It's been an up-and-down year for the Boston Red Sox' catchers, of that there's no doubt. For a couple months there with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it really did seem as though the Sox had run into their answer. His OPS was up in the stratosphere through June and July, and with Jason Varitek putting up good numbers in the backup role, fans were even willing to overlook the often times terrible defense that came behind the plate.
Then he fell back to Earth.
After a terrible September, Jarrod Saltalamacchia's season now looks a lot more like what we might have been expecting at the beggining. A .319 wOBA leaves him just one point above Jason Varitek, who has seen an even more dramatic fall-off this month. While that actually doesn't leave them in too terrible a place amongst the catchers of the league, it's a far cry from being good when you consider all the passed balls, wild pitches, and singles turned into triples (that one's mostly on Varitek).
So here we stand with a big old question mark behind the plate once again. This time, though, there's an answer sitting on the bench--one that's been there for the whole month, and finally got a chance to show his stuff last night in the biggest game of the year.
By now, everyone knows of Ryan Lavarnway's heroics. The real question is: why did it take so long for him to get a start? The obvious answer would seem to be the defense--it's always been the knock on Lavarnway. But quite frankly he looked fine behind the plate last night, and the man he'd mostly be replacing has allowed a full 60% more passed balls than the next backstop on the list, so it's not like there's much to lose.
Meanwhile, he offers a potentially huge bat against left-handed pitchers, and one that's quite possibly quite capable of hitting righties as well, should the minor league numbers play out in the majors. He certainly seemed to be fooled a bit last night when facing same-handed pitching, but that could be as much because of how little he's been used in the past month. He was actually hitting them rather better than lefties in a very small sample size before yesterday, and had seen them well enough to draw a few walks in his short time with the team.
If you subscribe to the more classical ideas of baseball, then if nothing else Ryan Lavarnway is a shot in the arm. For those who are more statistically-oriented, then it's simply a matter of acknowledging that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, over the course of the year, seems to have proven to be little more than what he was in years past--and that's not really acceptable for the Red Sox.
Should they make the playoffs, then it might be time to re-evaluate based on things like Josh Beckett's security blanket relationship with Jason Varitek and Lavarnway's unfamiliarity with the pitching staff. But for now the Sox need to score runs, and if Bruce Chen happens to show up tomorrow, then it's not like Lavarnway will be any less familiar with him than Salty or Tek.
Play the hot hand, and hope he helps win some games.