It’s OK to Suck Sometimes

There's a bit of concern bouncing around the blogs and message boards about the Sox' apparent decision to go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek as platoon partners at the catcher position. 

To be sure, a Salty-Tek combo represents a step down in offense from Victor Martinez, and Salty's defense remains untested to a large extent. But let's be realistic here.


If this is the final formulation (and Russell Martin was nontendered by the Dodgers yesterday, so no guarantees of that), we would have a pair of platoon hitters who have performed thusly against the pitchers they'd face most in 2011:

Jason Varitek's OPS vs. LHP:

  • 2007: .801
  • 2008: .863
  • 2009: .807
  • 2010: .868

Jarrrod Saltalamacchia's OPS vs. RHP:

  • 2007: .796
  • 2008: .876
  • 2009: .663

Salty didn't play enough in 2010 to warrant mentioning here (2-for-10, 1 BB if you want to know). So let's regress both of them, Varitek to .750, which would be 50 points lower than he's hit against lefties at any point since 2006, and Saltalamacchia to .700, much lower than in his heady days as a big-time prospect, slightly higher than his off-the-cliff 2009.

In 2010, catchers as a whole hit for a .686 OPS. So even with this rather underwhelming tandem, the Sox project to be better than average, but let's say Salty is awful, and Varitek is pressed into full-time work with the predictable performance results.

Well, we've already seen that before: In 2008, when Varitek was the full-time catcher and posted an embarrassing .672 OPS for a 73 OPS+ (and an 87 sOPS+ compared to league average at the position). That was the year came within a game of the World Series. 

We also saw that in 2007, when Julio Lugo and his incomprehensible 73 RBI were putting up a 65 OPS+ at shortstop (75 sOPS+ for the position). As we might remember, the Sox had a pretty good year that season. 

Even in 2010, when the Sox missed the playoffs but still had one of the best offenses in the league, the team's left fielders were posting an 82 sOPS+ and its centerfielders an 87 sOPS+. 

Needless to say, the Sox have had a black hole of suck at a position or two in previous years, yet still managed to have good offenses and even make the playoffs and win a title. In fact, not since 2005 have the Sox not had at least one position significantly underperform the league average on offense.

Sox fans ever since have been upset when the projected offense doesn't match those incredible 2003-05 levels, but there's a reason for that: Those levels are rare. In fact, of the four AL teams to make the playoffs this season, only the Yankees did not have a gaping hole (90 sOPS+ or worse) in the lineup for at least one position. The Twins had three, the Rays had four, and the AL champion Rangers also had four — and catcher was one of the positions for each of those teams. 

The offseason is far from over. The Sox may yet lose Adrian Beltre, which would certainly be cause for more concern, but they still seem likely to sign either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, which would obviously improve the outfield offense (and defense) immensely. In any case, they will return a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, the loss of whom easily cost the Red Sox five wins in 2010.

Replacing Victor Martinez, whose days as a full-time catcher appear over anyway, with a Varitek-Saltalamacchia tandem is simply not cause for alarm, at least not yet.

2 comments… add one
  • What are the odds that Lackey and Beckett return to career-average? I can’t wait for Paul’s pre-season look at our teams. I am curious to know what happens with regression at catcher and third (assuming Beltre walks) and progression at 1st, 2nd, OF, SP at three spots (and regression at Buchholz’ spot), and middle relief, with some factor built in for injuries that always happen. Bring on March! Though, signing a couple of guys first might be required…

    SF December 3, 2010, 11:45 am
  • “…Replacing Victor Martinez, whose days as a full-time catcher appear over anyway, with a Varitek-Saltalamacchia tandem is simply not cause for alarm, at least not yet….”
    gotta agree with you about not panicking paul, and maybe that’s because i’m sitting here with rapidly declining and aging jorge, and some rookie to be named later…my concern is more about defense at the position rather than offense, although this might be the year jorge loses whatever advantage he’s had offensively, compounding the problem…my opinion is that this is more about the lack of alternatives than it is a real strategy [for both teams]…that and we have jorge for another year anyway…but since joe mauer is not available to either of us, it’s good to see some kids get a chance…

    dc December 3, 2010, 1:03 pm

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