My Red Sox MVP for the first quarter of 2019: Catcher Christian Vazquez
The season is a long march for the Boston Red Sox and players rise and fall, but for the first quarter, my team MVP is catcher Christian Vazquez.
The Red Sox have closed in on the one-quarter pole for the season with a litany of disappointments and a few surprises to somewhat offset the consternation of early season lethargy. The disappointment ledger is fairly simple to evaluate and the significant contributors are the rotation. If one abides by the adage that cream rises to the top the rotation will be of no concern providing the injured arms return.
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Just who is the most valuable player for this point of the season? Certainly, this is not the best player award as Mookie Betts would easily collar that even with a slight downturn from 2018. You could add Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez to the list and home run hitting Mitch Moreland despite a low batting average. I look elsewhere.
Mr. Elsewhere for me is catcher Christian Vazquez. Vazquez has a new contract that could conceivably keep Vazquez under team control through 2022. The trade of Blake Swihart to Arizona cleared a roster hurdle and dilemma of just who will be the primary backstop. Sandy Leon is now a two a week option with the bulk of responsibility given to Vazquez.
Defensively Vazquez has long been considered in the upper strata of major league catchers. One factor that is always given microscopic attention is the ability to stop opposition base pilfering. Vazquez has a career 41% caught stealing that is well above the MLB 27% average. Where the concern really centered was the offense at catching.
In 2018 the Red Sox catching was last in the American League in wRC+ (44), batting average (.202), OBP (.254), Slugging (.293), and wOBA (.243). The Red Sox catching was 13th in home runs (11) and RBI (57) but did lead the league with 11 steals. This season has been a dramatic turnaround and has contributed to minimizing the slump of Jackie Bradley Jr. at the bottom of the order. The big offensive difference is Vazquez.
Vazquez will never be Carlton Fisk or Jason Varitek, but that level is rare. What I admire about Vazquez is his symbiotic relationship with his pitcher. Few signs are now waved away and a comfort zone exists in his game-calling skills. Personally, a Vaz fist pump after a high leverage strikeout is a welcomed sight.
Vazquez is hitting for average and for power. Already Vaz has matched his career high with five home runs. The average is well above last seasons disappointing .207 and may indicate a return to his .290 of 2017. Vazquez provides an excellent defense with timely hitting and that should be rewarded. A first-quarter MVP for me.