Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lynchpins of the Lineup

I don't need to tell you that the Red Sox scored a bazillion runs last season. At first, I didn't know how to gauge the strength of Sox hitting by their runs scored since they teed off on bad pitchers spectacularly well but good pitching could stop them cold - a trend which continued for about 16 innings into the ALCS (and two near no hitters) before the Sox turned it around for good.

Can the Red Sox hit this well in 2014? Probably not. Why? Jacoby Ellsbury.

The beautiful thing about the 2013 Red Sox is that every player stepped up: Gomes, Nava, Victorino, Iglesias (remember when he batted .400 for a couple months?), and Salty all made contributions that nobody was expecting. Iggy is gone but couldn't be expected to repeat his performance anyway. Gomes, Nava and Victorino will be back, so why not bring Salty back? That's been a hot conversation topic lately.

Better options for catcher exist on the market right now - and that's discounting Brian McCann, who wants a big contract but has big attitude problems - but if everyone thought that Ellsbury was coming back then I'd lean towards the position that bringing Salty back isn't a huge issue. Salty will never be a middle of the order hitter, and he probably won't put up his 2013 numbers again at the plate; but he's definitely one of the better bottom of the order hitters in baseball right now. The Red Sox had a strong batting order from top to bottom and you don't want to disturb that.

Unfortunately for Salty (and for us, as Red Sox fans), Ellsbury's contributions at the top of the batting order are far more important. Ellsbury is not replaceable; and with him leaving, the Red Sox need to shore up their fielding.

And Salty just can't fucking field his position.

This doesn't just come down to close plays at the plate in the World Series - Salty was horrible throughout the 2013 season. He has difficulty performing basic tasks behind the plate, like quelling the opponent's running game. Salty allowed 89 stolen bases in 2013 (most in MLB), and he had the most baserunners try and steal off of him, too. Comparing Salty to an average catcher like A.J. Pierzynski (which is not only being generous to Salty, but rings with some irony since the Sox are talking to Pierzynski), A.J. had a 33% caught stealing percentage and allowed 49 stolen bases in 2013. Salty allowed 40 more stolen bases; coincidentally, he also hit 40 doubles. Since a stolen base is essentially a double (or more, in some instances), you see where Salty's defense really does negate his contributions at the plate.

Pierzynski provides better hitting and fielding than Salty. Alternatively, Dioner Navarro doesn't have as much gravitas at the plate but he has sure hands behind the plate. Even Ryan Lavarnway looks like a better option than Salty.

Lavarnway threw out 40% of baserunners in Pawtucket in 2013; and he hit .299 in 77 AB for Boston in 2013. It's worth remembering that many of Lavarnway's at-bats were against staff aces; and with a cold bat, since he went days between playing in games. Lavarnway got hits off of pitchers like David Price, James Shields, Justin Verlander, and Mark Buehrle (the Buehrle whose second half ERA was 3.18, not the sucky Buehrle at the beginning of the season). Farrell was wise to rest Salty on days when the Red Sox opposed a staff ace, but worth noting that Salty's hitting stats might be worse if he had to face the pitchers they forced Lavarnway to hit off of - and Lavarnway ended up hitting .299. That's a pretty good argument against everyone who says that Lavarnway isn't ready.

The argument about which catcher would be a better fit could go on until Christmas, but it doesn't take away from the Red Sox needing better defense behind the plate. The loss of Ellsbury will be a hit to the lineup that the Red Sox cannot recover from; the 2014 lineup will not be as strong as the 2013 one. That being the case, acquiring a catcher who may only hit .240 with little power but can hold off the opposing team's running game would make the Red Sox better than they would be with Salty behind the plate. The Red Sox won't have the excess hitting in 2014 to cover up for Salty's lack of ability to field his position.

I know the pink hats might bust out in tears. I know I've never been the biggest Salty fan. But, you have to admit, this is a pretty objective case for letting the Salty Era in Boston end.

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