Fresh off his latest home run—a two-out, two-strike, two-run bomb in the ninth inning last night to temporarily tie up the Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park—it seems a good time to closely examine Jarrod Saltalamacchia's offensive output.
The homer was Saltalamacchia's 11th of the season, a total that leads all ML catchers and puts him two behind David Ortiz for the club lead.
Overall, just 10 American Leaguers have hit more home runs than Salty.
His slugging is impressive on any level, but for a Red Sox catcher, it's off the charts. No Boston catcher has ever hit 30 home runs, and Saltalamacchia is currently on a 30-plus pace.
In fact, only three receivers have even hit as many as 20 homers in a year for Boston—Carlton Fisk (who did it four times), Jason Varitek (three times) and Rich Gedman (once). All were All-Stars, and Fisk also has a Hall of Fame plaque and a retired number at Fenway on his resume.
Unless Salty goes into an epic slump, he seems certain to join this trio. He's already nearly halfway to Fisk's all-time team mark of 26 homers by a catcher (set in 1973 and matched in '77).
While it's true that catchers tend to slide offensively later in the season due to the rigors of their job, Saltalamacchia actually hit more home runs (10) in the second half of last season than in the first. He also has the benefit of a very solid backup in Kelly Shoppach, who hit 21 homers for Cleveland in 2008.
If Salty slumps, Shoppach can step in.
There was some grumbling when the Red Sox let All-Star catcher Victor Martinez leave as a free agent after the 2010 season and then coaxed Jason Varitek into retirement this winter. Fans were not sure a commitment to Saltalamacchia—who had never played in more than 100 games in a season, or hit more than 11 homers—was a wise move.
Salty, however, has quieted many of the naysayers.
He had a respectable 16 homers, 56 RBI and 23 doubles in 103 games last season, and is poised to top all those totals this year (he currently has 11 doubles and 27 RBI). He's also raised his average from the .230 territory up to .279 and has improved his defense tremendously.
"He's turned a big corner," manager Bobby Valentine said this week, as reported on ESPN Boston." In the last couple of weeks, I've seen a player turn into an All-Star -- an absolute player who you can count on, who's got it. He understands what's needed out of him and he's delivering it."
Having just turned 27, an age when many players hit their prime, Saltalamacchia projects to be Boston's starting catcher for the foreseeable future.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at amazon.com and his Red Sox reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @saulwizz.