Besides having a great last name, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been a productive hitter for the Red Sox. Since 2011, he has increased his wRC+ each year, posting a 94,96, and 110 wRC+ the last three years, respectively. Despite Saltalamacchia’s career-high .340 wOBA, his ISO stands at .186, a drop from the .215 and .232 numbers he posted in 2011 and 2012. After leading the Red Sox in homeruns with 25 a year ago, Salty has only 10 homeruns this year. His PA/HR has fallen from 17.9 in 2012 to 34.0 in 2013.
Last year, 20% of Saltalamacchia’s fly balls left the park, a career-high average. This year, only 12.3% of Saltalamacchia’s fly balls have reached the seats, his lowest number since joining the Sox, and below his career 13.5%. However, a look at baseballheatmaps shows that Salty is 15th in average fly ball distance at 303.8 feet, only a little behind teammate David Ortiz who at 305.5 enjoys an 18.1% HR/FB ratio. Salty’s fly ball distance is ahead of notable AL home run leaders such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, Adrian Beltre, Adam Jones, and Raul Ibanez. While Fenway is tied with Chase Field for the 3rd-most hitter-friendly park with a park factor of 105, Fenway slightly suppresses home runs. Fenway’s 97 home run factor is tied for 17th. Digging further, we find that Fenway’s home run factor for left-handed hitters is 92, the 6th lowest in baseball. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia has generated more power from the left side of the plate, as only 7 of his 51 homeruns in a Red Sox uniform have come from the right side of the plate despite experiencing 23% of his plate appearances from that side. However Fenway’s quirky dimensions do not appear to be swallowing up Salty’s flyballs, as his HR/FB ratio is 17.4% at home, compared to a paltry 5.7% on the road. Chalk this up to randomness, and expect Salty’s HR/FB ratio to move closer to 15%.
A further explanation for Saltalamacchia’s decreased power lies in a changed plate approach. While Saltalamacchia’s home run to fly ball ratio is low, his BABIP is very high, at .376, a huge increase from last year’s .265. Much of the increase can be attributed to a line drive rate of 28.6%, a jump from the 22.8% he posted in 2012. The line drives have come partly at the expense of fly balls, as Salty’s fly-ball rate has fallen from 46.6% in 2012 to 40.7% in 2013. All this has combined to produce an xBABIP of .344. The graphs below illustrate Saltalamacchia’s uptick in line drives and decrease in fly balls and the corresponding change in BABIP%.
Looking at these charts, it appears that Saltalamacchia has gone to a more BABIP-friendly approach by trading fly balls for line drives. While this has resulted in a decrease in his ISO from .232 to .186, his overall offensive production has increased. His wRC+ climbed from 96 in 2012 to 110 in 2013. For catchers with at least 250 PA, Salty’s wRC+ rose from 21st in 2012 to 8th in 2013. Though Saltalamacchia’s line-drive approach has reaped dividends, expecting a .376 BABIP the rest of the way is being unrealistic. Most likely, the BABIP will regress some, but the HR/FB ratio should improve. Saltalamacchia will likely maintain a similar level of production the rest of the way, but it will likely come in the form of a decreased batting average and increased ISO.
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