Red Sox: Beware of the Christian Vázquez burnout factor

BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: Christian Vazquez #7 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: Christian Vazquez #7 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Red Sox need to monitor Christian Vázquez’s catching innings

The Boston Red Sox brought up Connor Wong as the 27th man in a doubleheader against Toronto. This is a position usually reserved for pitching staffs that get depleted like a buffet faced with six sumo wrestlers on an all-you-can devour binge. Christian Vázquez caught the first game, a rather dismal and disheartening loss to the Blue Jays. Usual backup catcher Kevin Plawecki became the designated hitter.

Vázquez is being worn down this season as his catching innings accumulate and it shows – especially on offense. The power outage is notable with four home runs. In 2020, Vaz slammed seven in almost 150 fewer plate appearances. If WAR – baseball version, of course – is your thing then Vázquez sits at 0.6 fWAR after 88 games. In 2020, the final tab was a 1.4 fWAR in a mere 47 games.

Vaz will be 31-years-old in a few weeks and that is middle age for baseball players and with catchers that may just accelerate. Catching is especially a wearing baseball occupation. As the old saying goes the catching gear is “The tools of ignorance.” Another notation is when two long-retired veteran catchers shake hands it is like the Gordian Knot to undo them. Both are a sage commentary on the inherent bodily damage and risk involved.

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Vázquez has taken his nicks and dents and also suffered The Big One with Tommy John Surgery. This season, Vázquez has caught more innings than any catcher in the American League. What we don’t see is the accumulation of injuries that are enough to discomfort but not enough to go on the injured list. I read once where one catcher said a game wore him down more than playing the line in football.

Defensively, Vázquez remains one of the best. Pitchers are noted for their fragile psyche and Vázquez keeps the herd in reasonable control. His footwork, framing, and game-calling knowledge are well recognized. If there is a flaw this season it is a 22% caught stealing. Very un-Vázquez like.

Contracts are of utmost importance and Vázquez is a bargain. The deal runs one more year if the Red Sox pick up an option and at $7 million this is an exceptionally team-friendly contract. After 2022 is the unknown. Vázquez could re resigned – a highly likely option from my view. The prospect cupboard is rather slim unless someone suddenly catches fire.

Back on the farm, Wong is in the picture. Ronaldo Hernández is in Portland, but some of the scouting is negative on his defense. That’s about it for the next few years. After 2022, the Red Sox may have to go the trade or free agent route. But what about the now?

Manager Alex Cora is noted for his ability to manage his roster. Keeping 26 players reasonably happy is like herding cats. On social media, the complaint often surfaces on Cora’s lineups not having the best bang for the buck when players get a breather. Terry Francona seemed to leave Tim Wakefield with less than a full offensive deck. A noted complaint against Francona. Fans expect the best to play until they are ground into cornmeal. No big picture view from the ticket holders.

FanGraphs has the Red Sox with a 95.4% chance of making the playoffs. To place that in perspective that number is lower than the September 2011 figure and we know how that worked out. Cora will walk a roster game-day decision tightrope with Vázquez. The lineup is better with him. The defense is better with him. That is why Vázquez is the starter – a Captain Obvious moment. But a weary Vázquez is to be avoided. Plawecki could and probably should start picking up more innings.

For me, the concern is there. Since the end of June, the slide offensively has been present albeit slow. Vaz has not been a drag offensively even in a slump. He does not give up his outs easily and is solid enough offensively to move a runner along. I would take his .200 average over that of Michael Chavis, Franchy Cordero, and Bobby Dalbec anytime. His outs are productive.

So the next two months will be a testing time for Cora and Vázquez’s status will be one. How much rest? How do you measure that versus the risks? Do you play Plawecki more? Plawecki hit in 2020 and has so far this season. Cora may give more game time to Plawecki. In September Wong will be back to possibly lighted the load.

Next. Ownwership pushing for a Max Scherzer trade. dark

The best way to manage Vázquez’s time is to win. Get a healthy lead and the roster issues regarding playing time vis-a-vis rest become a non-issue. In the meantime, August will be of interest as the innings continue to accumulate and just how it impacts Vaz. July may be a slump or a burnout?

Stats through 7/27