Taking the wheel from Capt.Tek, Sox Catching Duo near best in MLB for throwing out runners


By now word must be out to all MLB managers and players that a new flag is flying on the Fenway poll:


With Sox captain Varitek passing the “Tools of Ignorance” gear to Saltalamacchia in 2011, nearly twice as many runners were thrown out.

With Salty and Lavarnway taking over the catching duties for the 2012 Sox, teams will need to think twice about stealing bases, as the percentage that are caught stealing will rise dramatically from about 14% to 30+%.

While most scouts said that the switch-hitting catcher would hit well for that position, there was general agreement that his defensive skills needed work. Besides pitch-calling, pitcher management and passed balls, the key skill for a good MLB catcher is minimizing the percentage of runners who turn a walk or a single into scoring position with a theft of second base.

Salty’s time spent on improving the mechanics of his plate-to-second throw time has paid off: last season he improved on his career average of 25% by nailing 31% of running robbers. For comparison, Miguel Montero lead MLB with a 40% caught stealing (CS) percentage, but only the next three catchers [Weiters, Ramos, Avila] were over 30%. Yankee Russell Martin was 6th best at 29.6% and Yadir Molina followed him with 29.2%. Salty was not listed, as he did not catch the minimum games required, but he will likely make the 2012 Top Five with a 31% rate.

When all catchers were listed, regardless of number of games caught,  guess who finished #1 in all of MLB? Saltalmacchia? No, Ryan Lavarnway. He started two games and appeared in six others and threw out the only runner who tried his arm for a perfect 100% (CS) caught stealing stat. Of the other “unqualified” catchers that appeared in more games (37), the player with the best CS percentage [52%] was future Hall of Famer, Ivan Rodriguez.

While runners typically lick their chops in anticipation when the “second string” catcher is behind the plate, they can expect no mercy when they play the Sox, since Lavarnway is as good, maybe better than Salty.

During his 4-year minor league career, the Yale grad’s CS avg. was 32% and, it gets better: in 2011 between Pawtucket [AAA] and Portland [AA] Lavarnway beat his career average, shooting down 36% for the Paw Sox and 38% for the Sea Dogs.

The significance of a good CS% is that it keeps a runner out of scoring position and makes the opposing manager less likely to try to steal second and more likely to give up an out with a sacrifice bunt. For proof, look at this chart, which shows the percentage of times a runner will score from 1st or 2nd with 0, 1, or 2 outs.

"RUNNER ON 1sr    RUNNER ON 2ndn0 out            43%                               60%1 out                29%                               45%2 out                14%                               26%[Baseball Strateties, By Jack Stallings, Bob Bennett, American Baseball Coaches Association, p. 70.]"

Lest anyone think this article is a criticism of Jason Varitek, while noting his career CS percentage was 23% with a high water mark of 28% in 2002, which fell to a low of 14% in 2010, it is also noted that he had a great and productive 15 years with the Red Sox, the team captain will be remembered, not for his CS%, but for his grit and achievements::

"ALL STAR TEAMS: 2003, 2005, 2008 MVP: 2003, 2004, 2005Gold Glove: 2005 ALSilver Slugger: 2005 ALSee other career highlight photos here: http://www.jason-varitek.com/gallery/cpg143/thumbnails.php?album=71"

What Sox fan can forget his grit, when in 2004, he shoved his mitt belligerently in Alex Rodriguez’s face? In a moment of passion, Jason Varitek released decades of pent up hostility between the Red Sox and Yankees teams and fans.  Tempers escalated as A-Rod was beaned by pitcher Bronson Arroyo, sparking a bench-clearing brawl.

[To see the fight, check out the video: http://www.nesn.com/2011/08/relive-the-moment-jason-varitek-alex-rodriguez-fight-in-2004.html]

Bon voyage, Captain Tek…


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