Red Sox First Half Report Card by Position: Catcher

Red Sox first half catchers

With maybe the Red Sox’ biggest free agency signing of last offseason gone in A.J. Pierzynski, the team has caught a good glimpse of who may be their future catcher—Christian Vazquez. Pierzynski replaced Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who posted solid numbers last season which included a slash line of .273/.338/.466. The most hated player in the league just wasn’t putting up the numbers that would warrant him staying with the team though. With just 15 extra base hits and nine walks through 72 games, the “offensive” catcher may have trouble finding a new job elsewhere.

David Ross isn’t quite doing his job as well as last year either. Base stealers have been successful 74% of the time, up from 59% last year. While we don’t expect much at the plate from him, his .176 average needs to improve a bit. With all this being said, it is clear that he has a connection with some of the pitchers on the team, including the ace, Jon Lester.

Ross isn’t the only catcher on the team that knows how to call a game anymore though.

If there wasn’t anyone waiting in the wings, the Sox may have had to stick out the rest of the season with Pierzynski. Luckily, Christian Vazquez appears as if he is ready to play in the big leagues. He has already shown his quickness behind the plate, making some confident snap throws down to first, which is something that not all rookies would do in their first few games. At the plate, he’s gone 5-11 in his first three games, with three doubles and five RBIs. He wasn’t brought up for his bat, but the 23-year-old hit .289 in Portland last season and was hitting .279 in Pawtucket at the time of his call-up. It would be great if Vazquez could provide similar numbers in the majors, which I don’t think any Sox fan would complain about.

A.J. Pierzynski- Grade: D

David Ross- Grade: C

Christian Vazquez: Incomplete (A so far)

The Red Sox Weren’t Wrong Signing A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski

Yesterday A.J. Pierzynski’s brief tenure with the Boston Red Sox came to an abrupt end. Red Sox fans collectively rejoiced Wednesday morning when they received word Pierzynski had been designated for assignment.

The surprising, yet deserving demotion, had two massive benefits. One, “clubhouse cancer” A.J. Pierzynski was finally off the struggling Boston squad. Secondly, and almost as important, Christian Vazquez, the young and talented catching prospect, would get his first taste of big-league action.

Love or hate him —and you probably aren’t his biggest fan — the Red Sox made the right move signing the veteran backstop in the offseason. You may be bewildered by that last statement seeing how it miserably concluded, but let’s think logically and unbiased towards this.

The Red Sox needed a one-year bridge for Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Re-signing “beloved” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a multi-year deal would block the two touted prospects for years. It’s also not as if “Salty” was great in his Red Sox career. He had one very good season, which, honestly, was highly BABIP-driven.

Other options on the market included Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz. McCann signed a five-year, $85 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees in the winter. All that money invested has produced a paltry .230 batting average and .660 OPS. Ruiz, on the other hand has been decent with the Philadelphia Phillies this season. However, he, too, was seeking a long-term deal. If Boston signed him, Vazquez and Swihart would be blocked.

Another aspect that factored in to the decision was finding a platoon for David Ross. Given Ross is a right-handed hitter, Ben Cherington pursued a left-handed complement.

Dioner Navarro, some may argue, could have been the guy. The switch-hitter ended up signing with the division-adversary Toronto Blue Jays. Be cognizant, however, Navarro has churned just a .656 OPS off right-handed pitching in his career. It’s a substantial difference from his career .752 OPS against southpaws. So, a switch-hitter who doesn’t hit well against righties, would defeat the entire purpose of a platoon with Ross. He didn’t have the track record of Pierzynski, either. In 292 plate appearances this season, Navarro has compiled a .663 OPS.

Boston faced a unique situation regarding who’d be their catcher heading into the year, and Pierzynski was the only one to fit the criteria. He’s a left-handed bat, with a solid track record, and didn’t desire a long-term deal. They could have gone with Vazquez early, but Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have shown it’s not always easy relying on rookies to succeed. Despite how it worked out, the Pierzynski-signing was sensible.

