2015 Year in Review
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The year started off very poorly for Saltalamacchia with the Marlins, as he struggled mightily, hitting just .069 in the first month. His 2014 season wasn’t great, with just a .220 batting average, at which point apparently the Marlins had seen enough, and released Saltalamacchia, even though they still owed him roughly $14 million of the $24 million deal he signed.
A month later, he signed on with the Diamondbacks and appeared to be a dramatically different player. His average was still low, but his walk rate helped boost his on base average, and his power came back strong with 22 extra base hits in 194 plate appearances. As a switch-hitter, he was especially dangerous against left-handed pitching with a 164 wRC+, but he wasn’t bad against right-handers, posting a .301 wOBA.
Defensively, Saltalamacchia has never been known as a standout defensive player, and his defensive metrics were in line with that. In addition to a -2 in defensive runs saved, he also ranked among the worst catchers when it comes to framing metrics, with a -8.6 in 2015, despite being a part-time player (In 2014 as the Marlins everyday catcher, he ranked as the worst in MLB at -37). He’s a player that has been carried by his offense throughout his career and he was in line with that once again in 2015.
2016 Player Projections
An established player that has been rather consistent throughout his career as a low average, high walk and strong power output player produces consistent projections, and you see that with ZiPS and Steamer, with virtually identical numbers across his offensive production triple slash line and wOBA. ZiPS is much more negative on his defense, while Steamer sees slightly positive performance but the variability in defensive metrics for catchers makes the measurement more difficult and tougher to project.
The biggest difference between the two actually comes from an assumption in the amount of playing time, which could become an interesting conversation. Steamer has him at just under one win, typical for a backup catcher, with backup catcher plate appearances. ZiPS on the other hand has him over 350 plate appearances for the year, a workload more commiserate with a player in a time share, or getting at-bats other ways.
The TigsTown Take
The Tigers signed Saltalamacchia to serve as a veteran presence behind McCann, but while most traditional veteran backup catchers are strong defensively, usually that have a reputation for working well with a pitching staff. Saltalamacchia though has never been known as a stalwart behind the plate, and the Marlins cited his inability to lead the pitching staff as one of the reasons they elected to move on.
But given McCann’s leadership strengths, the Tigers don’t have that same need at catcher, and given his offensive prowess, he does appear to complement McCann well in that regard as a power-hitter off the bench. However, he also does most of his damage against left-handers (coincidentally that’s who McCann also does most of his damage against, too). That leaves the Tigers in a position where they’ll have a below average offensive player in the lineup, roughly 3/4 of the games with neither McCann or Saltalamacchia great against righties. And that’s obviously in addition to the framing problem, as the Tigers now purportedly have two of the worst framing catchers in baseball, which could result in poor performance from the pitching staff, through no fault of their own.
The Tigers signed Saltalamacchia with the intent of him being the backup catcher, and while Bryan Holaday will get a chance to compete, it would be a surprise if Saltalamacchia didn’t win the job. His offensive potential also makes him more dangerous as a pinch-hitter and offensive substitute off the bench, and in the event of an injury to either Victor Martinez or Miguel Cabrera, could likely fill-in some at DH or first base.
Overall, he’s a fine addition for a limited use role, but isn’t an ideal complement to McCann. Nevertheless, pop off the bench will be a welcome addition for the Tigers when the club has traditionally been full of utility guys without much danger in their bat as the typical subs.
2016 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.