Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez deserves more playing time

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Christian Vazquez
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Christian Vazquez /

Known primarily for his defensive abilities, Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez is heating up at the plate. Why isn’t he playing more often?

Remeber when fans wondered if Christian Vazquez would ever hit enough to stick on the Boston Red Sox roster? Those days are clearly over.

Vazquez was once a catching prospect who was all glove, no stick. His strong throwing arm and pitch framing skills gave him the ceiling of an elite defensive catcher. Unfortunately, his measly .233 batting average left a lot to be desired through two seasons in the majors interrupted by Tommy John surgery. His future with the organization seemed dependent on which skill set the Red Sox would prioritize – offense or defense.

The 27-year old made the decision easy by thriving in both aspects of the game. Vazquez has fully recovered from the 2015 elbow surgery to regain his cannon arm behind the plate, while also showing he can contribute in the lineup.

Vazquez enters the day with a .294 average that ranks behind Dustin Pedroia among Red Sox hitters with a minimum of 200 plate appearances with the organization this season. Only San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.311) ranks higher among major league catchers in the same sample size.

That batting average was lifted by a 4-for-4 performance Monday night in Toronto that included a double and a home run. The two-run shot in the top of the seventh inning gave the Red Sox a one-run lead in a game they would go on to win 6-5.

It was only his fourth home run of the season. He may not hit many of them, but Vazquez makes his homers count. We all remember his walk-off home run to beat the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park to begin the month, now he’s added another game-winner.

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Home runs may be a rarity for Vazquez, but when he hits them they go a long way. His home run in Toronto Monday night traveled nearly 400 feet, landing in the second deck seats in left field. He clearly has the power to hit the ball out of the park, even if he doesn’t typically swing for the fences at the expense of his batting average.

That approach has been a significant reason for his improvement at the plate. He’s taking what pitchers give him. Often that means being content with a base hit, although if a pitcher grooves one over the plate then Vazquez certainly knows what to do with it.

Vazquez is hotter than he’s ever been at the plate, hitting a scorching .400 with a 1.104 OPS and three home runs in the month of August. With that type of production, it’s a wonder why his name isn’t in the lineup more often.

The catching duties are still being split fairly evenly between Vazquez and Sandy Leon. Vazquez has played in 13 games this month, compared to 11 for Leon. For the season, Vazquez’ 248 at-bats give him a slight edge over Leon’s 223.

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The playing time is relatively close. The production is not. Leon was a nice Cinderella story during his breakout 2016 season but his bat has predictably cooled off this year. He’s hitting .238 with a .675 OPS and six home runs. He’s a fine defensive catcher, yet Vazquez is at least as good, if not better, behind the plate.

Leon has developed a strong rapport with Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who is enjoying the best season of his career. One of Sale’s worst starts of the season happened to coincide with the only time Vazquez was his catcher. Not that we can blame that seven-run shellacking against the Indians on Vazquez, especially when his walk-off homer saved Sale from taking the loss. Still, there is something to be said about a pitcher’s comfort level with his battery mate. If he wants Leon as his personal catcher, then the Sandyman should be behind the dish for every one of Sale’s starts.

Aside from that and the occasional day game after a night game, it should be Vazquez handling the bulk of the catching duties. His bat has become too valuable, while Leon’s has become a liability.

Boston no longer has the powerhouse lineup that has carried the team in recent years, so they can’t afford to have holes. The emergence of Vazquez helps lengthen the lineup without sacrificing on the defensive end.

Next: Red Sox Strut

It wasn’t long ago that Vazquez was forced to sit behind more established bats, serving merely as a defensive-minded backup. Now the line at the catcher position starts behind him.