Every season there is always a player or two who starts off the season scorching hot at a rate that is commonly accepted as unsustainable. So when Jarrod Saltalamacchia homered in his first game with the Tigers and totaled five dingers through his first eight, no one was expecting his rampant pace to last forever.
Almost on cue, he has been slumping badly since the first couples weeks of the year, hitting just .136 with very little power. However, perhaps there is more to this downturn than a player just cooling down as normal.
Six of Saltalamacchia’s first eight games this season came on the road, and all five of his early home runs came away from Detroit. Since this start, he has played about as many games on the road as at home, but the results have not been equal at all. His .214 batting average on the road may be uninspiring, but his .079 average at home is simply abysmal. Could this be something more than just statistical noise?
The dichotomy in these numbers is striking. Though just a career .240 hitter with an average wRC+ of 95, Saltalamacchia has never shown splits this large before; in fact, he has done slightly better at home over the course of his career, though his home ballpark has changed over the years. He has typically hit lefties better than righties, but his lefty/right splits do not account for this great gap in location splits.
Saltalamacchia’s numbers point to something more than just early season woes or struggling to make an adjustment. With his awful production at Comerica, one has to wonder if he struggling to pick up the ball. The backdrop in Detroit is something that has affected him in the past -- in 48 at-bats before joining the Tigers, Saltalamacchia collected just four hits with one home run and 21 strikeouts, resulting in a .083 average. Salty himself has reportedly told the media he struggles to pick up the ball at Comerica Park, though we cannot find his actual quote in any recent articles.
In almost all offensive categories, Saltalamacchia has performed much better on the road, and for the most part the numbers are nowhere close. He has more hits, extra base hits, and home runs way from home while striking out less frequently, and he has a slash line of .294/.333/.725 compared to .081/.244/.216. The difference between his home and road wRC+ is by far the most pronounced on the team. The only statistic that is higher for Saltalamacchia at home is his walk rate, which surely relates to how confident (or unconfident) he feels about swinging at pitches in Detroit.
But as mentioned before, most of Saltalamacchia’s strong road numbers came during his first five away games. Since then, he has not been too sharp at either location. His early home run onslaught was a nice bonus, but the homers have been much harder to come by recently. In their place has been a 40 percent strikeout rate, which is high even for Saltalamacchia and his 30 percent career average. Though he will likely regain some of his form on the road, his early-season successes look like a distant memory at this point.
Saltalamacchia’s saving grace may be the even greater struggles of James McCann, but that does not mean that he has been providing significantly more value as of late. It was always assumed that Saltalamacchia would be an all-or-nothing type hitter, but seeing his weakness at home has only increased the odds of the latter. Until he learns how to hit in his own home park, expectations will continue to fall for Saltalamacchia.