Friday, September 18, 2009

Jason Varitek - worst regular in MLB?

I almost titled this "Dissing the captain" but that's not my intent, so I didn't. I just want to note that
  1. Jason Varitek has had an excellent career with the Red Sox

  2. I don't know any Red Sox fan who has not also been a Varitek fan

  3. I can't believe that he can make it through security at the airport with as many forks as there must be sticking out of him.

At the end of April, I noted that
Biggest upside surprise: Jason Varitek, who has been very productive thus far. Far more productive than they had any right to reasonably expect. And far more productive than he can be expected to continue.

Was I right? Uh, yeah.



Jason Varitek splits (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS)
May 1-May 31 .231/.311/.513/.824

June 1-June 31 .234/.359/.391/.750

July 1-July 31 .231/.367/.369/.736

August 1-August 31 .135/.233/.250/.483

September 1-September 17 .115/.179/.154/.332

Varitek, post-All Star Game .161/.258/.250/.508



Since June 1, a period of well over half a season, he's hit .193/.310/.319/.629. Over the last two calendar months, he's hitting .159/.244/.248/.492 with just 18 hits, only one of which is a HR, in 113 at-bats.

Additionally, there's no evidence that he's any more than a mediocre catcher at this point. In each of the last two games, the tying run has scored late when a third strike on a third out has gone through his legs to the backstop. For his career, he's thrown out approximately 24% of attempted base-stealers - this year, he's 15 for 100, about 13%. (UPDATE: It has been pointed out that 15 for 100 isn't "about 13%" which, of course, is true. The actual stat is 15 caught and 100 successful, or 15 out of 115, which is 13.4%.)

In short, if he brings anything whatsoever to the team, it's something that is entirely invisible, something that cannot be measured. And it's very difficult for me to imagine that he's bringing some intangible which comes close to offsetting the very tangible downsides.

Has he been the worst player in baseball since the All-Star break? He has to be pretty close. There are 68 guys with at least 100 plate appearances since the All Star game with an OBP below .300. Of that group, he is 4th from the bottom in Runs Created (6.19) and 3rd from the bottom in RC/25 outs (1.54). One of the reasons that the Victor Martinez trade was essential for the Red Sox is that Varitek's a black hole in the lineup. And it's not a fluke - let's remember that Jason Varitek hit .219/.332/.361/.693 after the All Star break last year, and .183/.286/.300/.586 after September 1. If there's some compelling reason to believe that he still has value on a Major League roster, I'm not seeing it, neither with my eyes nor in the numbers.

There are only two things that I can find which suggest that he should still be catching more than once per week. The first is that Josh Beckett's one start with Victor Martinez was a disaster. The second is this - if we look at the team's pythagorean record with Varitek at catcher vs. Martinez at catcher since August 1st, here's what you get:



Red Sox record by starting catcher - 8/1-9/17
Starting CatcherRRAWLR/GRA/GPyth

Martinez1251051376.255.250.579

Varitek1189612115.134.170.593


About the first item, I'd note the following - Beckett was just as bad in the following three starts, each of which came with Varitek behind the plate. It appears to be a Beckett slump, not a "Beckett can't pitch when Martinez catches" situation.

About the second I'd add this - there have been two disaster games since August 1st thrown by pitchers who are no longer here. In John Smoltz' last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, the team allowed 13 runs to the Yankees. In Brad Penny's last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, the team allowed 20 runs to the Yankees. Victor Martinez started both of those games. If you think that those runs were his fault, well, that last chart shows the results. If you take those out, however, and look at games since August 1st limited to pitchers who are still on the roster, the results are a little bit different.



Red Sox record by starting catcher - 8/1-9/17 (last Smoltz and Penny starts omitted)
Starting CatcherRRAWLR/GRA/GPyth

Martinez10872135640.677

Varitek1189612115.134.170.593


I think that the latter is more informative, and a more accurate representation of what's going on, than the former. Your mileage may vary. But I don't like the fact that Varitek's catching Beckett every time out - there are enough off-days in the playoffs that the Red Sox should not have to catch Varitek at all. I know that Martinez can't catch every day in the regular season, but Varitek is still catching too much for my liking, and I really don't want to see him in the lineup in a post-season game at all. He may not be the worst player in baseball right now, but he may well be the worst player getting regular at-bats for a playoff team, and I've seen enough of him.


(As always, when I do something like this, I need a big tip o' the cap to David Pinto, whose Baseball Musings site is a daily must-read for baseball fans, and whose Day by day database is an invaluable resource.)

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