It’s looking like the end of the road for Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. No team aside from the Red Sox has offered Varitek a major league deal, and Boston has a glut of catchers (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, newly-signed free agent Kelly Shoppach, and young Ryan Lavarnway) that would prevent him from getting a lot of playing time. But at the end of the day, where does Varitek rank among catchers, both all-time and during his era?
Varitek’s career gets romanticized a lot, due to his role with the Red Sox as their captain. But when you look at his overall career numbers, he wasn’t that great. Varitek’s career line is just .256/.341/.435 with 193 homers in parts of 15 seasons in the majors (though one of those seasons was just one plate appearance long). His career wOBA is just .336, his wRC+ is 99 (100 is average, anything lower is below average), and he’s racked up just 24.8 career fWAR. His overall decline has been steep, accruing just 1.5 fWAR over the last four seasons.
Looking at catchers that played during Varitek’s career (excluding that one plate appearance 1997, of course), and you get a better picture of where he ranks overall. Varitek ranks ninth overall in fWAR among catchers during his career years. Among the players ahead of him are Brian McCann and Joe Mauer, both of whom have nearly 2000 or more plate appearances LESS than Varitek during this time period. He even has less fWAR than Jason Kendall, a butt of many a joke during his twilight years, who actually is third on the list with 37.2 fWAR.
If you just look at the raw offensive numbers and ignore fWAR, things are a little worse for Varitek. He’s fifteenth among all catchers in wOBA, behind studs like Mike Lieberthal, Eddie Taubensee, and Ryan Doumit. His wRC+ is seventeenth, falling behind players like Nick Hundley and Todd Pratt. Varitek does rank fourth in homers, but Brian McCann and Victor Martinez are both about three good seasons away from passing him.
Is Varitek an all-time great? No, of course not. But the thing is, he holds a special place in the hearts of Boston fans for his role on the 2004 and 2007 World Series champion teams. He’ll probably be elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame, but when it comes to the Baseball Hall in Cooperstown, Varitek is going to fall well short.
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