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.