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Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the sluggingest catcher in the American League

05.20.12 at 9:23 am ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia embraces the demands of his position. He is that special species of baseball player known as catcher, a position that has evolved over the generations to reflect a different set of priorities than any other on the field. Success is defined more as a reflection of the performance of others than through one’s own statistics, a point that the switch-hitting catcher makes clear when discussing his offense.

“I take pride in everything I do it’s the game of baseball. When I’m up to bat, I want to put a good at-bat together, I want to be able to help my team out. But at the same time, I have priorities ‘€“’€“ to get the pitcher through and work together to win games,” Saltalamacchia said recently. “I feel good, I feel comfortable [at the plate]. [But] David [Ortiz] and [Adrian Gonzalez] and those guys are there to drive the runs in and I’m there to put the fingers down. As long as me and the starting pitcher and working together and doing our job, I know the offense will take care of it.”

It’s the sort of stock response that comes straight from the Varitek School of Catching. Yet like Varitek in his prime, Saltalamacchia is proving to be a catcher who is capable of impacting the game offensively, particularly over the last month, during which the 27-year-old switch-hitter has been pulverizing the ball. That continued on Saturday night, when he shrugged off the fact that he absorbed a foul ball on the ear that necessitated 12 stitches on Friday night to go 3-for-4 with a solo homer (his sixth) and double. With the performance, he is now hitting .283 with a .308 OBP, .566 slugging mark and .873 OPS.

Saltalamacchia leads all American League catchers in slugging percentage, and it’s not particularly close. His .566 slugging percentage is more than 80 points better than A.J. Pierzynski‘s second-place number (.485). The fact that he is swinging a sledgehammer helps to explain how he leads all American League backstops with at least 100 plate appearances in OPS (.873). He is tied for the American League lead among catchers with 16 extra-base hits.

Those season numbers are a result of a particularly torrid stretch over the last month. For the second straight year, Saltalamacchia got off to a dismal start, but starting with a four-hit game against the Yankees on April 21, he has been doing more damage than anyone else on his team. Since April 21, he is hitting .357 with a .370 OBP, five homers, nine doubles and an eye-opening .700 slugging percentage that fifth in the majors in that time, behind only Josh Hamilton, Allen Craig, Ryan Braun and Joey Votto.

All of that is taking place at a time when the catcher is appearing to be commanding the defensive side of the game with constantly increasing confidence.

“Salty is playing as though he has a mission, offensively and defensively,” said manager Bobby Valentine. “He’€™s taking charge of the game. He’€™s sensing the moment.

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