers.  Still there is much room for improvement at the backstop.  Saltalamacchia was having trouble just getting the ball back to the pitcher a la Rube Baker from the movie Major League II towards the end of his stint with Texas.  The Sox coaching staff worked with him on it in the minors after the trade and he came out looking a lot more confident in 2011.  He had A LOT of passed balls though, 26 to be exact.  That was 10 more than the Mets’ Josh Thole, who came in 2nd with 16 passed balls.  Remember that Saltalamacchia had to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckle ball last year.

Saltalmacchia was much improved throwing runners out last season.  He threw runners out at a 31% clip which was above the league average.  In fact only 4 catchers who started as many games as Salty behind the plate had a better caught stealing %.  He went through a few stretches last year in which he had some accuracy troubles getting the ball down to 2nd but with the high caught stealing % that tells you when he is accurate he is very good at catching runners.  Hopefully he got enough confidence in throwing the ball last year that the accuracy issues will disappear in 2012.

Saltalamacchia did a decent enough job with the pitching staff last year and he’s coming in this season with a full year of working with the staff under his belt.  He should be particularly comfortable with staff ace Jon Lester, who he caught almost all of last season.  He also got extensive work with Clay Buchholz before Clay’s injury last season.  Salty only caught Josh Beckett a handful of times and will likely split the duty with Kelly Shoppach this season.  Saltalamacchia will also use a lot of wisdom that was bestowed on him last year by veteran Jason Varitek.  Saltalamacchia looks back fondly on his time spent with Varitek and he surely learned a lot, particularly about the current pitching staff, that should help him in the future.

Salty will try to make Red Sox Nation forget about Jason Varitek in 2012

It will be an important year for Saltalamacchia as even a modest improvement in most of his numbers will likely signal that he has a long term future as catcher of the Red Sox.  If he improves on his 2011 numbers and shows some increased durability you could expect Salty to be a similar offensive player to Varitek in his prime.  That is more than adequate for a catcher hitting in the bottom third of the lineup in this day and age.  Of course the way the pitchers respond to Salty will be important as well but he seems to already have a rapport with Jon Lester and will hopefully be able to spend some time with Beckett, who he only caught twice last season, in spring training.

The Saltalamacchia experiment was a risky one but I think you could confidently say “so far, so good” after year one.  We will need to see him do it for more than one season though.  That’s why 2012 is a crucial year for Salty.  If he stays consistent and improves his durability it looks like the experiment will be a success.  One thing about Salty early in this camp is that he is getting glowing reviews regarding his leadership skills among the younger pitchers and catchers.  That is an important trait for a catcher to have and is part of what made Jason Varitek such a success during his time in Boston.  If that part of Tek’s game rubbed off on Saltalamacchia last season the 26-year old may be in for a very bright future.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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