By reportedly signing A.J. Pierzynski the Red Sox have all but guaranteed that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the team's primary catcher for the past three seasons, will be playing elsewhere in 2014. Nearly nine years older than Saltalamacchia, Pierzynski a former member of the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers, will be 37 years old at the start of what will be his 17th big league season.
Pierzynski ranked just ahead of Saltalamacchia in home runs (5th and 6th) and RBIs (4th and 5th) among American League catchers last season and had virtually the same batting average (.272 for Pierzynski to .273 for Salty), but a comparison of the two over the past two seasons gives a little more insight into why the Red Sox might have made this move, despite the dramatic difference in age.
Since the start of 2012 Saltalamacchia has higher slugging and on base percentages than Pierzynski, but when it comes to clutch situations Pierzynski has been much more productive, with a higher slash line across the board than Saltalamacchia with runners in scoring position while nearly doubling Salty's slugging percentage with RISP and two outs. Saltalamacchia was also a victim of strikeouts a staggering 278 times which means that he struck out in a full third of his at bats. Pierzynski is the complete opposite, owning a career at bat-to-strikeout ratio of 8.1, which ranks in the top 20 among active batters. In fact Saltalamacchia struck out nearly as many times in 2013 (139) as Pierzynski did in 2012 and 2013 combined (154)—and those were Pierzynski's two highest strikeout totals of his career.
Behind the plate Pierzynski is among the better defensive catchers in the AL, having thrown out 33% of the runners who tried stealing against him last season, compared to just 23% for Saltalamacchia. He has also committed just two errors last year compared to Saltalamacchia's six.
With catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez moving up through the Red sox system, Ben Cherington didn't want to give a long term deal to a catcher who had questions defensively and at the plate and with that in mind, the Sox couldn't have done much better than they did, signing a top-notch backstop who still has some gas in the tank.
Here's how some key stats compare over the past two seasons for Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski.
With the Patriots trailing the Texans 10-0 in the first quarter of yesterday’s game, Tom Brady drove his team down the field on a six-play, 55-yard drive, ending in a 23-yard touchdown connection to his favorite receiver, Rob Gronkowski. The catch, a third-down, diving, fingertip grab just inches above the Reliant Stadium turf and then his subsequent roll into the end zone showed the incredible athleticism of the 6’6”, 265 pound All Pro whose return has been the shot in the arm that a previously languishing offense has needed. Then in the third quarter the Texans were so concerned about Gronkowski’s presence in the end zone that they allowed Shane Vereen to catch a ball in the flat and score virtually unscathed, further illustrating just how important his presence on the field is for the team’s outlook.
The Pats have now played six games with Gronkowski after enduring the first six games of the season without their star tight end. The missing piece to the offense has been obvious and the difference in performance since his return has been dramatic.
In the six games he was sidelined while recovering from back and multiple forearm surgeries, New England’s offense ranked 22nd in the NFL (behind division rivals Buffalo and Miami) by averaging just 20.8 points per game. Tom Brady’s completion percentage over that span was 56.9% ranking New England 26th. The team averaged 246.7 gross passing yards per game to place 20th and yards per completion was 28th in the league at 10.9. Brady ranked 17th in passer rating at 79.5
In the six games playing with Gronkowski, the turnaround has been startling. Only the Broncos have scored more points per game (33.2 to 32.8), the team’s 297.8 passing yards per game ranks fourth in the NFL, Brady has completed 64.7% of his throws, ranking fifth and yards per completion have increased by a full point to 11.9 to rank 13th.
On October 20 against the Jets, Gronkowski’s first game of the year, Brady threw to Gronkowski 17 times, which through yesterday’s games ranked first among targets for all NFL tight ends in a game this season, tied for eighth among all receivers and is just two shy of the aggregate total of targets thrown to all of the other New England tight ends through all 12 games. Despite playing just half of the team’s games, Gronkowski has nearly caught up to Julian Edelman for the team lead in receiving yardage (711 to 560), is in a four-way tie for the most touchdown catches (4) and has caught 27 of the 39 balls thrown to him over the past four games (69.2%).
The score in Houston also marked the fourth consecutive game in which Gronkowski has reached the end zone, tying Jimmy Graham of the Saints for the longest TD-scoring streak for a tight end this season and putting him two shy of his career-high streak of six set in November and December 2011. Despite Gronkowski missing half of the season, only Graham has more 100-yard receiving games among tight ends (six to three) only San Francisco’s Vernon Davis is averaging more yards per catch (16.8 to 15.1) and by averaging 93.3 receiving yards per contest, Gronkowski is ahead of second-pace Graham by 7.3 yards. He also places fourth among all receivers in first downs (29) since making his return, trailing only Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall.
The Bruins pulled out an overtime win last night against the Penguins when defenseman Torey Krug wound up and unleashed a slap-shot past Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury for a 4-3 final score. The goal was the seventh of the season for Krug who burst on the scene during last season’s playoffs when he became the first defenseman in NHL history to score four goals in his first five postseason contests. This year he hasn’t only been one of the league’s top scoring rookie defensemen, he’s tied for the league lead in goals among all d-men while ranking third among all rookie skaters.
The Bruins are no strangers to high-scoring defensemen as perhaps the best of them all, Bobby Orr, sported the black and gold, which is what makes the following statement all the more incredible. Krug has an excellent chance to be the top goal scoring rookie defenseman in Boston history. Currently the list of most goals during the equivalent of a Calder Trophy eligible season among freshman B’s backliners includes the Raymond Bourque (17), Greg Hawgood (16), Orr (13), Woody Dumart (13) and Eddie Shore (12). Krug’s seven goals have come in just 24 games, giving him more than two-thirds of the season to continue his assault on the net as well as the record books. Krug already has as many goals in less than two months as any Bruins defensive member of the NHL’s All Rookie teams (Glen Wesley scored seven goals in 79 games during 1987-88, Kyle McLaren had five in 74 1995-96 games and Nick Boynton four in 80 2001-02 games).
