It's been a breakout season for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who deserves to be an AL All-Star if he maintains his current pace.
In what has been a roller coaster season for the Red Sox, it’s refreshing to occasionally focus on things that have gone well for this team in 2012.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been one of these bright spots.
In his first season as the undisputed No. 1 catcher on the team—the shadow of Jason Varitek loomed large last year—Saltalamacchia has come into his own offensively. He is currently posting career highs in almost every offensive single category and is becoming an increasingly reliable bat for the Sox in key situations.
Saltalamacchia’s standing as compared to his catching peers has greatly risen, though it seems few in the AL have noticed. After some struggles to start his career and now with his third organization, the once-highly touted prospect was regarded by many as a player who would never quite become the star he was initially projected to be when the Braves made him their first pick in the 2003 MLB draft.
With his strong start, though, Saltalamacchia has proven that he should finally become an All-Star in 2012.
While his numbers certainly are not setting any all-time benchmarks, the Sox catcher is nevertheless standing out. His role both behind and at the plate continues to expand as the Sox grow more comfortable relying upon his developing skills as both receiver and hitter. He has responded to this increased responsibility with his finest, most consistent effort in a Sox uniform.
Although it is still relatively early to be talking about All-Star selections, Saltalamacchia has proven that he should be one of the AL’s choices. Here are five reasons why:
Saltalamacchia has had plenty of occasion to celebrate this season.
Saltalamacchia has always flashed great power over the course of his career; his tremendous size (he’s listed at 6’4” and 235 pounds) gives him a natural strength most catchers lack. However, to date, he has not quite been able to put together the strong power numbers over an entire season.
That appears to be changing this year.
After a strong finish to 2011 from a power perspective (10 home runs and a .463 slugging percentage in the second half), the 27-year-old has ridden that momentum into the 2012 season. His seven home runs and 10 doubles are both second among AL catchers, and his .583 slugging percentage places him in first by almost 100 points.
His ability to drive the ball has added depth to the Sox lineup, and this has in turn helped the team pile up wins as they rally back from their poor start.
Saltalamacchia has played a key role in the turnaround of the Sox pitchers.
The much-maligned Sox pitching staff has taken a beating both on and off the field this season, and while he is not the one throwing the pitches, Saltalamacchia does bear some of the blame for their struggles. The staff’s 4.86 ERA with him behind the plate is not a number they’d like to maintain all season.
However, if we can blame Saltalamacchia for their struggles, he should also be given partial credit for their resurgence. Josh Beckett (3.72), Clay Buchholz (6.75) and Felix Doubront (4.00) have all posted better ERAs with Saltalamacchia catching than with the more defensively-oriented Kelly Shoppach.
With Saltalamacchia behind the plate, over his last eight starts the Sox have posted a 2.53 ERA. The catcher's ability to corral the erratic Sox pitchers has played a huge in the staff’s turnaround, and he deserves to have his effort recognized.
Perennial All-Stars like Joe Mauer are not having their strongest years.
While there are many catchers in the AL who have had tremendous seasons in the past, none of these backstops are having particularly outstanding seasons this year.
Former MVP Joe Mauer has been getting on base at a prolific clip (.395) but has just one home run and a puny .401 slugging percentage. Alex Avila is hitting just .221 and is now injured.
While Matt Wieters, AJ Pierzynski and JP Arencibia are each posting solid numbers across the board, Saltalamacchia has them all soundly beaten in slugging percentage and OPS and is either close to or better than them in many other categories.
While it will take another month or so before the competition really heats up, in the early going of this season Saltalamacchia’s ability to hit for power has separated him from his fellow AL catchers.
Saltalamacchia has posted numbers right in line with All-Stars of previous seasons.
In past years, All-Star catchers have generally hit between .270 and .290 with 10-15 home runs and an .800-plus OPS. Saltalamacchia’s current .282-7-.888 clip puts him right on pace to achieve those benchmarks, even if his power numbers slip a little bit.
It certainly will be difficult for him to maintain the .888 OPS he has accumulated, primarily because it's unlikely he'll continue to slug at the high rate (.583) that currently ranks him 13th in the AL in that category.
However, while his slugging may return closer to last year’s average of .450, Saltalamacchia will likely see an increase in his OBP. He has only drawn four walks all season, and while this number is (shockingly) right in line with his career totals, his strong performance at the plate likely means pitchers will start to work around him a bit more.
Although more walks won’t totally offset a decline in power, barring disaster, the catcher’s OPS should remain safely above .800 by the All-Star break.
Saltalamacchia's steady production has been key for the erratic Sox this season.
In a year full of uneven performances by many Sox regulars, Saltalamacchia has provided a modicum of stability in the field and at the plate. Though the team performed poorly in April, the catcher did an excellent job providing solid production at the plate.
His four April home runs and .809 OPS were a bright spot in a frequently erratic Sox offense, and particularly for a catcher, that kind of offensive output is enormously valuable to a team trying to identify its reliable performers. To date, he has put up very similar numbers in May, solidifying his role as a key cog for the team.
Having never hit higher than sixth in the order, Saltalamacchia has given the Sox depth in their lineup, providing some punch in a spot that seemed at the beginning of the year like it might be a black hole offensively.