Victor Martinez Part of Red Sox’ Solution to Catch Base Stealers


Victor Martinez Part of Red Sox' Solution to Catch Base Stealers David Ortiz stealing home. Jonathan Papelbon keeping quiet. Josh Beckett smiling with two on and two out.

Hate to say it, but these are just about the only occurrences in Fenway Park rarer than seeing an opposing baserunner caught stealing by a Red Sox catcher.

No one likes to talk about it, but it's been a problem for the better part of the last decade. The Red Sox haven't been able to stop anyone from running wild.

Chone Figgins
goes out of his mind. Carl Crawford tied a modern major league record early last May when he stole six bases in a single game against the Red Sox. Jason Varitek, fair or not, became the goat. And perhaps he deserved it.

Over the past five years, with Varitek aging before our eyes, the Red Sox have been one of the worst teams in baseball at containing opposing baserunners. Last year, they were the absolute worst. And it really wasn't even close — the 2009 Red Sox allowed 151 stolen bases, most in the major leagues. The White Sox, who finished second-worst, gave up 132. If you look at it by success rate, the Sox were just as bad — 13 percent of opposing thieves were gunned down, versus 19 percent by the Rockies, who finished second.

These numbers are ugly. And they indicate a growing problem to which the Red Sox really don't seem to have a solution.

"I can't do more than what I can do," Varitek told The Boston Globe last May after the infamous Crawford game. "Early I made a bad throw, but later I made some decent throws. It's a work in progress with our pitchers. I, obviously, can't try to do too much. That's kind of what my job entails. It's not fun to sit there and watch people constantly go and be safe. Hopefully, we'll continue to do things, and hopefully, we'll get our fair share."

We've heard an array of answers from Varitek — about this throw and that throw, about the pitchers, about his own limitations. But there's no one little thing, no one small tweak the Red Sox can make to fix this problem. There's something deeply ingrained that's troubling them.

Unseating Varitek as the Red Sox' regular catcher seems like a natural first step. Having Victor Martinez behind the plate instead would have to be better, wouldn't it?

You'd think so, except the ugly truth is that Martinez caught just 11 percent of opposing base stealers last season, versus 13 percent for Varitek. The younger, more popular, higher-paid catcher was actually the worse one.

Except you get a feeling with Martinez, and this isn't a feeling you get about Varitek anymore, that the potential is there for improvement.

Martinez has gunned down 24 percent of opposing baserunners in his career. That's only a touch below average these days. The average catcher in baseball in 2009, for example, was good for about a 28 percent success rate.

During his time in Cleveland, the catcher had seasons in which he caught 31, 32 and 37 percent of would-be base stealers. He's got a track record of solid performances behind the plate. And bear in mind, he's still only 31 years old. He's not yet at the point of decline in his career. The strength is still there, the peak physical condition is still there. All he needs is a little bit of effort.

At this point, the problem is mostly mental. The Red Sox are moving forward with Martinez as their regular starter behind the plate. Martinez, as anyone who saw him catch in Cleveland is well aware, is capable of making plays behind the plate. In Boston, he's going to make them. All it will take is determination, focus and a little bit of practice.

*** will be answering one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.

Tuesday, Feb. 9: Who will be the No. 1 starter?

Thursday, Feb. 11: How does the offensive approach change without Jason Bay in the lineup?

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