Red Sox 2017 Report Cards: Catcher Sandy Leon

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Sandy Leon
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Sandy Leon /

Our annual Report Card series evaluates and grades the 2017 season of each member of the Boston Red Sox. Up next – catcher Sandy Leon.

Sandy Leon was the Cinderella story of 2016 for the Boston Red Sox. This season he turned back into a pumpkin.

The 28-year old catcher was unable to come anywhere near the production at the plate from his breakout campaign. After hitting a surprising .310 with a .845 OPS last year, Leon’s batting average fell to .225 with a .644 OPS.

The 24.6 K% Leon posted this year wasn’t significantly higher than last year, while his 8.3 BB% was almost identical to 2016’s. The biggest difference between this year and last can be found in Leon’s BABIP. His .280 BABIP this season was below league average, while last years .392 BABIP was unsustainable.

Good fortune inflated Leon’s batting average last year, making him an obvious candidate for regression. The overcorrection may have gone too far, as he was a bit unlucky this year. Although, his low BABIP was partially due to a much higher soft contact rate of 24.4 percent compared to 18.8 percent last year. His hard contact rate dipped from 31.3 percent to 29.9 percent. This doesn’t account for why Leon’s average plummeted nearly 90 points, but it does suggest that a drop in production was expected.

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While his bat abandoned him this year, Leon remains among the top defensive catchers in the league. He threw out 37 percent of opposing base stealers, the ninth highest rate in the majors among catchers with at least 80 appearances behind the plate. His 15 defensive runs saved was fourth in the majors.

Leon’s greatest asset was serving as the personal catcher for Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. Leon caught 31 of Sale’s 33 starts this season. In those outings, Sale owned a 2.63 ERA and held opposing batters to a .202 batting average. In the two starts with Christian Vazquez behind the plate, Sale posted a 13.50 ERA and allowed a .385 average. That’s obviously a small sample size, but it shows how much more comfortable the ace was working with Leon.

The Red Sox have Leon under control until 2021. He’ll earn a bump in salary through the arbitration process, which projects him to make north of $2 million next season.

With Vazquez emerging as the primary backstop for the Red Sox, Leon will enter next season as the clear backup. If Vazquez continues to hit the way he did in the second half of this season then we may only see Leon in games where Sale is on the mound.

Leon may also have to fend off once-promising catching prospect Blake Swihart, who is currently thriving in Winter Ball. If Swihart carries his hot bat with him into spring training and Leon gets off to a slow start, we could see Swihart take the backup catcher role.

Sandy Leon. C -. . Catcher.

Next: Free Agent/Trade options to replace Pedroia

His defensive skills and rapport with Sale provider some value but the gigantic step back Leon took at the plate was disappointing. Based on his performance this season, he’s no lock to be on the Opening Day roster next year.