The second Jarrod Saltalamacchia was designated for assignment by the Marlins, a connection to the D-backs seemed obvious. Atrocious work behind the plate in 2014 seemed to disqualify him for a lot of clubs, but the D-backs, who had Jordan Pacheco banging around and had brought on Gerald Laird in spring training, seemed less concerned with those numbers. And when he caught on with Arizona and was pushed to a roster spot by Tuffy Gosewisch‘s knee injury, things appeared to be as bad as we’d have feared.
He also didn’t seem to care a whole lot. Early in his D-backs tenure, we frequently saw Salty doing one of this “just hanging out” catcher stances:
Brenly: “Where was THAT? That ball is right down the middle!” Yeah. TOWARD the zone, Salty. Not back up 1 sec after. pic.twitter.com/6eCuzaE4MC
— Ryan P. Morrison (@ryanpmorrison) July 2, 2015
Before the All-Star break, though, and in particular while catching Patrick Corbin‘s first start, Salty’s form behind the plate was better. He was putting in the effort. Although his early framing numbers with Arizona were about as bad as we could have feared, his negative extra strikes total per Baseball Prospectus’s excellent RPM framing calculation method didn’t keep descending into the murkiest of depths; it stayed pretty much the same. On a rate basis, Salty is still one of the worst framing catchers in the majors this season. His -13.6 extra strikes ranks him 76th among 90 catchers, but having caught just 2039 “framing chances,” that total rivals J.T. Realmuto‘s 88th-ranking -40.5 extra strikes in just under three times the chances (5714).
And yet, things have changed. We can only split BP’s framing numbers so many ways, but at this point, Salty’s “Framing Runs Above Average” total with the D-backs is only slightly negative: -0.1 FRAA. He’s not an asset back there, but he hasn’t been the indefensible defender he looked like in early July or with the Marlins. This is just opinion, and I did not think you’d catch me saying this, but it seems reasonable to keep Salty on the 25-man right now. He’s a bridge at least through the end of this month, before rosters expand, although it’s unlikely the team would add another catcher to the roster in September. It’s not that I like to see him catching, because if you have to go with a third-tier option behind the plate, I’d rather see a defensive specialist working with the staff (remember Rubby De La Rosa‘s success after he was instructed not to shake off Welington Castillo in July?). It’s that he’s a pretty good bat to have.
In part because he’s not too good a bat to relegate to the bench. As a catcher this season, Salty is batting .186 with a decent walk rate (.279 OBP) and anemic power (.345 SLG). In an excruciatingly small sample, however, he’s been fantastic as a pinch hitter, 6 for 16 with one walk, including a double. Right now, the D-backs lead the league in relief innings, and it’s not that close (443, ahead of the Rockies’ 427 and league average, just under 388 innings). At the moment, the team has a thirteen man pitching staff. More roster stress is added by Oscar Hernandez‘s presence on the roster, as he really isn’t playing. But one thing Hernandez seems perfectly capable of being: an emergency catcher of sorts. That means that when Welington Castillo has started at catcher, Chip Hale has been willing to use Salty as a pinch hitter. It’s a nice little byproduct of an odd roster situation, and it’s working — for now.
There’s no chance Hernandez will break camp with the team in April next year, and Gosewisch may not be at full speed (baseball players tend to return more quickly from ACL injuries than football players, but I’m guessing catcher might be an exception). Castillo is under club control. Maybe the team will go out and grab a left-handed complement for Castillo in the offseason (Salty is a switch hitter, but like Castillo much better against LHP). Chances are, though, that Salty will be donning Sedona Red next season, at least until Gosewisch is ready to share catching duties. With one year left on his Miami deal, maybe Salty will be motivated to work as hard as possible. Considering his effort over the last month, that could really mean something.
- Last offseason when the D-backs were looking around for a left-handed bat to put behind Goldy, we thought the team didn’t necessarily have to make a move — and that was even apart from my Jake Lamb fan club duties. David Peralta stood out as a righty-killer, and seemed capable of locking down that role. But if I’m going to eat crow on Salty, who has ranged up to that best possible outcome of “good enough to hang,” I might as well do the same with Peralta: I went on record saying his lack of success against lefties was so pronounced last year that even in a fact-finding year, it shouldn’t have been a priority to get him at bats against LHP. Last year, his wRC+ against lefties was a “oh God please pinch hit Tuffy” 39. This year? Just above average: 102 wRC+. Remarkable. There are precious few hitters who are above average against both RHP and LHP (Peralta’s at 141 wRC+ against RHP). It’s a good situation, and as we saw two weeks ago by looking at batted ball velocity, there’s evidence that he’s actually earning all of these extra hits by absolutely crushing the ball. At Just a Bit Outside, Dave Cameron broke down Peralta’s pedigree and success. Will he go down as one of the best things Kevin Towers has ever done? You don’t have to answer that — you just have to enjoy watching that superhuman swing.
- Speaking of D-backs players being appreciated (Cameron starts by discussing whether A.J. Pollock is underrated, as well), it was pretty cool to see this TV spot from MLB on Paul Goldschmidt. Worth a look.
- As Zach Buchanan wrote at azcentral.com, Evan Marshall returned to Chase Field this week and looked great — and before his skull was fractured by a comebacker a few weeks ago, he had started to turn things around at Triple-A Reno (3.00 ERA since the beginning of July in 12 IP). So encouraging to see him smiling and enjoying being at the park. We looked at the bullpen on Monday this week, noting that there were many average-ish options for 2016 (which is a great thing) to pair with Brad Ziegler and Andrew Chafin, who have both been significantly better than even their good ERAs would indicate. If Ziegler is healthy, he will repeat. I also have high confidence in Chafin — but no more confidence than I had that Marshall would be kicking ass and taking names this season. Make what you will of that, but if Marshall can be the right-handed equivalent of Chafin next year (as he was in his excellent 2014), with stupendous strikeout and ground ball rates, you can raise your expectations for the end of games. The back end of the bullpen could turn into a real strength for this team, especially if David Hernandez is back and dealing, and if Daniel Hudson returns in a similar role.
- Show me a pitcher who has had some success pitching for the Rockies, and I’m interested as a potential fit for the D-backs. Jhoulys Chacin is not chopped liver, and just like every other pitcher that the front office has ever loved, he’s right smack dab in the middle of that 26-28 age bracket. Also at azcentral.com, Sarah McLellan wrote up Chacin’s quite good first start with the D-backs with some feedback from the pitcher — including the note that he’s pitched at Chase Field plenty of times before. This could get interesting. The chances that he could offer the D-backs a better than 2 win performance next season are well over zero.
- Enjoy your weekend, but enjoy the memories of Paul Goldschmidt’s blast that looked like a giant playing a giant version of golf and threatening the structural integrity of Chase Field. Nick Piecoro talked to some of Goldy’s teammates about the long bomb, and Jim McLennan compared it to the other longest home runs in the park’s history. And, hey, it can also speak for itself. You won’t just talk to your grandkids about Goldy; they’ll ask you about him.
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