The Red Sox catcher had another rough night at the plate on Monday, as he went down on strikes three times against the White Sox. He now has six strikeouts in his 12 at-bats since the All-Star break, and the K parade extends even further back than that.
Saltalamacchia now has 20 strikeouts in just 37 at-bats for the month of July. To put that into some sort of perspective, if you apply that pace to a 162-game season, the Sox backstop would strike out a mind-boggling 324 times.
His career "strikeout average" (just dividing strikeouts by at-bats) is .318. When you take away the numbers he's put up this month (a .541 average), that career rate drops to .312.
So, where is this coming from?
It's probably safe to assume that this is just one of those prolonged stretches even major leaguers go through from time to time. That's even more prevalent for catchers, whose bodies take beatings on daily basis and often see their numbers dip as the weather gets warmer and warmer.
But this slump kind of takes it to another level.
Just looking back at the four games since the All-Star break, there's a pretty obvious pattern that starts to develop in Saltalamacchia's at-bats. He's having a good deal of trouble dealing with breaking balls and offspeed offerings, and opposing pitchers are taking advantage.
Saltalamacchia has seen 72 pitches in those four games since the break, and only 26 of them have been four-seam fastballs. The rest have either been curveballs, sliders, changeups, splitters or cutters. On Sunday against Tampa Bay, he saw 23 pitches — 17 of them were breaking balls or offspeed.
Unsurprisingly, Saltalamacchia's swing is a little bit longer than normal right now. When the catcher is going good, he's quick to the ball with a short, compact swing from both sides of the plate. However, you also have to take into account the fact that Saltalamacchia's power numbers are the best of his career right now. He's already surpassed his career high in home runs, as he got to the break with 17.
When you put more of an emphasis on swinging for power, you're going to be susceptible to breaking balls and you're going to swing and miss more often. Both of these are happening right now for Saltalamacchia, but that's something you'll take if you can get a 25 or 30 home runs out of your catcher.
Sure, you'd like to see the swings and misses come a little bit more sporadically, but if the Boston offense can continue to get healthy, the need for Saltalamacchia to produce runs will be reduced. Also, with more protection in the lineup, it's reasonable to assume that the catcher will start to see more fastballs.
It's one thing to be getting this kind of production from your four- or five-hitter. However, when the Red Sox lineup is fully healthy, Saltalamacchia will more often than not find his name penciled in at sixth or lower. You can live with high strikeout numbers if you're getting a home run ever 14 at-bats from that spot in the order.
Saltalamacchia, to his credit, continues to put up good at-bats. He's still working the count — he's seeing five pitches per at-bat since the All-Star break — and he's still drawing some walks. When he gets into pitchers counts, he's just missing his pitches, too. One example of that was Friday night when he fouled a 2-0 fastball from Jeremy Hellickson straight back. So it doesn't really seem like a problem with the approach at the plate right now, rather just a problem with pitch recognition.
That will come around soon enough. Saltalamacchia is already showing signs that he's seeing the ball better, despite some ugly results. For now, it's just one of those slumps. With Saltalamacchia's new emphasis on power, these things are going to happen from time to time.
However, with some more help around him (David Ortiz's potential injury notwithstanding) and a continued commitment to his plan at the plate, don't be surprised if Saltalamacchia snaps out of this strikeout-heavy slump sooner rather than later.