Christian Vazquez came alive with the bat in 2017, and combined with his defensive ability, became a legitimate starting catcher.
Christian Vazquez – all glove, no bat. He has all the makings of a Molina-type, but if only he could hit. Even with his defense, he’s not worth the automatic out in the lineup.
These are all statements one could have, and probably have, made about Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. Coming into 2016, the backstop wielded a paltry .233/.292/.308 that made it hard for him to get regular starts. With a futile bat, Vazquez’s ceiling was limited to a couple starts a week just for defense.
Defense is something that Vazquez always boasted, and 2017 was no different. The 27-year-old gunned down 42% of potential base-stealers, and his frequent back-pick attempts at first base constantly keep runners on their toes and limit secondary leads. Additionally, he posted +12 defensive runs saved in his 95 games behind the dish.
Make no mistake, Vazquez is right there with the best of them in terms of a defensive skillset. For that reason alone, all Red Sox fans could hope for is for him to not be terrible when his name is called upon to hit. He didn’t have to be good, just not terrible.
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Well, he was actually pretty good. After posting a .602 OPS through his first 112 games in the bigs, Vazquez responded with a .735 OPS in 2017. In 13 fewer games, he matched his career totals in RBIs (32) and doubles (18), while recording 13 more hits (94) and three more home runs (5).
His ISO (.114) eclipsed .100 for the first time of his career, caused by an increase in fly balls. While his line drive percentage remained within 0.1% of 2016’s number, his ground ball rate dropped by 12.7%, translated into balls in the air.
However, some of this production should be taken with a grain of salt. Vazquez’s BABIP inflated from .288 in 2016, a below-average mark, to a well-above average .348 in 2017. Oftentimes, BABIP represents a combination of luck and superior contact skills, but given that Vazquez’s hard-contact rate actually went down a tick, it seems more of the former.
Regardless of whether Vazquez was lucky to find gaps or he simply hit it where defenders weren’t, he greatly increased his offensive production to the point where he ranked among legitimate regulars starting catchers. Sorting by OPS, Vazquez stood at 20th, ahead of the likes of Russell Martin, Jonathan Lucroy, Francisco Cervelli and Yan Gomes.
Sure, he didn’t set the world on fire with a 93 wRC+, but that isn’t the point.
Christian Vazquez did everything anyone expected from him and more. He maintained his position as an elite defensive catcher while staying healthy and hitting.
What was once a three-way positional battle in March between Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart has turned into a clear number one, two and three option. For that, Vazquez deserves all the praise he is getting.