Red Sox survival guide to LF and catching

Jun 4, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) runs to home during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) runs to home during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox lost both Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan to the DL on the same day. Just how do these injuries project on the team?

The Red Sox suffered a “two fer” on Saturday, losing both Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan to injuries. Neither is a significant cog in the Red Sox machine, but any lost time has an impact that can reverberate – a baseball butterfly effect.

Sandy Leon was called up from Pawtucket and has some good and bad news attached to his demonstrated baseball abilities. The first level is his hitting, or lack of. The good news is Leon is a switch-hitter, but the bad news is Leon is inept from either side. A career .187 hitter who was sizzling at Pawtucket with a slash of .243/.315/.339 and the prodigious output of two home runs.

Hanigan was pounding the ball at a .186 clip for Boston and his appearance in the order had a similar impact as a one would see in a National League game when a pitcher came up to take a few cuts and hope that the baseball Gods would at least allow a face-saving foul ball. The offense is a trade-off. I believe in evolutionary biology the term is reciprocal altruism. In baseball terms, it is that they both suck at hitting.

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Where Leon prospers is his ability to be a quality defensive catcher and that is most notably shown by his ability to foster some level of trepidation in base runners with a career CS (Caught Stealing) percentage of 46%. For Leon’s extensive minor league career the figure is 45%, so he is capable of terrorizing the highest and the lowest of the baseball family tree.

Hanigan – no doubt – suffered his strained neck from turning around to fetch pitches that escaped his catching paws. At last count, the level for passed balls was 17 and only the generosity of the official scorers kept it at that level. The obvious reasoning is Steven Wright and his knuckleball, and just maybe Leon will be a bit more adept at corralling the pitch or just a wee bit luckier.

Swapping Leon for Hanigan is a simple trade-off. Neither will wow you with batting proficiency and both apparently will provide some capable defense, while managing to call a decent game and not forget to tie their shoelaces.

Left field had been somewhat of a sore point in the hitting machine that is your Boston Red Sox. The latest average ranks them collectively seventh in the American League with a .257 average and the all-inclusive WAR is a 0.5. The rest of the numbers hover around the middle of the pack. The early failings of Chris Young and the downfall of Brock Holt’s bat certainly degraded the numbers, but the other aspect – defense – managed to remain relatively healthy with a 3.9 UZR/150 for sixth place.

Into this mix comes Rusney Castillo, who based on his defensive performance in left field from 2015 has no real liability on that end, but one must hit and the $10.5 Million Castillo is now a dragon without flames or a shark without teeth. Castillo was hitting a miserly .245 at Pawtucket with a power outage that rivals the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003.

That leaves a good portion of the duty up to Young, who has suddenly found his stroke and elevated his average well into the .280s and with some punch – four home runs and 10 doubles in 86 plate appearances. Expect Young to get the bulk of playing time unless the unmentionable happens to Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley.

Where the whole process sours is Swihart losing important time in LF and with the bat. Swihart was starting to come around, hitting .286 in his last ten games and playing a relatively smooth LF once he avoids walls. Maybe time to pad the side wall?

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The team can certainly withstand some mild waves which are what this sudden turn of events represents. Young has experience and can deftly play the outfield and provide the punch – he has shown that and that is exactly why they brought him to Boston. Swihart missing a few (hopefully) weeks is the Debbie Downer.

Expect little change with the two injuries.