Friday, November 07, 2008

Cancel the "C"

Sorry folks, but the Varitek era needs to end in Boston. Yes, yes, we love el Capitain and his Derek Jeter-esque "intangibles". But c'mon, Jason Varitek had a negative VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) last season. VORP is the number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. So simply put, Varitek's offensive production was below what a random schlup pulled off the AAA waiver wire would contribute to the lineup.

Now, I understand that VORP is purely an offensive stat, and does not consider the mighty Captain's defense, but even those stats are skewed by the fact that he does not catch Tim Wakefield. Now, I know uber-agent Scott Boras is going to pull out CERA (Catcher Earned Run Average) as a stat to favor his catcher client, but CERA is not really a stat that holds a lot of water. Much like RBIs, it is often more a result of what players around the catcher and can fluctuate wildly without any increase or drop in actual production. CERA was ripped apart years ago by Bill James--yes, the same Bill James, Sabermetrician deluxe and Special Advisor to the Boston Red Sox front office. Keith Woolner said it best at BaseballProspectus.com in 2002 when he concluded:
For now, at least, the hypothesis most consistent with the available facts appears to be that catchers do not have a significant effect on pitcher performance.
To sign Varitek to anything more than a one year contract (and an option year controlled by the team) with a low base salary and a ton of incentives is against everything the Red Sox management supposively believes is the way to build a team. Varitek has become such a liability in the lineup that I was actually amazed when he somehow managed to infrequently get a hit or reach base.

Of course, losing Varitek or signing him still does not address the need for the Sox to upgrade their catching situation. The options appear to be:
  • Trade Justin Masterson or another young stud pitcher for a catching prospect (Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Gerald Laird from Texas; Kelly "Why is this guy sounding so familiar--oh yeah, forget I mentioned him" Shoppach from Cleveland, etc)
  • Rush Mark Wagner to Fenway or settle for Dusty Brown and George Kottaras at catcher (FYI, neither looked good enough to beat out the immortal Kevin Cash for backup catcher while they were at AAA Pawtucket last season).
  • Pick up a Molina (or two) or (shudder) Pudge Rodriguez or (even worse) Greg Zaunn.
Umm, nothing looking too good for options at catcher right now. Theo, you have your work cut out for you!

My opinion: Sign Varitek on the cheap (seriously, no one else is going to offer him more than a free agent spring training invitation) and see what Kottaras can do as a backup.

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