This is a tale of two catchers. One was thought to be the shining light of the Detroit Tigers. The beacon of hope for a future of full of wins. The other was thought to be washed-up, a has-been, a man who had long ago seen better days.
But then something happened. The has-been became a hitter and the beacon of hope isn’t shining.
Both men are fully capable catchers. In 2015, McCann was recognized for being error-free. His overall WAR was 0.9. The young catcher played in 114 games batting at respectable .264 with an OPS of .683. He filled in brilliantly for the oft-injured Alex Avila and cemented his place as a man who could be a daily catcher.
On the flipside, the 31-year-old Saltalamacchia did not have his best season in 2015. He was shuffled between the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks and he did not excel in either club. He played in a total of 79 games batting .225 with an OPS of .745. While he was with Miami, he only batted .069 in 33 plate appearances.
Fans were surprised when the Tigers signed Salty, especially since the team already had McCann and Bryan Holaday. But, the scouting experts in Detroit saw that Salty still had something worth Mr. Ilitch’s money. In his first nine years in the MLB, Salty has regularly filled the role of the backup catcher with the exception of his time in Boston between 2011 and 2014.
During the 2016 spring training, all eyes were on Bryan Holaday because he just couldn’t stop hitting. His performance created a question about whether or not the Tigers could carry three catchers. And, we all know what happened: the Tigers traded Holaday to the Texas Rangers where his hitting has slowed to a slash line of .231/.310/.385.
Choosing Saltalamacchia over Holaday has been a good choice for the Tigers. He is currently batting .222 with an OPS of .863. He has 7 home runs and 19 RBIs. This is a major improvement from 2015, where he hit a total of 9 home runs and 24 RBIs in the whole season. Salty’s current WAR is 0.7 and he is currently error-free defensively. He has come through in some clutch situations, especially at the beginning of the season.
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Then, there is James McCann. The 25-year-old catcher looks like his is in prime physical condition, but his work at the plate is anything but prime. He is batting a pathetic .118 with an OPS of .299. Yes, he did spend some time on the DL, but with his work behind the dish defensively, his body seems to be healed. He just can’t put the bat on the ball. He is an easy out and his OPS shows that his patience at the plate is non-existent. His current WAR is -0.6.
The Tigers have played 40 games. Salty has played in 28 of them, McCann in 15. Bobby Wilson caught in the remaining games – but he has since been returned to the Rangers. Prior to McCann’s time on the DL, the Tigers were 2-1 with behind the dish. Since his return, the Tigers have gone 3-7 with him in the lineup as the starting catcher. In April, Salty was a part of an 8-7 record in the games he started. In May, he is currently 2-3 in the games he started. Of course, the catchers are not the only reason that the team has won or lost games, but McCann’s bat has certainly not helped the team win.
It seems that the Tigers should give more games to Salty. His plate appearance and defensive statistics have been better than the catcher that fans lovingly named “McCannon” in 2015. McCann has only 6 hits, scoring 1 run, in his 10 games in May, but 14 strikeouts. Salty has started in 5 games and had 6 hits, 3 runs, and 5 strikeouts. It is clear that Salty should get some more reps as the starting catcher, at least for now.