Boston Red Sox 25 in 25: Ryan Hanigan

Sep 21, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan (10) applies a tag as Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Mikie Mahtook (27) dives into home plate during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mahtook was safe on the play. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan (10) applies a tag as Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Mikie Mahtook (27) dives into home plate during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mahtook was safe on the play. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at catcher Ryan Hanigan.

If there’s one thing the Boston Red Sox probably don’t need to worry about for an extended period, it’s catchers. Goodness knows, they have their hands full concerning the rest. With the catching position though, they are pretty money. Take Blake Swihart for example, though he graduated from the position with his breakthrough performance in 2015 (and especially his mouth watering .303 AVG in the second half of the year), he was widely considered the top catching prospect in all of baseball.

Oh and as if Swihart wasn’t enough, Boston is blessed to also be home to Christian Vazquez, one of the most elite defensive catchers in the game today. So it comes as no surprise if you’ve maybe forgotten that, even with those two waiting in the wings, the Red Sox may yet find it necessary to turn to veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan again in 2016 as they seek a return to contention. His statline from 2015 hardly jumps off the page and you’d be forgiven for considering that with Vazquez returning from Tommy John surgery that there’s simply no room for Hanigan in 2016’s Fenway. And you’d be wrong.

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See, Hanigan is very much an essential cog going forward, particularly to begin with. Vazquez will not be getting an adequate amount of at bats in Winter ball to justify throwing him to the lions (or Tigers) early on, if at all in 2016. His arm, easily his strongest asset, is still recovering from a surgery that could well have damaged his career. Even with the playtime this offseason, Vazquez is spending more time at DH than at catcher. It’s highly likely the Red Sox will start Vasquez in AAA Pawtucket and ease him back in, hoping for the future.

Meanwhile, Boston needs an option alongside Swihart. Swihart is, of course, only 23 and is realistically many years from reaching his ceiling and perhaps even establishing a floor. To compliment that, Hanigan provides a middle-of-the-road, slightly above replacement, 35 year old catcher who, if nothing else, brings experience and stability behind the plate. He may not have the offensive ability of Swihart, nor the fielding acumen of Vasquez, but he’s certainly not bad at either. His game calling, something honed through years in the business, can arguably be better than both and his bat is actually, surprisingly, a weapon, as we’ll see.

Hanigan’s at-bats in 2015 are pretty standard affair for a catcher in many ways. His AVG for the year, .247, is just a tick below what he’s managed over his entire career at .255. Not bad, but not great either. Careful observers will note that, actually, Hanigan finished 2015 with a higher AVG than hapless Boston third baseman Pablo Sandoval (.245), though that’s certainly a more damning indictment on Sandoval than praise of Hanigan. Either which way, it’s serviceable, but not great, which seems to be a fairly decent summary of Hanigan as a hitter overall, until you dig a little deeper in the stats that is.

Interestingly, Hanigan faired vastly better against left handed pitchers in 2015 than righties. How much better? Well, against lefties on the year he hit for an AVG of .364, had an OBP of .440 and a managed a shocking OPS of .895. At only 26 games against south paws, it makes for a small sample size, perhaps, but the narrative is hard to avoid and has been with him his entire career. Since he started playing baseball professionally, Hanigan has a .270 AVG against lefties versus a .251 against righties. That’s not insignificant.

Now, as it so happens, on the other side of the coin is Swihart who, as you’ve guessed, actually hits much better against righties than lefties (.293 AVG vs .225). A platoon here makes almost too much sense that only possibly Red Sox manager John Farrell could ignore it, but with only two options at catcher position it’s hard to imagine that even he will. Hanigan’s effectiveness against lefties is brought to light even more by the struggles of the middle and back-end of the order against them, with David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval all struggling much more on the whole. That said, an argument could be made that the latter two struggle regardless.

Either which way, it’s clear Hanigan’s bat will have value, but it requires a little bit of lineup planning on the whole. Imagine that. One further feather in Hanigan’s cap for 2016 may be his experience, not just as a catcher, but specifically in a battery with newly acquired ace pitcher David Price. Hanigan caught for Price when they were both with the Tampa Bay Rays. He knows his stuff, his mentality and ability intimately. Price on the other hand, may find his previous connection with Hanigan a perfect soft landing in Boston and will appreciate having someone calling his pitches who knows first hand what he can do. Hanigan, speaking to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier said this of Price:

"“You know what his repertoire is, but the way he attacks with his tempo, his command, his consistency and his explosive delivery, he has the ability to not let you feel like you can drive the ball. He’s smart in terms of really reading the hitters and how to pitch to guys.”"

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Of course, there’s no way to know if the Red Sox will choose to make use of Hanigan this way, but this much is for sure, he will be an integral part of the lineup in 2016 and Boston will need him to be on top of his game if they want to seek contention again.