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Varitek vs. Victor: A Lopsided Tale of Numbers

09.26.09 at 12:30 pm ET
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NEW YORK — Since Aug. 1, when Victor Martinez joined the Red Sox, 322 major-league players have at least 75 plate appearances. The numbers produced by Jason Varitek in that time have been nothing short of horrific.

Jason Varitek, meanwhile, has the worst average (.124) among the 322 players with at least 75 plate appearances since Aug. 1. He is second to last with a .210 OBP, second to last with a .202 slugging mark and last in the majors with a .412 OPS.

Martinez, who has split time between first and catching, has been one of the best players in the game during the same time. After going 2-for-4 on Friday with a homer off of Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain, Martinez is now hitting .335 with a .403 OBP, .505 slugging mark and .908 OPS. He has been a star at the plate. He currently has a career-best 24-game hitting streak intact, and it has been all but impossible for the Sox to keep him out of the lineup.

That, of course, has not been the case with Varitek. He will not catch Daisuke Matsuzaka on Saturday, but he will be back behind the dish on Sunday to catch Paul Byrd. All the same, in the bigger picture, the Sox have not been a better team with Varitek in the lineup than they have been with Martinez behind the dish.

Varitek had a particularly dreadful night on Friday, going 0-for-4 with a pair of bad strikeouts, a double-play grounder and a foul-out to third. The Yankees also stole seven bases in as many attempts against the Red Sox captain, meaning that Varitek has now caught just 7.8 percent of attempted base stealers this year.

Varitek and Francona both pointed out that the Yankees were, by and large, running on first move with a left-hander (first Lester, then reliever Hunter Jones) on the mound. Even so, Varitek’s playing time has been slowly ebbing ever since Martinez arrived, the Sox apparently having concluded that they are typically better with the newcomer in the game.

Since Martinez joined the Sox, the team has a 31-20 record: 17-8 (.680) with Martinez as the starting catcher, 14-12 (.538) with Varitek behind the plate. The reason for the disparity, unsurprisingly, appears to be that the lineup is more powerful when Martinez is catching with Mike Lowell playing third and Kevin Youkilis playing first. On days when Varitek catches, one of those three players has to sit.

The Sox have scored an average of 6.7 runs per game when Martinez has been the starting catcher, and 5.1 runs per game in contests started by Varitek since Aug. 1.

Despite the diminished playing time, however, Francona noted that Varitek remains committed to helping the Sox win.

“There’s a reason they put that ‘C’ on his chest. Even through maybe disappointment or a reduced role, he still exhibits a lot of leadership,” said Francona. “He’s helped Victor. He’ll continue to be very valuable.”

“He’s having a hard time,” said Francona. “It’s not always easy. You do the best you can. You keep plugging away. You know he’ll do that. You just keep plugging. He takes the brunt of a long season. We’ve talked about it so much. It affects him at the plate, the amount of catching he does. It’s hard to get around that when you catch that many games.”

It is worth noting that the team’s run prevention has been better with Varitek behind the plate than Martinez. Boston has given up an average of 4.3 runs per game in games started by its captain in the last two months, versus 5.1 runs a game with Martinez catching.

For his part, Varitek — who refused to use a neck injury that he said will be “handled” in the offseason — as an excuse. Moreover, he suggests that his offensive approach has not been as bad as the results for the most part.

“I think, minus today, at times, I think I’ve had good at-bats. I had good at-bats in Baltimore, I had good at-bats in [Kansas City],” said Varitek. “Outside of today, and a couple of other times, I’ve had good at-bats. Not necessarily always results.

“I’m not going to quit on it,” he added. “I’ll continue to go out there and do the work we’ve been doing every day. Today I didn’t have as good of at-bats. I’ve got to try and stick with the process as much as I can, and help this team when I can.”

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