4-28-2010: Should Varitek play more?

Not that he would solve any problems with reining in the running game, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Jason Varitek is hitting .357/.379/.857 in limited duty, while starter Victor Martinez is putting along at .260/.316/.356 on the year. It has led some to question whether we should consider letting the Captain play more regularly. In short, the answer is no. The key lies in that little phrase “in limited duty”.

Why can’t we believe Varitek’s numbers? Because anything can happen in 28 AB. Additionally, secondary stats tell a story that belies Tek’s success this season. The high batting average has stemmed from a .400 BABIP, which should normalize to somewhere around .277, his career BABIP. While the 4 HRs are wonderful, we should note that the power is out of character for Varitek. He’s sent a full 1/3 of the fly balls he’s hit out of the park this year, more than triple the MLB average and way above his career rate of 13.5% HR/FB. Not only that, but 63% of his balls in play have been fly balls as well. So once all of that normalizes out, that power will vanish like a mirage.

Look closer and you’ll see that the quality of Varitek’s at bats are not that good. He’s still striking out a great deal (32.1%) and popping up with regularity (16.7%). He’s only walked once (3.4%) in 29 PA. And his pitch recognition and plate discipline don’t seem to have improved (33.3 O-swing%, 58.8 Z-swing%, 70.8 contact%, 12.8 swinging strike%). Every single one of those metrics has slipped and is worse than last year and his career numbers. Martinez is quite a bit better on all counts.

The Red Sox have the curious distinction of having two switch-hitting catchers on their roster. But Varitek has been notably better from the right side in recent years; how do their platoon splits compare? Perhaps an answer lies there in how to utilize them. Now we are taking a small sample and dividing it further. Varitek has performed equally well from both sides of the plate, but only 8 of his plate appearances have been from the right side. Martinez, meanwhile, has been terrible from the left side, posting a .204/.259/.296 line in 58 PA. So matchup-wise, you might want to get Varitek in there a little bit more against righties, at least for now while he’s hot.

Varitek has been aggressive at the plate and come through in some key situations, posting a 0.24 WPA/LI, and maybe that has more people backing him up, while Martinez has posted a -0.66 WPA/LI. That simply means that Varitek has come through in the clutch so far, while Martinez hasn’t. There’s nothing to indicate that Martinez can’t handle his playing time, so I think we should continue running him out there; having Varitek caddy Josh Beckett once a week doesn’t seem like a bad idea.


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