The Unfortunate Inconsistency of the Red Sox Offense

Red Sox offense A.J. Pierzynski

The Red Sox offense lit up the Yankees on Sunday night, giving us hopes that it would continue on Monday against the Cubs. Well, that could not have been further from truth. After a night of 12 hits and eight walks, the Red Sox were almost no-hit by Jake Arrieta, ending up with two hits and one walk.

The addition of Mookie Betts to the lineup provided hope for a potential spark to the poor offense, however he has looked a bit shaky in the outfield. With Shane Victorino’s rehab stint shut down, it appears that Betts will have some time to prove himself in the majors both at the plate and in the outfield.

It seems that pretty much every time the Sox start hitting, they can’t carry it over to the next game. There were only two occasions in the month of June where the Sox scored five or more runs in two consecutive games and seven games total. Their 84 runs in 28 games last month equals exactly three runs per game, which is nowhere near where it needs to be.

There are about two weeks left before the All-Star break and the Red Sox have to figure things out in that period. With the Orioles, White Sox, and Astros on their slate, it would be a great time to pick up some wins and gain some more ground in the AL East race.

It has been rumored that some Red Sox might be dealt at the deadline, including big names like Jon Lester and John Lackey. If the Sox work their way back into the thick of things, I don’t see them being moved. There is a chance that A.J. Pierzynski may be moved though, but that all depends on whether he gets the bat going. He has been relatively productive compared to the rest of the team, but with two catching prospects on the rise in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, he could be expendable.

Saltalamacchia Not Much Better Than Pierzynski

A.j. Pierzynski vs Jarod Saltalamacchia

Sports fans always seek a scapegoat to explain failed expectations and mediocrity from their team. In 2012 for the Boston Red Sox, it was none other than Bobby Valentine. He was known for his lack of leadership and was rigorously scrutinized for every decision he made that did not pan out. A year removed from the “Bobby Valentine curse,” the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. There was no need for a scapegoat, but instead joyous celebration. However, this year there is no Bobby V. to hold accountable for the Red Sox’ inconsistency. No, and don’t even think about holding anybody culpable who helped Boston win a World Series last year. It has to be the new acquisitions. Namely, A.J. Pierzynski.

Everyday I witness countless Red Sox fans on Twitter attack Pierzynski like piranhas. They feed on every misplay, strikeout, and early swing, while simultaneously venting their frustration towards Ben Cherington for not re-signing the “beloved” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ironically, they would do the same thing to poor Salty when he was in a Red Sox uniform.

To rub salt in the wound, Saltalamacchia got off to a torrid start with Miami. That said, he’s significantly cooled off since, and against what a vast majority of fans believe, he’s not doing much better than Pierzynski. In fact, there is a viable argument to be made that Pierzynski is having a better season than Saltalamacchia. And that is exactly what we’re going to delve into.

First, let’s comparatively examine their basic offensive statistics.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .237/.335/.404 slash with a .326 BABIP, 1.0 fWAR, and 106 wRC+

A.J. Pierzynski: .277/.309/.401 slash with a .308 BABIP, 0.8 fWAR, and 91 wRC+.

Obviously looking at the above you can see Saltalamacchia is the better of the two based on those numbers. It’s worth noting he is playing half of his games in a much tougher hitter’s ballpark than Pierzynski, too. Nevertheless, this doesn’t paint the full picture.

Situational hitting is snubbed in the world of sabermetrics. I, for one, believe it is a vital part of the game, and it can’t be ignored. So, below is a table comparing Pierzynski and Saltalamacchia in clutch situations.

