Red Sox: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez provide defense even if offense doens’t last

Apr 11, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) hits a double during the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) hits a double during the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox catching is excellent defensively, but will the early season hitting be maintained? If not the Red Sox may be tempted to bring Blake Swihart back and that is a defensive downgrade.

The surprise of the early part of the season for the Boston Red Sox is the catching and that means the two holding the backstop in the big leagues and Blake Swihart waiting in the wings in Pawtucket. The first and most obvious portion of the surprise is the hitting.

Sandy Leon – the “regular” behind the plate – started out blazing as far as hitting is concerned. Leon’s late 2016 sudden demise as a hitter left question marks. Despite a stale September, Leon still hit .310. Christian Vazquez is probably considered a regular in waiting and his early season hitting has been impressive.

Both Leon and Vazquez are plus defenders. They are quite capable of monitoring the opposition’s running game to make thievery a 50/50 proposition. Vazquez has clearly demonstrated a recovery to his arm that necessitated Tommy John surgery. Leon, from my casual observation, is just a tad slower in release and arm strength – like finishing second in the Boston Marathon.

More from Red Sox News

Pitch framing has surfaced as the next joyous statistic for catchers. Vazquez has done remarkably well in that dubious category in both 2017 and 2016. Leon is at the lower levels in 2017 but may elevate his stealing an extra strike.

The gamesmanship of both in calling a game has not been negative – at least for public consumption. This is a veteran staff so my leap of faith is, there is a mutual compatibility to this symbiotic relationship. When the dust behind home plate settles the defensive bottom line is both are excellent and Vazquez does have the potential to be exceptional.

"Sheep need a strong shepherd – old proverb"

Pitching a baseball is mental as well as physical. There is a baseball truism that great arms do not necessarily come with stable minds so a catcher’s role is far more personal with a pitcher than any other position player. Fans and media may be privy to only a small section of what takes place between a catcher and the pitchers – sometimes a catcher has to simply be a firm disciplinarian to pitchers – at least certain ones.

A fact: Leon and Vazquez will not hit above .260.

The real hitting catcher is Swihart at Pawtucket, but his defense is mediocre compared to Leon and Vazquez. There is nothing in the hitting history of Leon and Vazquez that show you will have Buster Posey hitting numbers. And I certainly consider Leon’s 2016 and the early hitting of both to be an anomaly.

"“What are you (Catcher Tim McCarver, after being sent to the mound by Manager Johnny Keane) doing here? Just give me the ball. The only thing you know about pitching is that it is hard to hit.”* – Bob Gibson per Baseball Almanac."

Where the decision will come is if Swihart continues to hit and the Red Sox offense continues to emulate the 1959 Chicago White Sox. Runs will be needed and that could spell the demise of either Leon or Vazquez. Personally, I find sacrificing defense about as enjoyable as a root canal.

More from Red Sox News

This is a great pitching staff Boston has assembled once everyone has been released from the disabled list. Great also has the potential to migrated into legendary – one of the best in the team’s history. That said, you simply need either Leon or Vazquez behind the plate for virtually ever game. Anything less is just that – less.

If you need a late-game pinch-hitter than just do it. As the season moves forward those possibilities will surface, especially if the offense continues to be sluggish and not in a positive way with the poor pun.

If this was baseball in another age before the DH when teams routinely carried three catchers you could just have Swihart as a late game bat off the bench who could slide into behind the plate duties. Teams actually use to operate like that, but those days evaporated with the reliance on 12 and even 13 man staffs.

Next: Martinez vs Sale: Battle of Aces

The real plus is just think what it would be like if Leon and Vazquez were defensive incompetents? Boston is rather fortunate to have two excellent defenders.