Red Sox Rant: John Farrell is misusing Christian Vazquez

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 28: Christian Vazquez
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 28: Christian Vazquez /

Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has, by all measures, had a breakout season. He’s fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that kept him out in 2015. He’s retooled his swing and is a force behind the plate. So why is he losing play time to Sandy Leon?

Since being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, the expectations were always high for Christian Vazquez. He steadily rose through the organization as a defense first catcher. He was expected to be a game changing talent behind the plate, but not much of a hitter.

The first time we saw him in Boston, that’s exactly what we got. After being called up in mid-July to replace the veteran A.J. Pierzynski, Vazquez made an immediate defensive impact.

He played in 54 games that year and ended the season having caught 52% of runners on the bases. The league average in 2014 was 27%. From a purely defensive standpoint, he was almost twice as good as the league average catcher. Add in a few successful pickoffs, and he had a very solid debut season.

He lived up to his offensive billing as well and slashed .240/.308/.309 over his first 55 games. The defense made up for it, and Red Sox fans pretty much accepted that this was the kind of play we could expect from Vazquez.

More from Red Sox News

His sophomore season was delayed by injury and in 2016 it looked like Vaz would always struggle to be a contributor at the plate. He finished the year with a .227/.277/.308 line in only 57 games. When Sandy Leon got hot last summer (.391/.434/.620 from Jun 7 to July 30) Vazquez was sent down to Triple-A for the remainder of the minor league season.

The Red Sox brass saw that they had a clear starting catcher, and that was reflected in playing time. Once Vaz was sent down, Leon played in 64 of the last 100 games. The remaining games were split between veteran backups Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holliday.

A year ago when Farrell had once catcher who was playing significantly better than the others, he had no issue giving him the majority of the playing time. Why is that not the same this year?

Vazquez came into 2017 an entirely changed hitter. He retooled his swing in his time in the minors last year. He eliminated his leg kick and man has it paid off. Everyone paid attention when he had a .412/.444/.588 line at the end of April. Sure, it was a small sample size (10 games) but I thought he looked like he had finally put it all together.

It’s not a .400 average anymore, but after playing in 84 games so far this season he’s slashing .293/.336/.407 with four home runs. Vaz doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but when he does, they are absolute moonshots. He’s also had a few pretty clutch moments this year.

Vazquez hasn’t been the most consistent hitter, but since Aug. 1, he’s been absolutely killing the ball, hitting .357/.416/.529 with three of his four home run and has helped the Red Sox go 13-9 over that stretch.

Leon has played in 18 games over the same time period and has a .158/.242/.228 line to show for it. So why has he basically playing the same as Vazquez?

More than that, why in the world was he pulled in last weeks tie game with the Blue Jays?

We all know that game ended up going 19 innings. Vazquez had gone 0-2 with a walk when Farrell pulled him. Leon entered the game and went 0-3. It ended up being wash, but given how Vazquez has been hitting, especially at home, it was bizarre to see Farrell make the move. Maybe having your best hitter in the lineup could have ended that game before 1:00 a.m.

More from Red Sox News

I’ll admit, there’s more to being a catcher than just how well you can hit. We all know that John Farrell likes using Leon with Chris Sale. But what happens come playoff time?

Let’s say the Red Sox lose their lead on the division and have to play in the Wild Card game. In this scenario, Sale is definitely your starter. Do you start a sub .200 hitter because of their chemistry? In a single elimination game you cannot afford to have a free batter in your lineup.

What about in the ALDS? Your playoff rotation is probably going start Sale, Pomeranz, Fister. Do you want to leave your top hitter on the bench for 2 out of 3 games in a best of 5 series?

If Farrell is serious about this team making a run, he needs to mix up his battery. Sale has worked with Leon in almost every game this season. The game he started with Vazquez was one of the worst of the season for Sale (7 runs in 5 innings). He praised Vazquez after the game, but it’s easy to see how the pitcher’s inexperience with his catcher might have contributed to his struggles.

If you want to avoid these types of situations when it really counts, you need to get these guys some playing time together. Having watched John manage this team for the last four seasons, I won’t hold my breath. But if the Red Sox want to advance out of the first round this season, they better give their best catcher more than four plate appearances come October.

Next: Red Sox Strut: Third baseman Rafael Devers, LHP Chris Sale

Vazquez is the clear starting catcher for the Red Sox, and that should be reflected in playing time. If he’s fully healthy, Vazquez should be playing 130 games a season. Why is he riding the pine every day, John? All he does is hit!