The Toronto Blue Jays finally have a capable backup catcher who can step in and not be a virtual automatic out.
Saltalamacchia or “Salty” will certainly be the Blue Jays backup catcher in 2017 despite the people who thought that Juan Graterol or Reese McGuire could walk out of the spring with the job. Salty is the guy in my mind and the consensus backup catcher by many. How often will Saltalamacchia see the field? Let’s try and determine the ideal use of Salty for 2017.
For starters, Saltalamacchia will likely see the field at least once a week to get Martin off his feet. It is possible he could get 2 games in a week where the Blue Jays play 6 to 7 games. That would be more of a reality if he develops a chemistry with a Blue Jays starter much like we saw with Marco Estrada and Dioner Navarro in 2015, where Navarro caught almost every Estrada start and also hit the field a 2nd time in a week.
Salty brings a good glove to the table. Since 2009, he has never posted a dWAR below replacement level. While his arm to throw out runners isn’t the greatest, he does bring the ability to handle a pitching staff well and a decent ability to drop down and block pitches when they’re thrown in the dirt.
Saltalamacchia also brings a decent bat to the table. Since 2014, he hasn’t posted a BB% below 10.1%. He has a good eye at the plate and takes his walks. He also brings a ton of power to the plate. He hit 12 home runs in just 292 plate appearances and a .175 ISO. The one downfall is his strikeout percentage which is at 30.5% for this career. Last season, it was 35.6% and only hit .171 with a .284 OBP.
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While his 2016 was one to forget with the bat, for a backup catcher, his slash isn’t horrible and can contribute offensively once or twice per week nicely. His career slash is .234/.309/.413 with a .721 OPS. One would figure that being back in the AL East, that OPS could be back around .800, which would be fantastic for a backup.
In efforts to keep Martin off his feet more than in seasons past, I would expect Saltalamacchia to catch 2 times per week. Perhaps that’s a bit high, but it seems reasonable. In efforts to keep Martin somewhat fresh for another run into October, that would be ideal. Perhaps 40-50 games for Saltalamacchia to keep Martin around 110-120.
The lack of flexibility at DH with Kendrys Morales locked in at DH doesn’t allow for much room for Martin to DH to keep his bat in the lineup. Fresh off knee surgery, the importance to keep Martin fresh and healthy is more heightened this season. Thus the rationale for Salty catching 40-50 games this season.
The fact Saltalamacchia can bring production to the plate in a backup role combined with the fact he can defend would lead to a more conservative amount of games that Martin plays. The ideal usage of Saltalamacchia for me is around 50 games or so. If that happens, Martin will be kept fresh and productive into October.
The Blue Jays have a very capable backup catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 2017. I expect they use him a fair bit and it will only benefit the team for the entirety of the 2017 season and into October.