What about Tek?
There have been huge volumes of discussion this winter about someone I’m very close to and care a lot about. There is much division in Sox Nation about bringing – or not bringing – Jason Varitek back and what he really means to a staff, and a team.
It’s simpler than some might think if you reverse engineer this.
Let’s take the “No Tek” approach. There are three (for simplicity sake) possible outcomes.
1) The staff gets better with two new catchers and excels and they win a ton of games.
2) The staff stays somewhat similar and no one excels or declines to any serious degree
3) The staff is worse, some guys stay somewhat the same, a bunch of guys have inconsistent seasons.
The “X factor” in all this is John Farrell. Were it not for John I don’t think this discussion would be happening, Tek would be signed and he’d be tasked with bringing along the next catcher for this franchise. John is the best pitching coach alive (though Dick Bosman and Mark Connor rank right up there, and Bob Welch was awesome). John brings a ton of things to the table that few others do and if Tek is not back his workload will triple (at least) and he’ll have much more coaching to do and preparation as well. I think John makes outcome No. 3 less likely but he alone will be hard pressed to make No. 1 happen without major contributions from behind the plate. Any staff will/would/does have issues making No. 1 happen without a catcher behind the plate that knows lineups and prepares to the degree Tek does. I’d be interested, and my inclination is to make a bet, that in the last 15 years the amount of teams that have won World Series with a brand new No. 1 starting catcher, or a duo that splits catching duties, both new to the team, is minimal.
Actually I’ll check that out right now…
Atlanta: Javy Lopez (after 80 some odd games in 1994) and Charlie O’Brien (VERY veteran presence).
Cleveland: Sandy Alomar (veteran who had been there) and Tony Pena (Vet).
Atlanta: Javy Lopez and Eddie Perez.
New York: Joe Girardi (AH! First year with team, but a very game-oriented veteran catcher, known for commanding a staff) and a young, very young Posada. I think Leyritz might have caught some games.
Florida: Charles Johnson (third year with the team) and a young Greg Zaun.
Cleveland: Sandy Alomar (Vet).
San Diego: Carlos Hernandez (Second year with team) and Greg Myers (Vet).
New York: Jorge Posada with Girardi now backing him up
Atlanta: Eddie Perez/Lopez and Greg Myers (Perez and Lopez had been there a few years at this point).
New York: Posada with Girardi
New York: Posada caught about every frickin’ game.
New York Mets: Piazza, in his third year with the team, backed up by Todd Pratt (veteran who was very well known for his game calling. Having known him since 1988 I can promise you he was into handling a pitching staff).
Arizona: Damien Miller in his third year backed up by Rod Barajas.
New York: Posada backed up with some Joe Oliver and Bobby Estellela.
Anaheim: Bengie Molina in his first year, backed up by Shawn Wooten.
San Francisco: Benito Santiago (his second year with SF), with Yorvit Torrealba.
Florida Pudge Rodriguez in his first year backed up by Mike Redmond, who had been there a long time.
New York: Posada (shocker!) backed up by Flaherty.
Boston: Tek and Dougie
St Louis: Matheny in his fifth year backed up by a Molina brother.
Chicago: AJP in his first year, backed up by Widger.
Houston: Ausmus in his 5th year.
St Louis: Molina now starting after a few years, backed by Bennett.
Detroit: Pudge in his second year, backed by Vance Wilson
Boston: Tek and Doug again.
Colorado: Y Torrealba in his second season.
Philadelphia: Ruiz and Costa both in their third years
Tampa: Navarro in his third season.
It’s not exactly the best study, but in the past 14 years, of the 28 World Series teams, three have made it with their starting catcher being a first-year to the organization guy, none with rookies as starters and no team with two new catchers to the organization.
And make no mistake about it, this team is about winning the World Series. Can it be done without Tek? Sure it can.
But in my opinion it’s going to be far harder to win without him than with him. I don’t care if the new guy hit .350, the issue is behind the plate.
This staff can win, it has immense talent but three are so many factors that are going to be thrown into the mix that a guy like Tek can help smooth out.
Dice is spending most of the spring away from the team. Penny, Smoltz, both will be on different schedules. You’ve got a stable of young arms that have matured under Farrell AND Tek that having Tek back there would, again, in my opinion ONLY, only continue that progression.
There are quite a few new arms here that will take some getting used to, and no one that I have ever thrown to gets into a pitcher and his rhythms better than Jason. Add to that his reputation – which is not a myth, guys around baseball know Tek is good and know how much the staff loves throwing to him – and how many other catchers get talked about in that sense? Few.
The thing I can speak from experience to is getting to know your new catcher, and getting comfortable. They are two very different things. I put a ton of time and effort into getting comfortable with a new catcher more so than anything. Rhythm is such a huge part of the game to many pitchers, me included, that I needed to be in a flow and did not want to be out there shaking off and calling time outs during games.
Could Josh win 20 without Tek? Absolutely. Could Lester continue to get better? I bet he will. But that, and so many other things are much easier roads to travel WITH him catching as opposed to him not catching.
If a month into camp there is trouble with the staff synching up and getting comfortable with the catcher, then what? I know that questions been asked and answered internally and I am 100 percent sure they know what they want to do, but I am just speculating and hoping to see Tek back here.
So then you go the other route, with Tek …
1) The staff gets better, Tek hits .220 again.
2) The staff gets better, Tek hits .250.
3) The staff gets better, Tek has another 2004 like season.
That’s the only three outcomes I can see happening. Obviously much hinges on health and some things outside the teams control, but this staff WILL NOT get worse with Jason catching, it just won’t. There is too much time, effort and preparation on his part to become ‘worse’ as a game caller and staff-handler. Oh, and another thing, all of you defensive folks talking about base stealing and runners being caught, that’s a horsecrap stat because stolen bases are taken off pitchers, not catchers. Baserunners steal because pitchers don’t hold, or don’t pay attention, or aren’t quick to home. With the rare exception catchers throw out baserunners when given enough time. Tek’s times to second base weren’t down last year, or the year before. Runners stole off the staff, they almost always do.
My bet is Jason does NOT hit .220, maybe not .290 but I would take any bet that has me with him hitting closer to .290 than .220. After talking to him and hearing him talk about his body, his swing and his mind-set, I’d be real comfortable saying he’s a guy much more likely to hit .265 with 20 HR than .220 with 10.
In my mind it’s going to be the piece that finishes the puzzle for this team. Thinking of an October rotation consisting of a healthy Beckett, Smoltz, Lester, Penny and Dice with Paps at the back end and Tek running the show is going to make ANY team – ANY team – in the post season hope for another match up until they absolutely HAVE to meet Boston.
Addendum Something that went unmentioned, and probably shouldn’t have. Scott Boras is the reason this situation exists, of that there can be no mistake. He obviously advised his client to refuse arbitration, believing he was going to work his magic, and that failed. I don’t think for a second Tek would absolve himself of blame here either, ultimately it’s his decision.
I am past that part of it, because it is meaningless at this point. He refused arbitration, Scott failed to get a multi-year deal, it’s January 16th, he hasn’t signed, the Sox don’t have their #1 catcher. I just was making the observation that I think both sides want this to happen, Boston for the ‘right price’, Tek for ‘a price’ that isn’t league minimum and !!!!WARNING THIS IS A PERSONAL OPINION ONLY!!!!! maybe a shot at a 2nd year if he performs well. He wants to be here, they want him to be here and they have been able to take significant money off the books. It’s a win-win for both sides if you get Tek and Theo in the same room imo.