It’s Time to Start Playing Sandy Leon More Often

After defeating the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, the Boston Red Sox improved to 38-17. That is the best record in Major League Baseball, and good for a 2.5 game lead in the AL East. The offense continues to flourish, and this team is giving fans every reason to be excited. Lost in all this excitement is an issue at the catcher position. Specifically, the lopsided playing time between Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon.

In 2015, Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. This isSandy Leon when the Sox brought in Sandy Leon from the Washington Nationals. It was not until 2016 when Vazquez and Leon began their timeshare behind the plate. Leon appeared in 78 games to Vazquez’ 57. And for good reason. Leon batted .310 with 78 hits that year and provided solid production from the catcher position. His average regressed to .225 in 85 games the next year. Vazquez capitalized, notching 99 starts and batting .290, both career-highs. The timeshare worked with success, as neither emerged as the true alpha catcher.

And now, 55 games deep into the 2018 season, Christian Vazquez has logged 39 starts to Sandy Leon’s 22. But the results are not at all a reflection of 2017. Vazquez is only batting .188 with 6 RBIs and no home runs. That average comes out to a meager 26 hits in 138 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Leon is batting .254 with more RBIs (8) and home runs (2) than his counterpart.

Granted, Vazquez has proven to be more valuable behind the plate than next to it. However, aside from steals, the numbers are nearly negligible. Vazquez is 5-12 on steal attempts with a .992 fielding percentage and three errors. In comparison, Leon is 0-8 with a .995 fielding percentage and only one error.

With very similar defensive skills, the Red Sox must look at who can contribute more to the team as a whole. With Hanley Ramirez designated for assignment last week, the team must do something to sustain the offensive production that has got them to this point. That point being the best team in Major League Baseball. Sandy Leon’s ability to hit for power, past success at the plate, and relatively superior numbers this year make him every bit worthy of more playing time.

Then there’s always Blake Swihart, but that’s a different, and much more complicated, situation.

 

Jackie Bradley Hit Streak Ends at 29 Games

Jackie Bradley showed Sox nation that he’s arrived offensively at the big league level. During the 29 game hit streak, Bradley hit .415 (44-for-106) with 20 extra-base hits, including eight homers and 30 RBIs. All great things come to an end as Sox fans know with this being the final year for Sox great and one of baseball’s great ambassadors, David Ortiz. However, Bradley has many strong years ahead and this hit streak showed that.

Bradley came into this season with just 700 at bats in the big leagues and 238 gamesJackie Bradley played. So while he technically has three years of major league experience, his plate appearances represent less than two full years of experience. Major league experience is commonly misinterpreted if one just looks at years played. So with under two years of actual playing time and exposure to the highest level, Bradley is on track to being a very strong major league hitter.

Following the hit streak, Bradley’s average sits at .341. While this average is unlikely to persist throughout the rigorous 162 game season, Bradley has shown me he can be a .300 hitter with 20-25 homers. The most impressive component to his game that I have noticed this season is his willingness to go with the ball and use the monster as his best friend. Countless times Bradley has knocked a double off the monster. Bradley also can run, stealing 15 bases out of 15 attempts. To go along with his outstanding defense, Bradley is becoming an all star with all of the work he has put in during the offseason. Meanwhile, some people are questioning whether or not he is using PED’s.

Bradley has always had the reputation of being a listener and having a strong work ethic. The improvements in his game are a product of that rather than PED’s. Nowadays, whenever somebody takes off it seems that the PED questions surface. This is an absolute joke and is a disgrace to the game in general, improvement can be made with work being put in. Bradley has put in the work and as a result he is becoming one of the better hitters in the league. What’s next for Bradley?

Bradley cannot improve much upon the numbers he has put up. In fact, he is likely to regress to a fairly great extent. Bradley will probably end the season with a .304 batting average with 22 homers and 93 RBI. That is regression on his current projected stats based off of his performance thus far, 28 homers and 117 RBI. Bradley has been awesome to watch during his streak and that will not change, Bradley has arrived and he is here to stay.

Christian Vazquez is Better Offensively Than This!

christian vazquez

Christian Vazquez is a touted-prospect for one reason, and one reason alone; his skills behind the dish. According to every defensive metric, whether it be pitch framing, defensive runs saved, or caught stealing percentage, the 24-year-old catcher is rendered elite. Oh, and did I mention he’s just a rookie?

Even though he’s already drawn comparison to guys like Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy from a defensive perspective, he still hasn’t been of great value since his call-up due to his ineffectiveness with the stick. In 147 plate appearances this season, Vazquez has only managed to churn a weak .234/.292/.289 slash line.

Now, I detest the notion that what Vazquez’s has done offensively this year will be more or less what we see the rest of his career. Looking at his minor-league numbers over the past few years, we can evidently see this isn’t the offensive player at his best.

*(Note: Minor-league stats are only shown when Vazquez compiled 250+ plate appearances in a specific level of the minors)

2011 (444 PA) with Single-A Greenville: .283 AVG, .358 OBP, .505 SLG, .316 BABIP and 133 wRC+

2012 (342 PA) with Single-A Salem: .266 AVG, .360 OBP, .396 SLG, .326 BABIP, 114 wRC+

2013 (399 PA) with Double-A Portland: .289 AVG, .376 OBP, .395 SLG, .316 BABIP, 119 wRC+

2014 (270 PA) with Triple-A Pawtucket: .276 AVG, .336 OBP, .385 SLG, .340 BABIP, and 98 wRC+

Those numbers aren’t eye-popping by any stretch of the imagination, but they sure are above-average. They also showcase his tendency to walk at a high-rate, which is indicated by his stupendous on-base percentage totals.

