Jason Varitek enters his 12th season as Red Sox catcher, and will undoubtedly start on Opening Day, barring some unforeseen injury.
To sum up Jason Varitek's offensive contributions, he's not a liability, but he's not much of an asset. He's not someone you mind having in the lineup, so long as he's batting no higher than 7th.
Varitek hit a subpar .255 last season, and slugged a mere .421. He hit 17 homers and knocked in 68 runs. However, his tidy OBP of .367 was above league average, and kept Tek from being a hole in the lineup. Jason had a career high 71 walks to assist his nice OBP.
But two numbers alarm me: 122 and .219.
122 is the number of times Varitek struck out. It wasn't a career high. In 2004 he struck out 126 times. But he also hit .296 with a .390 OBP and .482 slugging that year. In 2005, he struck out 117 times, but also hit .281 with 22 homers. But 122 strikeouts in 2007 was just too many.
.219 was his average with runners in scoring position. Varitek had a decent amount of RBI (68), but he had more than a good number of opportunities. He had 137 ABs with runners in scoring position, and 225 ABs with runners on base. He had 15 more at-bats with runners on than he did with nobody on. He slugged a measly .307 with runners in scoring position.
But he's still a good catcher to have for the sake of the pitching staff. One can't argue with a man who has caught 3 no-hitters from 3 different pitchers. And with young pitchers like Bucholz and Lester coming, it's important that they have a catcher they can trust.
Jason will be backed up by Doug Mirabelli. Now Doug is a real hole in the lineup when he plays. He hit .202 last year, which was sadly an improvement from his 2006 average of .191. He struck out 41 times in 114 at-bats. That's a K every 2.78 ABs.
You've got to give Mirabelli credit for his prowess at catching the knuckleball. But who knows how many knucklers will be thrown this season. Frankly, I think Wakefield should be used out of the bullpen, but that's for another preview post.
There's a rumor that the Red Sox will acquire Japanese catcher Hayato Doue of the Kagawa Olive Guyners. That's a team in an independent Japanese league. He's 25, right-handed, hit .322 in '07 and .327 in '06. The Sox would sign him to a minor league deal. If things worked out, he might possibly make it to 3rd in the organizational depth chart at catcher.
Here's a video of him.
Twenty-four year old catching prospect George Kotteras had a disappointing year in AAA Pawtucket, hitting .241. Dusty Brown, 25, hit .268 in AA Portland and could be playing in AAA this year. Along with several low-level minor league prospects, there are 4 or 5 different players contending to be the #3 catcher on the team. With Mirabelli being an offensive liability, and Tim Wakefield potentially leaving the rotation, the #3 catcher spot is much more important than it may seem.
Sources and Resources:
Boston.com's Extra Bases
AP Photo, 3/16/05