The Boston Red Sox catching duo is not hitting and the simple baseball reality is it means little.
Up the middle is a strong position for the Boston Red Sox on offense and defense – if you exclude the pitching component of defense. Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, and Jackie Bradley do the job as expected with the glove and with the bat and that bat really jumps out. Then there is the catching.
The catching has long been a position where give back can be given on offense if the defensive portion makes that trade off a sweet deal and that is exactly where the Red Sox are. The catching is the weak offensive link and in the recent two-game explosion against the A’s the only ones left out of the slugging enjoyment were Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan.
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Looking at the American League catching the offensive numbers appear in a bit of the doldrums and the Red Sox duo are slashing .195/.276/.274 and that .195 average is tenth out of fifteen teams. The Red Sox are also dead last in RBI with five, 13th in wOBA at .247, 13th in wRC+ at 47 and 12th in ISO with an ultra-low of .080. The all-inclusive WAR is a mere 0.1.
Hanigan has been in a slump and the real indicator is five walks and 10 strikeouts. Hanigan usually posts walks and strikeouts at about the same rate and that inflates his career OBP to .347 – almost a 100 points beyond his career batting average of .252. This season the OBP is .234 and that is over a 100 point drop off his career numbers. Hanigan’s K% is 21.3% versus a career 11.8% so contact is down.
Vazquez certainly showed some thunder with a recent blast that went to New Hampshire to cement a win, but Vazquez – like Hanigan – is not there for his bat. Vaz is also ringing up strikeouts with a 24.6% rate compared to 16.4% in 2014. Bottom line: Neither is bringing back visions of Carlton Fisk or even Sammy White.
The glove and “other” is where it is at with the catching duo and the constant drill into the psyche of Red Sox fans is the game calling skills and managing the in-game routine for pitchers. The metrics – if you are a believer – shows a sixth place UZR/150 of 5.9 and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of six and that is also sixth. For the fans of steals, the opposition has been successful 13 times in 21 attempts. Back to “other.”
The verbal barrage that comes forward from those in the know – the talking head analysts – is Vazquez is mature beyond his years in footwork, framing or presenting pitches, knowledge of hitters, understanding the mindset of fragile pitchers and on and on with all the other aspects of the “tools of ignorance” that are subjective – at least that is my assumption – since I have seen attempts to measure intangibles, but just observation shows a smart play a game from preventing an errant pitch going into the loge seats or a clever block of the plate.
The Red Sox are an offensive juggernaut and one just needs to look at traditional and metric numbers to see that. The catchers are the Christmas bonus when a good at-bat or any other positive opportunity surfaces that keeps the hitting machine in gear for another five or six run kill. You don’t expect much and the occasional gift is manna from baseball heaven from the lower end of the order.
Manager John Farrell has occasionally placed the catcher in the eighth slot with the hot hitting Bradley ninth – no doubt to get a few decent pitches for his catchers to swat at with the fear of Bradley lurking in extra base hit land up next.
This is a loss you absorb with catching since neither backstop will ever be the fearsome slugger that occasionally surfaces behind the plate, but enjoy what you have with superior defensive contributions and a batting order that can “carry” both Hanigan and Vazquez.
I would also expect both to perk up a bit with the stick – especially Hanigan, but both know they have full job security and confidence of the pitching staff, coaches, and fellow players – hitting or not.