Saltalamacchia:

Runners on: .186/.280/.271 — .551 OPS

Runners in scoring position: .156/.231/.200 — .431 OPS

Scoring position with two out: .053/.182/.105 — .287 OPS

Pierzynski:

Runners on: .284/.330/.432 — .762 OPS

Runners in scoring position: .333/.382/.500 — .882 OPS

Scoring position with two out: .360/.448/.520 — .968 OPS

Okay, that’s a substantial difference that has substance to it. The ability to drive in runs and hit in clutch situations is crucial in the game of baseball, and that is exactly what Pierzynski does and Saltalamacchia doesn’t.

Further, Pierzynski has thrown out 28.1% of runners this season, compared to Saltalamacchia, who has thrown out 16.7%.

Give A.J. Pierzynski a break. He’s just as good as Saltalamacchia — if not, a tad worse this season.

With a team that has the worst outfield in Major League Baseball, an inconsistent rotation, struggling veterans, and injuries, it’s ludicrous to blame Pierzynski. And there are plenty of other sensible players to blame for a pedestrian season to this point.

Boston Red Sox Finally End Losing Streak

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox were down 6-1 after the bottom of the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves Monday afternoon before a two out rally scored five runs, including a two-run double for Dustin Pedroia and a three-run shot from David Ortiz knotted the game 6-6.

The listless offense did nothing through the first four innings and it looked the team would fall once again, but the two out damage in that fifth inning looked like a team that was tired of losing and instead took a patient approach to get back into the contest.

The game was then delayed due to rain and the Red Sox had to wait to try and gain a lead. They did exactly that with a sacrifice fly in the seventh for Ortiz and a two out single for A.j. Pierzynski to put the Red Sox up 8-6.

The bullpen settled down after allowing inherited runners to score in the fourth as all six runs were charged to Clay Buchholz who had a career-high eight walks. The bullpen pitched the final six innings while allowing no runs and just four base runners with six different relievers getting an inning of work after a taxing 10-game losing streak.

The bullpen struck out three batters over the final three innings, but Koji Uehara got a huge 6-4-3 double lay for his tenth save of the season in the 8-6 victory.

Sure with Buchholz struggling it might be time for the Red Sox to do something about his lack of command, especially on Monday afternoon. But the win on Monday ended a tough stretch for this team and could lead to something special in the coming weeks as Ortiz and Pedroia were fired up against the Braves. As was Pierzynski after his RBI single in the seventh.

The Red Sox have three more contests against the Braves, including one more at Turner Field on Tuesday.

Red Sox Believe in Their Future At the Catcher Position

catcher position

Some people might have been puzzled when the Boston Red Sox decided to replace 28-year-old catcher Jerrod Saltalamacchia with 37-year-old A.J. Pierzynski. The signing of Pierzynski just shows that the Red Sox are confident in their young prospects at catcher.

The Red Sox held their annual rookie program during the week of January 14  and Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, two of their highly touted catching prospects were in attendance.

The more experienced Vazquez had a good season in the minor in 2013. The 23-year-old from Puerto Rico has been named the best defensive catcher in the Red Sox system by Baseball America each of the past three seasons. In 2013, Vazquez led the Portland Sea Dogs with a .289 average and was the starting catcher for the Eastern League All-Stars.

Vazquez also threw out 47 percent of attempted base stealers with Double-A Portland last season before being promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox last fall. Vazquez was invited to Fort Myers again this spring and he will have a chance to work with veteran catchers Pierzynski and David Ross.

Swihart, who was selected by the Red Sox with the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft, has played three seasons in the Red Sox farm system. He represented the Salem Red Sox on the Carolina League mid-season All-Star team last season as he hit .298 with two home runs and 42 RBIs in 103 games. In the fall, Swihart was also named the 2013 Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

Swihart will also be in Fort Myers, Fla., as he was also chosen to participate in to spring training. This is excellent considering Swihart didn’t start playing the catcher position until his junior year of high school.

Ross and Pierzynski will both be free agents after the 2014 season. It is not farfetched to think that we may see Swihart or Vasquez play at Fenway Park in 2015. Keep your eye out on these two catches because the Red Sox organization surely has.