Should Jarrod Saltalamacchia Give Up Switch Hitting?


Yesterday we got our season preview kicked off looking at both the best and worst case scenarios for Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2015. Today we’ll examine a way the Marlins could potentially squeeze more out of their starting catcher for the upcoming season.

In yesterday’s Marlins walk off win against the Nationals, I learned from the Marlins radio broadcast that the Nationals decided that switch hitting second baseman Danny Espinosa would no longer be a switch hitter.

"A switch-hitter since he entered the big leagues in 2010, Espinosa has had much better success from the right side of the plate. During his career, Espinosa has a .271 batting average and a .343 on-base percentage hitting from the right side (against left-handers), as opposed to a .213 batting average and a .284 on-base percentage hitting from the left (against righties)."

Jarrod Saltamacchia, the Miami Marlins projected starting catcher, has had similar platoon struggles as Espinosa, but from the opposite side. Salty has been a better left-handed hitter for his career than a right-handed hitter.

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The discrepancy between Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s numbers as left-handed hitter and as a right-handed hitter is pretty huge. Salty hits 43% less than league average from the right side, but hits 8% better as a left-handed hitter. 

In 2014, Salty slashed .216/.271/.330 with a 67 wRC+, which was a little better than his career numbers from the right side, but they were still overall weak numbers.

For reference, Jeff Mathis posted a .273/.289/.386 slash line with a 87 wRC+ against left-handed pitching last season, almost 20% better than Saltalamacchia. That line is nothing special, falling 13% below league average, but it is a huge step up from what Salty hit as a right hander against lefties.

The issue with a platoon of Mathis and Salty is still apparent, as Mathis’ career wRC+ (65) against lefties is actually worse than Saltalamacchia’s mark. So while the numbers look decent last season, it’s a small sample size of just 45 plate appearances, so it cannot be taken very seriously.

If the Marlins had decided to forgo picking up Jeff Mathis’ option, J.T. Realmuto would have been a viable option for the team to place in a platoon for the 2015 season. While I don’t believe Realmuto is quite ready for an everyday role, I think it would have been alright to give him small doses, placing him in a platoon, to get as much value out of the catcher position as the Marlins could potentially get. 

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Unfortunately, with Mathis on the roster, platooning Jarrod Saltalamacchia and J.T. Realmuto is out the window, as a roster with 3 catchers leaves little flexibility for manager Mike Redmond. This is especially true if the team intends on entering the season with 8 relievers instead of the usual 7.

This is where prospect Austin Barnes could have come into play for the Marlins this season, had he not been dealt to the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon trade.

Barnes, who posted a .296/.406/.507 slash line with a 157 wRC+ last season in Double-A in 348 plate appearances, split his time between second, third, and catcher. If he had a strong spring, the Marlins could have kept Mathis and brought Barnes on to platoon with Salty, as well as to backup second and third in case of an injury without skipping a beat, in case of an injury to Saltalamacchia.

Obviously this is no longer an option as Barnes is preparing to be a full-time catcher in Triple-A with the Dodgers, but it could have been a fun scenario for the Marlins to play out.

With Barnes traded, no conceivable roster spot for J.T. Realmuto at the moment, and Mathis not being a real threat at the plate, the Marlins would be wise to consider asking Jarrod Saltalamacchia to give up switch hitting.

Whether it would work or not is another issue. But Saltalamacchia has proven over his career that he’s not a very good right-handed hitter.

He cannot be a much worse hitter from the left side against lefties than Mathis is overall at the plate, right?

Next: Pros and Cons of Olivera