Red Sox Position Battle: Catchers Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 21: Nathan Eovaldi #17 talks to Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox in the fourth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 21, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 21: Nathan Eovaldi #17 talks to Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox in the fourth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 21, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

 A breakdown of the 2018 Boston Red Sox catching core: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, and Blake Swihart. What might we see in the 2019 season?

Typically, most MLB teams carry two catchers during the bulk of the season: an everyday catcher and a back-up, or two catchers with playing time more or less evenly split depending on the opposing team. The Boston Red Sox carry three on their roster.

The catcher is usually the backbone of every team. He works alongside his coaches and pitchers to understand the psychology and behavioral tendencies of every opposing player. The role of the catcher is very mentally demanding. Throughout the entire 9-innings (assuming the game doesn’t go into extra innings), the catcher is responsible for playing a game of chess. He must understand the strengths and weaknesses of his pitchers, using it to his team’s advantage, while exploiting the weaknesses of the opposing team.

Sandy Leon, 29-years-old, is the most experienced catcher for the Red Sox. 2018 marked his seventh year in MLB. He accumulated three years with the Washington Nationals and four years with the Red Sox. The veteran throws right-handed and is a switch-hitter. In 2018, Leon set a career-high for the number of games he’s played in a season with 89.

28-year-old Christian Vazquez was drafted by the Red Sox in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. He just completed his fourth year in the majors. Vazquez throws and bats right-handed. Unlike Leon, Vazquez has made a few appearances at third base.

2018 marked the fourth season in the MLB for 26-year-old Blake Swihart. Swihart was also drafted by the Red Sox in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. He throws and bats right-handed. Swihart played in 82 games during the 2018 season. He is the most dynamic of the three catchers. The Red Sox positioned him in right field, left field, first base, second base, and third base.

2018 regular season batting

Leon: .177/.232/.279, 5 home runs in 265 at-bats
Vazquez: .207/.257/.283, 3 home runs in 251 at-bats
Swihart: .229/.285/.328, 3 home runs in 192 at-bats

Leon experienced his most explosive offensive year in 2016 with the Red Sox. During that season, he had fewer game appearances than in the following two years. This suggests that Leon is playing at an optimal performance level when he gains more breaks between games.

2017 marked a career-high offensively for Christian Vazquez. He played in significantly more games than the previous and following year.  Within the scope of these three years, Vazquez performed better when he was playing on more of a regular basis.

Swihart gained the most buzz for his offensive abilities during the 2015 season. The season marked a high for games played (although it was followed closely by 2018). In 2015, Swihart only played as a catcher. Therefore, one can attribute the large offensive differences to the number of different positions that Swihart played in 2018. While we can’t say with certainty that this largely factored into it, it is safe to say that it did have an impact.

Career high

Leon (2016): .310/.369/.476, 7 home runs in 252 at-bats
Vazquez (2017): .290/.330/.404, 5 home runs in 324 at-bats
Swihart (2015): .274/.319/.392, 5 home runs in 288 at-bats

Out of the Red Sox catchers, Leon has popped up the most on the awards/leaders board. In 2018, he was second for passed balls and fielding percentage as a catcher in the AL, in 2017 and 2018 he was in the top five for range factor per game as a catcher in the AL, in 2016 he was fourth for double plays turned and third for caught stealing percentage in the AL.

Vazquez has also had a few appearances on the awards/leaders board. In 2017, he was fourth for errors committed as a catcher and in 2017 and 2018 he was third for caught stealing percentage.

In addition, Swihart has been mentioned on the awards/leaders board. In 2015, he was second for passed balls in the AL and in 2016 he was fifth in total zone runs as a left-fielder in the AL.

Career fielding (catching)

Leon: 2591 putouts, 156 assists, 11 errors in 2758 defensive chances
Vazquez: 2205 putouts, 131 assists, 18 errors in 2354 defensive chances
Swihart: 791 putouts, 52 assists, 3 errors in 846 defensive chances

Career summary

Leon: .226/.288/.338, 20 home runs in 997 at-bats
Vazquez: .246/.296/.335, 10 home runs in 922 at-bats
Swihart: .256/.314/.364, 8 home runs in 547 at-bats


Out of the three catchers, Leon has the most patience at the plate, followed closely by Swihart. Leon has the most power with the bat. When examining the catchers’ ability to make it to base, ability to hit, and power behind them, Swihart has a considerably higher OPS percentage than the other two catchers. It’s important to note that while Swihart beats out Leon and Vazquez in this category, the overall average isn’t anything to write home about.

A great deal of light has been shed on the Red Sox need for pitchers in the upcoming 2019 MLB season. The Red Sox are facing Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, and Craig Kimbrel contracts coming to an end.

Currently, the set up of the Red Sox emphasizes the importance of utility players. Excluding the catchers, the team carries three utility players. Eduardo Nunez is a dynamic player within the infield positions, having accumulated 293 games at third base, 270 games at shortstop, and 129 games at second base. Xander Bogaerts made 702 appearances at shortstop and 53 appearances at third base. The outfielders are able to move around the entire outfield, specifically Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi. The most dynamic of all utility players is Brock Holt. If there’s a position on the field, Holt is capable of playing it. He’s experienced 183 games at second base, 174 games in the outfield, and 123 games at third base.

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The three catchers have very similar offensive abilities. Vazquez has been known to make more errors defensively. Swihart presents a higher degree of usability as a utility player. Both players have been in the Red Sox system since the beginning of their careers. Given his experience, offensive power, defensive rankings, and ability to play in both leagues the Red Sox are more likely to gain from a trade involving Leon. The Red Sox could hold off and once again potentially keep all three players, splitting the majority of the playing time between Leon and Vazquez and using Swihart as a utility player.