Boston Red Sox starting catcher Christian Vazquez has superior defense, but his weaker bat is being questioned. Is Sandy Leon the answer?
Here’s a better question: is the ninth batter in the lineup that’s leading both major leagues by 29 runs the reason why the Red Sox are losing baseball games?
Boston has scored 417 runs this season, with the closest American League team being the Baltimore Orioles with 365 runs. The Red Sox, as a team, also has the best batting average (.288) as well. Out of the eight regular starters in the lineup, outside of Bryce Brentz substituting for a injury-plagued left field, Vazquez is the only one hitting less than .270. Four of them are hitting well above .300.
With all of that offense, what’s the problem? Scott Lauber of ESPN.com reported that “[Red Sox manager] John Farrell alluded Friday to Red Sox facing a decision once Ryan Hanigan returns from DL.” The issue is that “red-hot Sandy Leon is out of options and might not clear waivers,” and that “if [Vazquez] doesn’t hit more, he might lose playing time — or even his roster spot, unless the Sox carry three catchers.”
Connor Byrne of MLBTradeRumors.com also reported that “Vazquez has graded well as a pitch framer this year and has caught a solid 7 of 18 would-be base stealers, but he has offset his terrific defense with an anemic .215/.255/.302 batting line and one home run in 157 plate appearances. That adds up to a 41 wRC+, the third-worst mark among catchers with at least 150 PAs.”
Fair enough, but does that mean one bat in a juggernaut of a lineup is so vital that the defense, which has already looked a bit suspect in a few games, is to be worsened?
Vazquez may not have earned a hit last night, against the Texas Rangers, but he did earn two walks on top of the fact that he could have thrown out another base stealer. Vazquez had Rougned Odor dead to rights at second base with a great throw, if sure-handed veteran Dustin Pedroia would have applied the tag a bit more. Instead, Odor was able to slide on his right side, lifting his left side off of the ground to avoid the tag. That would have made eight of 19 would-be base stealers caught by Vazquez. Let’s see Hanigan or Leon play as well as that on defense.
That’s not a knock on Leon or Hanigan, either. Let’s face it: Hanigan is still going to be the backup catcher. That’s why he was brought in to the organization. Leon is hitting an incredible .545 in nine games, but there’s nothing in his career that suggests that he will sustain that hot streak. It’s also such a small sample-size, having only 22 at-bats. Maybe if Leon had the same amount as Vazquez then he would burn out back to his .184 batting average from last season.
As much as Leon’s bat has put people on notice, it doesn’t mean that Vazquez will be out on his ear. Add that to the fact that the Red Sox pitching staff is bleeding runs like a horror movie as much as the team scores runs themselves, Boston should be taking every out that they can get on defense. If Vazquez’s bat is crippling them so badly, then why can the Red Sox seem to score so many runs?
Maybe the Red Sox might want to change their philosophy and carry three catchers, at least until Leon’s bat starts to cool off.