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The catcher conundrum in the AL

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  October 9, 2009 02:27 PM

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It's interesting that the three best teams in the American League playoffs and maybe the three best teams in baseball, period have thorny catching issues.

Terry Francona said immediately last night that Victor Martinez would catch Josh Beckett in Game 2. While everyone acknowledges Beckett is more comfortable with Jason Varitek, Francona wants to put his best lineup up against Jered Weaver. Varitek is hitting an unseemly .209 with a .311 OBP.

The Angels have essentially split their catching duties between Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli. Both are right-handed hitters hitters from Florida, Mathis, 26, hit .211 this season. Napoli, 27, hit .272. But Mathis started Game 1 because he works well with John Lackey. We all saw the results.

Scioscia, a former catcher, believes in selecting his starter based more on defense.

Meanwhile in New York, there is a furor going on because True Yankee Jorge Posada has been benched for Game 2 and replaced by Jose Molina, who hit .217 during the season.

Erratic A.J. Burnett has pitched better to Molina than he has to Posada. Burnett claims he didn't ask for a personal catcher, but he has one.

Posada was fuming when he got the news. "We better win the game," he said at the time. But he has since calmed down. But if Burnett doesn't pitch well today, you can bet it will become a major issue.

Offense trumps defense nearly every time when a manager makes out his lineup, even at shortstop. But because the catcher is involved in every single pitch, that's the one spot you can make an exception.

What has more value, the runs a catcher may be able to prevent or the runs he may (or may not) be able to drive in? Who's more valuable, a catcher like Varitek or a slugger like Martinez who happens to catch?

There is no exact formula. These are the decisions guys like Francona, Scioscia and Girardi are paid to make. Only Ron Gardenhire has it easy, which is reason No. 1,245 Joe Mauer should be the runaway MVP of the American League.

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