Saltalamacchia Injury May Be a Blessing

It’s never good when a team loses its No. 1 catcher. But it’s especially bad timing for the Texas Rangers organization with the club 4.5 games behind Los Angeles for first in the AL West division and narrowly (0.5 games up on Boston) leading the Wild Card race. To this point, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has started 71% of the club’s 116 games (and the rate was far worse prior to August). Rookie back-up catcher Taylor Teagarden has started just 34 games behind the plate (29%). I would argue, though, that the loss of Saltalamacchia to right arm soreness/numbness is not a loss at all.

Manager Ron Washington has favored Saltalamacchia to a fault. The 24-year-old catcher has an offensive line of .236/.293/.375 with nine homers in 280 at-bats. His putrid on-base percentage is hurt by both his low batting average and his hack-tastic tendencies at the plate, where he has posted a 7.3 BB%. Saltalamacchia has also posted a lousy strikeout rate at 34.3 K%, the fourth highest K rate in the Majors amongst players with 250+ at-bats. His wOBA is .290, the 23rd worst rate in the Majors.

In truth, a catcher’s offensive contributions are really a bonus. It’s on defense where a backstop really needs to shine. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Saltalamacchia’s glove may be worse than his bat. Amongst catchers with more than 500 innings behind the plate, the Texas catcher is second in errors with seven (and first in the AL). His game calling/receiving skills are nothing to write home about and his range is at the bottom of the barrel. Saltalamacchia has also caught just 19 of the 80 runners trying to steal against him, good for a caught-stealing rate of 24%.

The truth is that, despite showing encouraging improvements, the Rangers pitching staff can still use all the help it can get – and we’ve seen how defense can positively impact results thanks to the presence of rookie Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Saltalamacchia has never been a good fielder, and he probably never will be… But he needs to show something on offense to justify his playing time.

On the other hand, Teagarden has been left to rot on the bench, as Washington tries to single-handedly ruin a young player’s career. What excuse is there for playing a promising rookie only a handful of times during a full Major League season? When he was drafted, Teagarden was widely considered the best defensive catcher in college baseball. His defense made him a sure-fire Major Leaguer, even if he failed to hit (You know, along the lines of what Saltalamacchia has produced this season).

No, Teagarden’s line of .198/.264/.373 is not encouraging, but he’s had absolutely no chance to get into a hitting rhythm. Prior to August and Saltalamacchia’s injury, Teagarden had started back-to-back games only once all year. As the Rangers’ No. 1 catcher in August, Teagarden has hit .200/.314/.533 in 30 at-bats. He’s finally gotten a chance to show his above-average power with three home runs. After walking just three times from May to July, he has five walks in August and is again showing the above-average patience that he showed in the minors. In a very small sample size, Teagarden has shown glimpses of things that Saltalamacchia has proven he does not possess.

Normally, we joke that a manager’s overuse of a pitcher has caused an arm to fall off. In this case, it appears that Ron Washington has caused a catcher’s arm to all but fall off. In all seriousness, though, while Teagarden is far from being the second coming, one can only hope that Texas takes this time to realize that there is life beyond Saltalamacchia.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

18 Responses to “Saltalamacchia Injury May Be a Blessing”

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  1. Matt B. says:

    Although he hasn’t been rippin it in the minors, how about a Max Ramirez cameo?

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  2. Andy S says:

    My sentiments exactly, Marc.

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  3. RA says:

    The two are basically equals offensively and Teagarten might be a little better defensively though not by all that much.

    But let’s not get carried away. Both these guys basically made the jump from AA and have some catching up to do. This is Salty’s first chance at regular playing time and he has shown marked improvement defensively even if he is still below avg.

    Teagarten is one year older and probably is the better catcher though not by that much. He has had at least 3 breaks from the official scorer on pitches that were clearly passed balls and should have been easily blocked. Neither can hold down baserunners particularly well with Millwood not caring if a guy steals second or not.

    The Rangers have made a talent judgment here and decided that Salty has more upside which is probably true.

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    • rizzo says:

      How can you say that Teagarden doesn’t control the running game? The statistics simply don’t back up that statement.

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  4. payday0023 says:

    Rangers just got Pudge back for minor leaguers, according to ESPN.

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  5. Dave R says:

    Have you actually watched a Ranger’s game with Salty catching?

