Going into the season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was lined up to function primarily as the Tigers backup catcher. The switch-hitting backstop was known for doing damage against RHP, but his lack of defensive skill and weakness against lefties made him something less than a full-time player. That’s why the Tigers got him for basically nothing.
Yet one McCann injury and 55 strong PA later, Salty is enjoying quite the honeymoon in Detroit. His 176 wRC+ is something you might expect from Cabrera, propped up on stats that would make Adam Dunn blush: 12.7 BB%, 38.2 K%, .408 ISO. This is obviously a small sample size kind of thing, as no one would suggest Salty is actually one of the five best hitters in baseball.
But this impressive stretch is somewhat compelling, even given the acknowledgement that it isn’t sustainable in any way.
It’s interesting because this is essentially the best 15 games of Salty’a career offensively coming right after the worst stretch. The graph below shows his rolling wOBA average over 15 game samples. He’s done this before on two occasions, but it’s striking how bad he was leading up to this year.
What’s most interesting to me is that Salty has really sold out for power. The rate at which he’s pulling balls and hitting fly balls is off the charts. I don’t want to make a whole lot of a couple dozen batted balls, but it lines up with the general idea: Salty is looking to do damage and doesn’t mind if he strikes out in the process. That’s always been true, but right now it’s working.
Salty’a hot start doesn’t mean he will keep hitting like this forever, but I think he’s demonstrating proof of concept. He can provide the Tigers with some left-handed thunder off the bench to keep teams from exploiting the RHH heavy Tigers late in games. The Tigers really lacked a power bat off the bench the last few years and if McCann comes back and performs, Salty can be that. If McCann struggles, the Tigers appear to have something more than a replacement level option on which to fall back.