An eighth installment mirroring Boston Red Sox players of the present with one from my memories of the past. This is the catchers – Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez to Tony Pena.
When does two equal one? As a mathematical question you can contemplate, but as a baseball question, this revolves around one particular position – catcher. For the Boston Red Sox, it is the duo of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon being compared to Tony Pena.
The Red Sox catching duo had a rather dismal -2.1 fWAR for 2018 and that aligns rather well with Pena’s -2.0 fWAR in 1993 – his last Boston season. In 1993, the Red Sox catchers – primarily Pena – were last in the American League catcher rankings, but a catcher does not live by bat alone.
The great Jim Hegan was a five-time All-Star who retired with a .228 career batting average but was considered a maestro with his ability to handle a pitching staff. Leon and Vazquez both bring a similar quality to the defense – and pitching is defense – with their game-calling ability, footwork, arm, and confidence they have generated with the pitching staff. The same applied to Pena.
Pena came to the Red Sox via free agency in 1990 after an All-Star season with the Cardinals. Pena already had four All-Star citations from his days as a Pittsburgh Pirate and three Gold Glove Awards while in the National League. Pena could hit, but his calling card was his ability behind the plate.
Pena’s best offensive years were as a Pirate where he hit .286 for seven seasons, but with Boston, his average was just .234, including a Leon like .181 in 1993. But to again emphasize the obvious is the defensive skills Pena brought to the team – skills that made Pena a valuable commodity when he left Boston.
In 2018, Vazquez hit just .207, but that average appeared Wade Boggs like compared to the .171 of Leon. Taking both lightly can and did occasionally prove fatal in the playoffs as a key hit showed that neglect can often have consequences for the unwary pitcher. Now as 2019 approaches, changes may be forthcoming.
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- Johnny Damon calls Red Sox out, reveals hilarious way he skirted Yankees’ grooming policy
- Remembering the best Red Sox Thanksgiving ever
- Red Sox World Series legends headline 2023 Hall of Fame ballot
Will Blake Swihart assume a greater role thanks to his offensive ability? Will the Red Sox still make a roster move and trade Vazquez or even release Leon – something Leon has already faced with Boston? The Red Sox have little in the minor leagues as there is no Carlton Fisk or even Sammy White on the horizon.
In 1994, Pena was gone via free agency and that was understandable based on his age (36) and his batting average, but Pena was far from done. Pena signed with Cleveland and hit .295 when he replaced an injured Sandy Alomar. Pena moved on to Chicago and Houston before retiring as a player.
Catchers have an insight into baseball that is highly valued for coaching and managerial positions and that means Pena was quickly a sought after item. Pena surfaced as a manager for the Royals and later as a coach for the New York Yankees – a team for which he was twice mentioned as a potential manager.