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Saltalamacchia and Varitek: Best Catcher(s) in Baseball? The Answer May Surprise You.

BOSTON, MA  - JULY 24:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Boston Red Sox makes contact during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on July 24, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 24: Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Boston Red Sox makes contact during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on July 24, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Getty Images

In the world of fantasy baseball, no position is more vexing than catcher. Brian McCann, whose numbers would be impressive at any position, and Victor Martinez, an everyday DH who hits between a pair of All-Stars in Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta, are head and shoulders above everyone else. With the exception of perhaps Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and Mike Napoli, they are basically the only three-dimentional hitting catchers out there. Options F through Z are comprised of players on polar opposites in terms of productivity. There are the Lucroys and Molinas and a rehabbing Joe Mauer, all of whom provide a solid batting average but little pop, and there are the Santanas and the Arencibias and the Olivos of the world, who occasionally hit homers and drive in runs but do it while sabotaging batting average.

Many fantasy vets don't even bother using a catcher. To them, any catcher other than the first five I mentioned are a waste of a roster space that could be better used housing another pitcher. Most catchers, after all, have terrible batting averages, hit dismally low in the order and rarely produce a lot of runs and RBI.

So what if I told you that there's a catcher on the waiver wire, right now, who's just as good as McCann and Martinez? What if I told you that this player has a lethal combination of runs, home runs and RBI, that he plays every single day, and that he's still available in 78% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, and more than 90% of ESPN leagues?

If you're wondering why you haven't heard or thought of using this player, it's okay. Because the player I'm talking about is actually two players: Boston Red Sox catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek.

Right off the bat, a lot of people aren't going to like this strategy because it requires keeping a pair of catchers on your roster when many would prefer to have none. And it only works for those in daily leagues, because you'd have to alternate between which one is playing on an almost daily basis. If you can overcome those pitfalls, Saltalamacchia and Varitek are a clever solution to the catcher conundrum plaguing the fantasy world.

Through 62 starts at catcher, Saltalamacchia (owned in 21% of Yahoo! leagues) is batting .265 with 34 runs, 10 home runs and 36 RBI. Varitek (owned in a puny 1% of Yahoo! leagues) is batting .237 with 24 runs, 7 home runs and 22 RBI through 44 starts. Saltalamacchia is clearly the more attractive of the two options and plays more frequently, but neither warrants ownership individually because of their near equal timeshare. Combine the two however (and there's virtually no overlap in their numbers) and you have a duo worthy of recognition: 58 runs, 17 home runs, 58 RBI and a composite .254 average.

To see what I mean, let's compare the Red Sox catchers to the three most widely-owned catchers in fantasy:

Saltalamacchia/Varitek: 58 runs, 17 home runs, 58 RBI, .254 batting average
          Brian McCann: 43 runs. 18 home runs, 55 RBI, .306 batting average
       Victor Martinez: 47 runs, 06 home runs, 61 RBI, .317 batting average
	     Joe Mauer: 22 runs, 01 home runs, 19 RBI, .296 batting average

To be fair, Joe Mauer has only played in 50 games due to a bout of bilateral leg weakness, so his stats aren't nearly as gaudy as they could be. At the same time, Jason Varitek alone, in 2 fewer games and 23 fewer at-bats, has 2 more runs, 6 more home runs and 3 more RBI than Mauer. The Sox catchers have nearly as many homers as McCann and drastically more home runs than Martinez, and have more RBI than McCann but less than Martinez; all three big-name backstops have a much better average than the Boston duo.

But where the numbers really begin to shine is in the runs department. Saltalamacchia and Varitek have a whopping 15 more runs than McCann and 11 more runs than Martinez. It defies conventional wisdom how the Red Sox catchers, who never bat higher than seventh, can have so many more runs with a much lower batting average than McCann, Martinez and Mauer, even though McCann and Mauer hit third and Martinez hits fifth. If anything, it speaks to the incredible prowess of the Boston Red Sox lineup. Because they're batting in front of Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Carl Crawford, a huge proportion of Jarrod and Jason's at-bats are RBI opportunities. And when they do happen to get on base, they're quickly followed by Josh Reddick, Marco Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in the order, who are likely the best 8-9-1-2 hitters in all of baseball.

The most encouraging aspect of the Saltalamacchia/Varitek union is that the two catchers have actually gotten better as the season's gone on. Take a look at what their game log over the past 11 games would look like if they were one player:

  • 8/01: 2-4, 2 runs, 1 home run, 2 RBI
  • 7/31: 1-4, 1 run, 1 home run, 2 RBI
  • 7/30: 2-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI
  • 7/29: 1-3, 1 run, 1 home run, 1 RBI
  • 7/28: 1-3, 1 run
  • 7/27: 1-4
  • 7/26: 1-5, 1 run, 1 home run, 1 RBI
  • 7/25: 1-6
  • 7/24: 3-4, 4 RBI
  • 7/23: 1-3, 1 run
  • 7/22: 1-4, 1 run

An 11-game hitting streak with 14 runs, 4 home runs and 12 RBI. That's pretty darn good as far as waiver wire production goes. No, the average isn't as desirable as some would like. But if you're willing to overlook it, there isn't a more lethal unit producing from the catcher position than Saltalamacchia and Varitek. They have far and away the most runs, nearly the most home runs and nearly the most RBI, and they lead both McCann and Martinez in two of the three categories. And they are in the best lineup in baseball and will continue to see hittable pitches on a daily basis. Food for thought, no?

(I mean, even forgetting the statistical reasoning behind it, how odd/cool would it be to say that 39-year-old Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- the guy with the longest last name in baseball history -- were your fantasy catchers, and that it actually worked?)