Detroit Tigers starting catcher James McCann was sidelined with an ankle injury, backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was called on to take the catching reps. Salty has done so well it will be hard to see him sit upon McCann’s return.
Detroit Tigers backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia has done a stunning job in the absence of James McCann. Let’s face it, even if you thought Salty would fill in nicely no one expected him to preform the way he has. After hitting his fifth home run of the season Tuesday Salty has gained the recognition of Tigers fans and for the time being has cemented himself into the Detroit Tigers lineup.
The backup catcher has been much better on offense than McCann, but the incumbent starter remains a better option from a sabermetrics standpoint. The question remains, however, will the hot-handed Salty continue to play the bulk of the games upon McCann’s return, or will it be business as usual with McCann sliding back into his everyday role?
The Tigers have a serious problem, a good problem all be it but the is now an undeniable catching controversy in Detroit. Saltalamacchia has hit four home runs to either tie or take the lead in games this season. Along with Nick Castellanos, there is no question he has been one of the bigger offensive surprises for the Tigers this season. The power is not the only positive for the veteran catcher. His slashline of .300/.364/.867 is nothing short of impressive for a player the Tigers are giving a league minimum salary. His 1.0 WAR ranks second among Tigers position players this season behind only Ian Kinsler.
Even with concerns regarding Salty’s abilities he has been serviceable defensively. Although his pitch framing numbers still leave something to be desired Saltalamacchia has committed only one error this season and has caught some pretty impressive games from the Tigers pitching staff.
No one will know for sure how much impact Salty has had on the hot start for the Tigers pitching staff without asking the players themselves but it is safe to say that Salty has been not been an overwhelming liability defensively this season.
In his small sample size of games James McCann was not living up to the expectations he set for Tigers fans. After his breakout offensive year last year McCann started his first four games of 2016 with a mere two hits in 15 plate appearances.
Of course, this limited playing time is in no way an accurate representation of who James McCann is as a player nor is anyone saying he will have a poor season. The McCannon was all full display early in the season as McCann threw out four of the five base runners that attempted to steal on him.
Defensively, there is no debating McCann is a far better catcher than Salty, who has some of the leagues worst pitch framing numbers this season.
According to statcorner.com, Salty has lost his pitchers a total of seven calls behind the dish this season while posting a 20.9 zball percentage. A catcher’s zball percentage is the percentage of pitches he catches inside the strike zone that are called balls by the umpire. Salty ranks third-to-last in the major leagues behind only Jose Lobaton and Chris Stewart in zball percentage.
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Whether you believe in pitch framing metrics or not you cannot ignore the catching controversy the Tigers now have.
Some people are of the school of thought that having too much of a good thing is still a good thing and having two above average catchers is a good problem to have. Some fans may believe this could look at this situation like football where the adage is if you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have one.
Surely having more talent on the roster is not a bad thing but with baseball being the streaky game it is can fans really trust manager Brad Ausmus to mix and match the lineup accordingly to get the most out of these two player? With Ausmus’s past lineup blunders it is hard to believe he will play the correct catcher on the correct day.
As hard as it is to imagine a team where James McCann sits on the bench it would be difficult to sit Salty and risk losing his bat. While McCann was no slouch at the plate last season hitting .264/.297/.387, Salty is only two home runs short of matching McCann’s 2015 home run season total.
Power is not the only important sat but chicks dig the long ball. There is of course the possibility Salty is back to his 2013 form that landed him a multi-million dollar deal with the Miami Marlins. Saltalamacchia 14 home runs and drove in 65 runs for Boston in 2014, both career highs for the journeyman.
Ultimately the catching position is a taxing position and both players will see a lot of time should they stay healthy. Who gets the bulk of the games is left to be seen.
On the bright side, at least the Tigers are in a catching conundrum and not a catching catastrophe like they have been in years past. Until McCann is healthy just enjoy watching Salty launch balls out of the yard, the Tigers will worry about this problem when they get to it.