There is a scene in one on my favorite childhood movies, Little Big League, where the 12 year old manager of the Minnesota Twins gets pumped up following a weak base hit in the hole from his struggling favorite player. Afterwards, his bench coach explains that you know it’s time to make a change when a seeing-eye single makes you jump out of your seat.
It’s a quick scene that you probably don’t even remember because it really had little to do with the rest of the movie, but it’s incredible how similar Billy Heywood’s actions were to all of Red Sox Nation this year as the team’s captain became an easier out than almost any pitcher - in the American League. This off season, Boston’s boy wonder Theo Epstein, has a decision to make and all he really needs to do is follow the same advice. It’s time to get rid of Jason Varitek
From about June through Game Seven on Sunday night, a seeing-eye single was just about all you could expect to get from Varitek, who averaged about 15 hits a month this season. Here’s all you need to know about how poor an offensive season he had: If his 93 hits were all converted into wins, the Jason Variteks would have finished two games out of the American League Wild Card.
As he sunk deeper into one of the worst offensive seasons you’ll ever see from a regular starter, the excuses piled up like poor at bats, anything to deflect the heat from Varitek. It became laughable to listen to a game on the radio or NESN and hear about how “Jason really needs to get back to .220” or how he “is finally starting to make solid contact.” The truth is, he saw straight fastballs for most of the season and battled pitchers about as well as my 11 hitter on the little league team I coached this summer (we had a continuous batting order).
The worst excuse of all was that his ability to call a game completely absolved him from ever having to get on base. The guy gets praised for all the time he spends reviewing hitters, which last time I checked, was part of catcher’s job. And I realize that I’m in the minority here when it comes to questioning his impact on pitchers, but will someone please ask Clay Buchholz how much of an effect Jason Varitek had on him this year? Think about the rest of the stud pitchers that Varitek has caught in recent years. Would Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett be any less dominant throwing to a different backstop? The one starter you can really give Varitek credit for helping develop is John Lester, but the catcher isn’t the one suddenly giving you the ability to throw 96-97 MPH when you had never throw even close to that hard before.
Epstein recently talked about needing to be at least league-average at every position and while it’s going to be difficult to find any catcher to provide that much of an upgrade, just about anyone will be better than Varitek. This is a franchise that, without hesitation, has gotten rid of players with far more ability left in them than Varitek does. If they value his presence that much, then keep him on the bench - as a coach. But if the Sox want to remain at the top of American League East, then the captain needs to go.
Must reads on this topic
The Varitek Question – Boston Blood Sox
Boras Talks Tek – Fenway West
Varitek: To Keep Him or Not to Keep Him – Sawx Heads
Eight questions Theo Epstein must answer in the off-season – Sox and Pinstripes