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Being Optimistic about Jarrod Saltalamacchia

The Blue Jays have a fantastic starting catcher in Russell Martin. He’s everything you want in a catcher: a solid hitter, a good defender, and someone who can handle a pitching staff well. Even in the first stages of a potential decline, he’s the best the Jays have ever had at the position and one of the best backstops in baseball.

After a stretch where Martin caught R.A. Dickey in the first season of his Jays contract, the usual backup catcher to Martin has been Josh Thole, who served as Dickey’s personal catcher. This was a source of some frustration for Jays fans, as Thole wasn’t very good. He was the opposite of Martin: He couldn’t seem to hit or defend.

It’s a good thing for a backup catcher to have at least one bankable skill. Maybe they’re a good defender, a catch-and-throw guy. Maybe they’re someone with occasional pop and the ability to make good contact, as old friend Dioner Navarro flashed occasionally. Thole’s one skill was jumping on the Dickey knuckleball grenade, but a personal catcher for a back-end starter who isn’t skilled with the bat or the glove doesn’t do a whole lot for the roster.

The biggest name to come out of the Jays’ search for a backup catcher this offseason was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and that’s not just referring to the length of his actual name. Saltalamacchia was a familiar name to Jays fans, as he was the starting catcher for the Red Sox from 2011-2013. That was also the most successful three year stretch of his career. His time in the majors since has been less notable, as a disastrous stretch with the Marlins demoted him to backup catcher territory. After a dismal year and a half in Miami, he showed a flash of life in Arizona before a bad 2016 with the Detroit Tigers.

Even in that forgettable 2016, Saltalamacchia still had one modest skill: power. 12 homers in 292 at-bats might not seem like much, but after four years of watching Josh Thole’s pea-shooter at-bats, even a mild threat to go yard might have Jays fans more comfortable with Martin resting occasionally. Thole’s highest slugging percentage with the Jays was .278. .278! That’s not his batting average! How is that even possible?

Saltalamacchia’s defense doesn’t grade out especially well, proving Nichol’s Law of Catcher Defense true in at least one instance, though Thole dragged that law through the mud by being bad at both. And if you don’t like strikeouts, he’s not going to be much help there either: Brooks Baseball has his likelihood to swing and miss anywhere between “high” and “disastrously high”, depending on your preferred flavor of pitch. He’s gonna flail a lot to sell out for that power.

We could compare slash lines, but after taking a shot at Thole’s slugging percentage before, we know how that’ll play out. Even Saltalamacchia’s avert-your-eyes-bad .171/.284/.346 represents an improvement over what the Jays got from Thole and the returning Navarro last season. And there’s always the chance Saltalamacchia finds his groove for a while again, as he did with Arizona for a time in 2015. That’s where that past success can play into what we might expect: he did it before! He can do it again, right?

No amount of improvement from the backup catcher will hide the fact that if Russell Martin is down for an extended period of time, the Jays are in trouble. This is why they didn’t invest heavily in the position before, and why they ended up with Saltalamacchia this offseason. For one out of every five days, the gains will be marginal, but the perception is much better with a proven commodity in place. There is some benefit to the newfound ability to pick and choose when Martin rests, as opposed to “Dickey is starting,” but the modest investment the front office made will pay off more in the optics than on the field. And that’s perfectly fine.

Is Jarrod Saltalamacchia a good backup catcher? Probably. The Jays got a recognizable name with prior success without paying out the nose, hoping that his more recent time in Miami and Detroit isn’t completely indicative of his actual skill. And if he is in decline, it’s not that much of a loss, playing one or two days a week at a position where the bar for performance isn’t set terribly high. He’ll wander into a meatball, hit a dinger, and we’ll count our lucky stars that a bench player contributed something substantial. After the last few years of dreading every day off for the starting catcher, the Jays will take what they can get.

Lead Photo: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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2 comments on “Being Optimistic about Jarrod Saltalamacchia”


Exactly my thoughts. I stopped watching Dickey games because 1) I was petrified every time he started a game and 2) Thole. Seems like a nice guy, but he was more of an automatic out than Smoak, and unfortunately, that’s REALLY saying something.


It seems like there has been a lot of focus on simply finding an upgrade on Thole, but given that all the available backup catchers were flawed, not much on which player with what bankable skill and which flaws would best fit the Jays in view of how much playing time he’s likely to get.

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