Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been enjoying the spoils of his return home for the last 14 months.
The 29-year-old husband and father of three girls has been around to pick up and drop off the kids from school, hug his girls when he’s had a bad day at the office, and plan family vacations. This offseason, Salty even got a chance to take the family out to do one of his favorite things: hunt deer.
“My 8-year old loved it,” Saltalamacchia said. “My 7-year-old got in the stand with me and lasted about 20 minutes. They haven’t eaten the deer meat yet. I don’t know if my wife will let them. But I’ll sneak it one day, let them try it.”
Off the field, life as a Marlin can’t get any better for Salty. On the field, the story is quite the opposite.
Last season, Salty’s first full year in the National League after spending the previous seven with the Red Sox and Rangers, was tough to stomach. Although he demonstrated the leadership the Marlins wanted when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal, Salty’s performance at the plate (.220, 11 homers, 44 RBI, 143 strikeouts) and behind it (career-high 15 errors) was among the worst in the game.
He was bad at hitting with runners in scoring position (.182) and his swing-and-miss percentage was 35.9 percent (worst among hitters to face at least 1,500 pitches).
Salty said the transition of having to learn a new pitching staff, and then a whole new set of opposing hurlers in a new league, turned out to be a lot tougher than he thought it would.
“I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a difference,” he said Monday as the Marlins wrapped up the fourth and final day of pitchers and catchers only work. “You play interleague games, and I always felt I had pretty good success so I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal.
“It’s a lot less stressful this spring training going in knowing the guys, knowing the staff. I’m obviously a little more comfortable with the league as well.”
A career .242 hitter with power, Salty wasn’t expected by the Marlins to come in and hit like Buster Posey. They knew it would take time to adjust. But his defensive struggles were more of a surprise.
Aside from leading all catchers in baseball with the most errors (he had a combined 13 errors his past two seasons in Boston), Salty threw out just 19 of the 89 runners who attempted to steal on him (three percent lower than his career average and among the worst in baseball). He was also the worst catcher in baseball at framing pitches, according to Baseball Prospectus.
“I take more pride in my defense than anything else,” Saltalamacchia said. “Honestly, I still haven’t looked at the numbers. I don’t know what they are. But I know it wasn’t what I wanted them to be or what I’m capable of.”
Bench coach Rob Leary, a former catcher himself, said the defensive emphasis for Saltalamacchia this spring has been on receiving. But they are working on everything — from footwork to blocking balls.
“I don’t even look at the numbers,” Leary said of Salty’s woeful metric stats. “I see things plus [manager Mike Redmond] and myself talk. We formulate a plan with each guy. We formulate a plan with what we want to do with each guy. We want to target the specific things each guy can do a little bit better. And they all can do everything a little bit better.”
Saltamacchia said his body “wasn’t 100 percent recovered” from Boston’s run to the World Series when he showed up for camp with the Marlins last year. He feels fully recovered now and totally free of the fogginess of his concussion, which cost him nearly three weeks in June.
“I know he is way more comfortable,” Redmond said. “He’s focused and determined.
“He’s an important part of our ballclub. We need him to go out there and not just get some big hits, but lead our pitching staff and play great defense. We know he’s capable of it. He knows that. I have faith.”