Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catching or Pitching

The Red Sox are currently without a starting catcher. The team captain and starting catcher for the last ten years or so is currently a free agent. While it appears that the Sox would like to have him back, you never know how it will end up with free agents. You never know when a team comes out of nowhere thinking that what a free agent has is exactly what his team needs to put him over the top. In the case of Varitek, the skill most often cited is his ability to handle a pitching staff. That’s one of those immeasurable intangibles that I greatly dislike. What exactly does it mean? How do you know when you’re good?

Where does a catcher’s ability end, and a pitcher’s ability start? Pedro Martinez won a Cy Young without Varitek, and won two with him. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter without Varitek, and one with him. Curt Schilling didn’t finish better than second in Cy Young voting without Varitek, and no better than second with him. Did Varitek have any role in any of it?

I’m not a major league pitcher, so I have no idea what it all means. (If there are any major league pitchers reading this, feel free to set me straight.) But, when I look at this issue, I have more questions than answers. When Josh Beckett first joined the Sox, he got beat up a little his first season. The EEIdiots said he was relying too much on his fastball, and not throwing enough curves. They slammed him almost daily saying he was in a new league and needed to mix it up a bit more. Where did Tek fit into all this? Wasn’t he the one calling the pitches? Wasn’t it up to him to call the curve more often? Was Beckett shaking Tek off constantly? Similar issues arose with another new pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. His rookie season, and last season as well, he threw a lot of pitches. Again, the EEIdiots slammed the pitcher. He was nibbling too much. Rather than try to paint the corners with every pitch he needed to pump it in there more. Again, what was Tek’s role? Doesn’t the catcher set the target? [Side question…when exactly does the catcher tell the pitcher where the location should be? The glove isn’t in position sometimes until the pitcher is into his windup. Is this enough time for the pitcher to direct the ball to the desired target? Again, any MLB pitcher reading this please set me straight] Is it up to Tek to put his glove in the middle of the plate and tell Dice-K to throw it there? Is Daisuke trying to hit the target in the middle and not doing it? Is Tek placing his glove on the corner? Who really is to blame for Beckett and Daisuke, the pitcher or the catcher?

I have to believe that Tek really does have something special. Too many pitchers have given too many specific examples as to why he’s so valuable. When a guy like Schilling who has micromanaged every pitch he’s thrown for his entire career turns the reins over to Tek his first year, I have to believe something’s up. I just don’t know what it is. I definitely hope that the Sox sign Tek for at least another season.

I wish I knew why.

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