Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, and Blake Swihart are all expected to make the Boston Red Sox postseason roster but how will they be utilized?
The Boston Red Sox are expected to carry three catchers on their postseason roster. How they manage to utilize each of them often enough to warrant taking up three spots at the position remains a bit unclear.
Manager Alex Cora claims he knows how he will use his catchers in the postseason. When pressed for details by reporters, Cora responded that “it’s top secret.”
Cora may not be willing to show his hand yet but we can take an educated guess on who will start each game behind the plate in the ALDS.
We can safely assume that Chris Sale will be on the mound for Game 1, which means Sandy Leon should be the starting catcher to begin the postseason. Leon has caught 18 of Sale’s 27 starts this season with Christian Vazquez handling the other nine.
While Sale has been brilliant no matter who he works with, his ERA with Leon (2.04) has been slightly better than with Vazquez (2.27). Sale’s strikeout-to-walk ratio also jumps from 4.21 K/BB with Vazquez to 8.90 K/BB with Leon.
The gap widens when factoring in Sale’s starts from last season when Leon caught the ace almost exclusively. Leon has been behind the plate for 49 of Sale’s starts in a Red Sox uniform compared to only 11 for Vazquez. Sale’s career 2.42 ERA with Leon is far better than his 3.40 ERA with Vazquez.
Sale seems more comfortable working with Vaz now compared to last year but Leon remains his preferred battery mate. The Red Sox need their ace to be sharp in the postseason so there’s no room to mess around. Let him throw to Leon.
Game 2 may give Vazquez an opportunity to start with David Price on the mound. Vaz has caught 17 of Price’s 30 starts this season. While his numbers with Leon are far better, Price’s 4.68 ERA when paired with Vazquez is heavily inflated by his eight-run meltdown in Yankee Stadium back in July. We know Price struggles to pitch in New York, where fly balls carry effortlessly toward the short porch in right field. We don’t know if Boston will even be facing the Yankees in the ALDS but if they do then the game will be at Fenway Park where Price has pitched much better against the Bronx Bombers.
The Red Sox can’t expect much offense out of either of these catchers but Vazquez deserves to start one of the games at Fenway based on his drastic splits. He’s hitting .276 with a .719 OPS in his career at home compared to .220 with a .553 OPS on the road. Leon’s batting average has been well below the Mendoza line both at home and away. It’s worth giving Vazquez a shot to squeeze some production out of his bat while the team is at Fenway.
Leon will be back behind the dish for Game 3 if Rick Porcello gets the start. He’s caught 31 of Porcello’s 32 starts this season with Blake Swihart receiving the other opportunity. Porcello has been a bit shaky in the second half so the postseason is hardly the time to experiment with having him throw to Vazquez for the first time all year.
It has yet to be determined whether Game 4 will be started by Nathan Eovaldi or Eduardo Rodriguez. They seem to be leaning toward Eovaldi, which makes sense given how well he’s pitched against both the Yankees and A’s.
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Regardless of who the starting pitcher will be, Vazquez should catch in Game 4. He’s worked with Rodriguez in 23 of his 25 outings this season. Eovaldi has worked with Leon more and produced a solid 3.86 ERA in their seven appearances together. Vazquez has only caught him three times but Eovaldi owns a 0.63 ERA in those outings.
If the ALDS lasts five games, we’re back to Sale to close out the series which means Leon behind the plate.
As for Swihart, we probably won’t see him start in the postseason. He’s shown vast improvement as a catcher this year but the margin for error in the postseason is too thin to risk his inexperience costing them. We should see Swihart pinch-hit for the starting catcher in several of these games. The Red Sox can afford to replace their catcher earlier in games knowing they have a third option waiting in case of emergency.
Cora may consider his plans a secret but when you look at the usage and production of each combination of battery mates, the plan seems fairly straightforward.