The alltime single-season NHL goals record is also within shouting distance of Krug who has 16 more tallies to go to reach the 23 scored by Rangers (by way of Boston College) Hall of Famer Brian Leetch in 1988-89. In fact, Krug’s current rate of 0.29 goals per game is just slightly behind Leetch’s pace of 0.34 which sets the standard during the expansion era (also at 0.29, only Hawgood and Colorado’s Barry Beck are in the same neighborhood among those in the post World War II era).
The Patriots historic come-from-behind victory over the Broncos at a frigid Gillette Stadium muted what was a din of outrage aimed at Stevan Ridley by seemingly the entire football community on social media during the first few minutes of what was shaping up to be a rough night in New England. After Ridley’s first-drive fumble was scooped up by Denver’s Von Miller and taken 60 yards for Denver’s first score. he wouldn’t see the ball again yet the Pats would fumble twice more in the first quarter, one by Tom Brady and the other by LeGarrette Blount, accounting for nearly as many lost fumbles (three) that they had the entire season to that point (five). In fact, Ridley (4), Blount (2) and Brady (2) account for all eight of the Patriots lost fumbles this season, a stat that ties them for sixth-most in the NFL (yet still half of the NFL-leading16 coughed up by the Broncos).
Ridley’s problems holding onto the ball have reached epidemic proportions, with him losing the ball in three successive games.Yet despite being benched for most of the Denver and Buffalo games and missing the Bengals game altogether, Ridley still ranks 17th among all NFL runners in rushing (576 yards), is tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (7) and is 20th in first downs (29). Roll back the starting line to the beginning of 2012 and Ridley moves up to 11th in yards (1,839), third in touchdowns (19) and fifth in first downs (111). However he’s also first in among NFL running backs during that span with six lost fumbles and his 1.36 fumbles per 100 touches ranks as the most among all running backs with more than 310 touches, second to Willis McGahee (1.62) among those with more than 205 touches and 12th out of everyone with as many as 100 touches over the past two seasons (Blount ranks eighth at 1.61).
The most painful part of the Ridley situation is that his fumbles have been costly, and the damage has come quickly. Two of his four lost this season have resulted in long defensive returns for touchdowns (74 vs. Buffalo and 60 last night) while a third saw the Steelers offense celebrating in the end zone less than two minutes after the ball hit the turf. A common thread between those three however is that the Pats ultimately won the game. Although the fourth of those resulted in just a field goal, it was the most costly, killing a long New England drive at the Carolina 13, resulting in a likely six-to10 point swing, completely changing the complex of the eventual 24-20 loss.
Perhaps the social media pundits were right and Ridley should fall to the bottom of the depth chart. With him shackled to the bench, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden (zero fumbles on 260 combined career offensive touches) picked up the slack in the backfield combining for 160 yards on 32 flawless touches and were reminiscent of recent backfield committees fielded by Bill Belichick. They may not provide the pure running style of Ridley, but with a full complement of receivers back in full swing for Tom Brady, and a lack of turnovers, like Sunday night, they should give the Pats enough to win.
Here are the running backs who have fumbled with the highest frequency since the start of 2012 (minimum 100 offensive touches).
The Celtics had their four-game winning streak snapped last night by the Charlotte Bobcats. Jeff Green was the leading Celtics scorer for the third time this season with 20 points. It also marked that eighth straight contest that no individual Celtic reached 25 points. In fact Green’s 25-point, opening-night outburst against the Raptors is the only time all season a Celtic has scored as many as 25 points in a contest.
How rare is that? No Celtics team dating back to the ABA-NBA merger (and for at least a decade and a half before that) has gone this deep into a season without having a player rack up over 25 in a single game. Only two other teams this season have yet to have someone go over a quarter-century, the Kobe-less Lakers and somewhat surprisingly, the aging and therefore minutes conscious San Antonio Spurs.
The lack of a scoring standout shouldn’t really be a surprise for a team that over the past few summers shed itself of three Hall of Fame players and has been playing the entire schedule thus far without its only true star, Rajon Rondo. Gerald Wallace was once a consistent 30-point threat, but age and injuries have reduced him to a complimentary player on a team full of them. Jared Sullinger has the potential to be a big low post scorer, but he has yet to top 16 points in a professional game. As a Wizard Jordan Crawford showed that he's a pure scorer but one without a conscience, something that surely won't fly in Brad Stevens's system.
Perhaps Green, who showed he’s a capable scorer in March by pouring in 43 against the Heat, can be the go-to guy the green and white need, but in 405 career games he has 73% more games in which he’s scored fewer than 10 points (116) than those in which he scored at least 20 (67).
Here’s when each current member of the Celtics last scored as many as 25 points in an NBA game:
- Jeff Green (25 on October 30, 2013)
- Rajon Rondo (30 on January 18, 2013)
- MarShon Brooks (27 on April 3, 2013)
- Gerald Wallace (25 on December 13, 2012)
- Brandon Bass (27 on May 21, 2012 *playoffs)
- Avery Bradley (28 on April 20, 2012)
- Kris Humphries (29 on April 16, 2012)
- Courtney Lee (25 on April 8, 2012)
- Jordan Crawford (39 on March 30, 2011)
- Keith Bogans (27 on March 19, 2005)
- Vitor Favarani (not yet)
- Kelly Olynyk (not yet)
- Phil Pressey (not yet)
- Jared Sullinger (not yet)
He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.