Boston Red Sox bat off the bench option

May 29, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) hits a single during the ninth inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The Red Sox won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) hits a single during the ninth inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The Red Sox won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox need a productive bat off the bench in crucial situations, but where do you find one?

I will certainly make a bold statement regarding the defensive abilities of Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez in that he is the best defensive catcher I have seen in a Boston uniform, and that includes Tony Pena. That is made with a unique small sample that amounts to about one full season of baseball service, but it is enough to convince me.

Vazquez made a world of difference when he caught Steven Wright after Ryan Hanigan went on the disabled list. The passed ball situation diminished greatly and that came as no surprise. Vaz has the footwork, instincts, game knowledge and mentality that combine to make him the real deal defensively.

Defensive importance is quite notable in recent Red Sox history, when in the 2013 playoffs Jarrod Saltalamacchia was asked to leave the adults’ table and was replaced by David Ross, who managed “only” a .188 average in four game World Series games. The change was a possible series changer.

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A catcher has to hit and that is where Vazquez simply deteriorates and becomes a liability in certain notable situations. As a Red Sox fan, the defensive component certainly trumps the inability to put up numbers with the stick that would get the attention of opposing pitchers that one must move cautiously. However, I have often compared Vazquez to another catcher that had a career .228 average – Lynn’s own Jim Hegan.

Hegan – a right-hand hitter – caught the great Cleveland Indians staffs of the 1950’s, including the 1954 team that won 111 games. Hegan hit .234 that season with 11 home runs and 40 RBI. In 1949 Hegan was an All-Star and managed a .224 average and in 1950 he was an All-Star again with a .219 average.

In another age the problem would in actuality not exist when rosters usually contained three catchers, with one usually having an impressive performance with the bat and not the glove. Smoky Burgess – a catcher – slashed .285/.377/.435 with 16 home runs and 147 RBI in 589 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter.

Vazquez certainly has some power potential to get the ball occasionally out of the yard and just ask Dellin Betances about that. That, however, is a rare occurrence and the simple fact is Vazquez may never reach the consistent .240 he did his rookie season, but if he doesn’t, then critical situations certainly call for a substitution.

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Catching in baseball, especially in  the American League, is in the offensive doldrums and the Red Sox .228 catching average is the seventh best in the league. The power is a ghost with only a lone home run and ninth in RBI. A bright spot is a BABIP of .295 (third) and second in runs, but with the thunder that follows the runs total is not any great Agatha Christie mystery.

What is needed is a bat off the bench for key late game situations that call for someone that can provide a jolt – think of a late career Jim Thome, Matt Stairs or Jason Giambi – a veteran with a legitimate track record of being about to go in for the RBI kill when the situation dictates. You simply go as long as you can with Vazquez, Hanigan or Sandy Leon in a close contest and when the opportunity surfaces call on the power reserves.

Under what baseball rock is such a player in the here and now?

One of the difficulties of finding such a bat is the use of the designated hitter. A fading defensive talent can muster together a few years simply being a DH and not being used once or twice a week. A second difficulty is not every player can adjust. The great Ted Williams hit .292 as a pinch-hitter.

Examining various rosters the pickings are rather bleak for the job description I have created. The Red Sox could certainly have Ryan Howard for the asking and his average is 50+ points under the fabled Mendoza Line. Chris Carter is fairly well entrenched with the Brewers so he is a pass, as is catcher Chris Stewart of the Pirates who is light hitting.

Brandon Moss is capable of multiple positions on the field, but is a .219 career pinch-hitter and I doubt the Cardinals would be willing to relinquish his productive bat. Forget Moss. A.J. Pierzynski is a .252 career pinch-hitter with some clout – five home runs – but I think the Nation would rather have a collective root canal than another surfacing of A.J.

There is only one player that caught my attention. An aging veteran at 42-years-old and an exceptional hitter who can still play a decent outfield – Ichiro Suzuki. The stumbling block is the PR advantage the Marlins have as Ichiro pursues 3,000 hits, but one never knows unless one asks.

The Suzuki PH numbers are nothing world shattering with a .257 average in 101 at-bats. The DH numbers certainly bump up a bit – quite a bit – to .347. This season Suzuki is hitting well over .300 in a limited role with the Marlins and could be quite amenable in joining the Red Sox and a possible chance at an allusive World Series ring.

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Suzuki would bring some additional depth to an outfield that has seen the promising Blake Swihart and specialist Brock Holt go down for the count and that has certainly left a void in having an additional bat that could provide some options when needed. Go for it.

Sources: FanGraphs. Baseball-reference