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On May 25, 2006, with tears running down his cheeks, Frank Robinson, then-manager of the Washington Nationals, spoke to the press about his unprecedented move: replacing catcher Matthew LeCroy during the inning. The Houston Astros had successfully stolen seven bases that day against LeCroy, who had committed two throwing errors in a failed attempt to control the running game. The Nationals would win the game, but they were forced to confront the weakness of LeCroy, who was filling in while regular catcher Brian Schneider was hurt.
On April 20, 2010, the Texas Rangers stole nine bases against Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez, setting their club record for steals in a game. The next night was a little better: Josh Beckett and Jason Varitek allowed three steals. Nearly a month into the season, the Red Sox catching tandem has allowed 37 stolen bases, catching just two potential thieves. Martinez has allowed 26 stolen bases while catching two with Varitek allowing 11 and catching none. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins have each allowed 19 stolen bases while throwing catching three and six baserunners, respectively. In the American League, Detroit is next with 17 steals allowed while catching six potential thieves. Even taking the Rangers’ recording setting game out of the picture doesn’t make it look much better.
Over their first 19 games, 20 different players have stolen a base against the Sox. While this list includes speed demons like Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford, Elvis Andrus, and Scott Podsednik, it also includes Carlos Pena (3 SB in 2009), Rick Ankiel (4 SB in 2009), and Vladimir Guerrero (2 SB in 2009). Guerrero has lost so much movement over the years that the Rangers signed him to DH after appearing in the outfield just twice during for the Angels in the 2009 season. Fans chuckle when David Ortiz attempts a steal. Guerrero actually stole two bases against Red Sox catching.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Red Sox are considering a move to acquire Chris Snyder from the Diamondbacks when Miguel Montero returns from the disabled list. On the season, Snyder has caught three of 14 base-stealers, good for a 21% caught stealing percentage. While this is below his career 25% rate of catching opposing runners, it’s a far cry from the numbers current Red Sox catchers are putting up. Although Victor Martinez owns a 23% career mark throwing out base-stealers, he has seen a sharp decline from 37% in 2008 to 14% in 2009 to just 2% so far in 2010.
The Red Sox have made another splash in the international market by signing Cuban catcher Adalberto Ibarra to a five-year, $4.3 million major league deal. According to Cuban Ball Players, the Red Sox envision the versatile Ibarra, who has also seen time at first, second, and third, as a future catcher. At just 22 years old, Ibarra will likely be optioned to the low minors upon joining the Red Sox organization. While catching depth in the minors has been a problem for the Red Sox, adding Ibarra to a farm system including Luis Exposito, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway, and Mark Wagner gives the team a stable of young, developing talent at the position.
One thing in the Red Sox favor: they would need to be historically bad to keep up this pace. The Sox allowed the most steals last year with 151, catching just 13% (the White Sox were second at 132 but caught 24%) and are on pace to allow two stolen bases per game, or 324 over the course of the season. That said, aggressive teams will test he arms of Martinez and Varitek, even with players not known for their speed. With the Angels coming to Fenway for a four-game series in May, the Red Sox will have all the opportunities they can handle to try and control the running game.