    While his bat has been disappointing this season his work behind the plate has been remarkably good.

    The Ranger’s staff is mostly young and does not hold runners well. Salty’s CS rate is not nearly as bad as you make – it only 5 catchers with 500 innings are significantly better 3 are much worse and 4 about the same (roughly 3-1). Many of the SB were no throws were the pitcher just ignored the baserunner.
    His passed ball rate (only two) has been among the best in the league, and the Rangers pitching and defense have been the story of the season. Salty has been much better calling games and receiving than Teagarden in the eyes of nearly everyone who watches the Rangers regularly.

    Errors and Range? Seriously? For a catcher. A catcher’s Range factor is essentially a measure of how many strikeouts the teams pitchers record, and while Salty’s 7 errors are second (not first) in the AL, that is all of two runners taking 3rd on a throw to second away from being average – ie utterly meaningless.

    A remarkably poor article which shows little comprehension of either the player or the statistics used to evaluate him.

    Fangraphs is usually much better.

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    • rizzo says:

      I don’t know about ‘game calling’ and ‘receiving’ since I don’t know how you’d really measure those skills in a catcher, but the stolen base stats for the 2 are very different:

      Salty has thrown out 17-78 base runners in 714 innings

      Teagarden has thrown out 8-20 in 320 innings.

      Not only has Teagaren thrown out a much higher percentage of runners, but runners are testing him far less frequently (1 attempt every 16 innings as opposed to 9.2 innings for Salty).

      If Rangers pitchers truly struggle at holding runners then Teagarden must really have a cannon since A) they aren’t running on him and B) they aren’t successful when they do.

      Neither are much with the bat right now, but the evidence suggests that Teagarden is a good bit better defensively.

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  6. Nate says:

    Well, so much for Teagarden getting a chance. Rangers just signed Ivan Rodriguez.

    Although, according to… “Rodriguez, 37, a 13-time Gold Glove winner, has been told that Taylor Teagarden will remain the Rangers’ No. 1 catcher.”

    Let’s see how long that really lasts though…

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  7. LHamilton says:

    Teagarden has not proven to be superior to Salty in any facet of the game.

    “No, Teagarden’s line of .198/.264/.373 is not encouraging, but he’s had absolutely no chance to get into a hitting rhythm.” — Isn’t that exactly what happened to Salty last year? Isn’t that why the Rangers have stuck with him through thick and thin…mostly thin this year?

    The real story is that it looks like Salty has Thorasic Outlet Syndrome, making him the fourth Ranger to be diagnosed with this rare condition in recent years. What the heck is going on here?

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  8. Todd says:

    I have watched about 98% of the innings played this year by the Rangers. I completely agree with Dave R and RA.

    Poor article.

    Salty has more upside than TTea.

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  9. RA says:

    Note to Rizzo. Let’s see if Teagarden can keep up his high rate now that he is playing every day and getting a chance to stop runners with Millwood on the mound. Let’s see what it is when he has 80 chances like Salty.

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    • rizzo says:

      Salty in 21 starts with Millwood has thrown out 4-17, perfectly in line with his total stats. Millwood hasn’t had an effect on Salty’s throwing numbers.

      Teagarden has caught Millwood in 3 starts and is 2-2 throwing out runners for what it’s worth.

      I’ve never said that Teagarden is better all around, but if you’re going to suggest that Salty is better defensively I’d like to see that expressed statistically.

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  10. Chuck says:

    “In truth, a catcher’s offensive contributions are really a bonus. It’s on defense where a backstop really needs to shine.”

    I would not have expected to read such a thing at this site. I am very disappointed.

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  11. KJOK says:

    The truth is that, despite showing encouraging improvements, the Rangers pitching staff can still use all the help it can get – and we’ve seen how defense can positively impact results thanks to the presence of rookie Elvis Andrus at shortstop.

    After park adjustments, the Rangers are right at the top of the league in run prevention, so while I agree that defense is a big part of that, I don’t see that changing catchers is going to suddenly put the Rangers near the bottom on run prevention.

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  12. RA says:

    Rizzo if you read the post, I said specifically that Teagarden was probably a little better than Salty defensively but not by much. You keep an eye on that Millwood number with Teagarden the rest of the season and see what happens.

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