Another reason I’m optimistic about his offensive potential is his low .270 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). That mark is .23 percentage points below league-average for catchers this season, and should deviate towards league-average, eventually, but there’s no guarantee.

Vazquez has the potential to be a solid commodity from an offensive standpoint as well as a defensive standpoint. With the latter, he’s already well above-average, but the former will take some honing. Whether that is next year or a few years from now, I’m upbeat about his offensive aptitude.

Inferior Red Sox Defense a Key in Early Struggles

red sox defense

Last season, the Boston Red Sox were one of the better defensive teams in all of baseball. The team finished with the fourth best percentage in the AL with .987. So far in 2014, the Red Sox have gotten off to a slow start and their defense is a major reason.

In game one of their series against the Baltimore Orioles, pitcher John Lackey allowed six runs on 10 hits, but not a lot of the hits he gave up were hit very hard. Red Sox players such as Mike Carp and shortstop Xander Bogaerts had trouble making routine plays in the field during this series and throughout other games this season as well.

Outfielder Daniel Nava not only has struggled at the plate thus far this season, but he isn’t playing very well defensively either. He already has three errors in 19 games and has failed to look comfortable at either the right or left field positions.

At third base, the Red Sox miss the range of Will Middlebrooks. While he isn’t the greatest defensive third baseman, with his 6’3 frame and wingspan Middlebrooks is able to cut down infield balls other smaller players cannot.

While Middlebrooks has been injured, Brock Holt, and Jonathan Herrera have been patrolling third base. With both of them being 5’10, they lack the wingspan of Middlebrooks, thus opening up holes in the infield.

If you add the lack of range at third base with the defensive limitations of Xander Bogaerts, then it’s easy to see why the Red Sox have struggled on the left side of the infield. I think everyone knew that Bogaerts would be a downgrade defensively, but I don’t know if anyone expected him to struggle on routine plays at shortstop.

In last week’s game against the Chicago White Sox, the 21-year-old bounced a throw to first base that allowed the White Sox to walk off with a 2-1 win rather than sending the game into extra innings. Bogaerts has two errors on the season, but that doesn’t factor in the poor job he has done turning simple ground balls into outs.

The Red Sox currently rank 14th in MLB in fielding percentage, but the statistics don’t tell the entire story of how poorly this defense has played. Getting Victorino and Middlebrooks back from the disabled list should help a bit, but they have to start to show improvement before they both get back. With the Red Sox lack of offensive consistency, the team can’t afford to give runs away because of poor defense.

ALDS Game 2: Don’t Overlook the Great Defense

ALDS game 2

Courtesy of boston.sportsthenandnow.com

Well, it was a bit, emphasis on the “bit,” of a tighter ALDS Game 2 for the Boston Red Sox. Pitching seemed to be the issue during this game, though bats were “going steady” like two teenage sweethearts.

That said, John Farrell must come to the realization that sometimes he needs to pull his starters a bit sooner. Just a bit, I’m not talking a whole inning sooner. He just needs to know when to pull the plug. Our middle men were a bit exploited during this game, which is a phenomenon that leaves fans worried, or worse laying blame on the starter. John Lackey pitched a decent game Saturday night, not his best but still good enough to keep Tampa’s bats at bay. This leads me to impress upon you the importance of defensive play, the unsung hero of baseball.

What redeems this Red Sox team, game in and game out, is strong defense and, yes, a consistent offense. There is a lot of emphasis placed on offense in baseball because that is where all the action really happens save for a game saving catch, or a notable blunder. Game two showed the prowess of Stephen Drew, Dustin Pedroia, and first baseman Mike Napoli in the infield. Drew made a perfect opposite field double to left field in the bottom of the fourth, but he also made a great catch, near third base in the 8th inning. A couple of double plays were made or attempted. Defensive play is easily overlooked. Why? Fans love the bottom of the 8th homers by David Ortiz. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love myself some Papi, but there is more to the 2013 Red Sox than an impressive offense. People need to know that good fielding is just as important as run production.

Hopefully, the Sox are showing the world through their work in Game 2 that they can go the distance because of their defense. They certainly have warmed this worried heart with their well-rounded play.

Red Sox Trade Selection Wrap-Up

red sox trade selection

Former Chicago White Sox player, Jake Peavy
Courtesy of espn.go.com

I am certainly not thrilled with the results of the Red Sox trade selection.  We trade away Jose Iglesias for Pitcher, Jake Peavy? Based on Peavys’ numbers he runs hot and cold. The ERA is not high enough for us to warrant losing Iglesias, in my opinion. This then begs the question will the Sox use him as a reliever or part of the five-man rotation. From the Tweets on Twitter, he will go into the five-man rotation. The Sox certainly will make some adjustments as he moves and sees what he can add to the franchise. Still, I feel like I am missing something regarding Peavy. What does the front office see in him that I don’t? I can only assume that Peavy is versatile; perhaps, he could be part of the bullpen if he can’t hack it in the starting rotation. There is a fallback position for him.

As for Jose Iglesias, I am sure he will go on to great things for the Tigers. It is unfortunate the Sox did not allow him to grow even further as a major league player in Boston. I think they will regret trading him away.  Losing Iglesias is one of the last options I wanted to see exercised as he is a favorite player of mine. Statistically, at the plate, the decision makers must believe that Will Middlebrooks can deliver offensively. Unfortunately, I do not know that any one has seen this to be true even though he has made some progress in Pawtucket.

I am glad that additional players did not get traded away. The Sox seem happy with whom they have in place. Decisions were conservative because the Sox will continue to pull up players from a strong farm system, and of course, we must keep our eyes on the waiver wire. The team will need to take a long look at maintaining strong defense in the infield corner positions. I don’t think the team has what they need in the third and shortstop position, especially with the left field corner as an exploitable liability.

Well, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly post-trade deadline.