What Else Should Red Sox Fans Expect From Sandy Leon?

In 2016, Sandy Leon had a breakout season, hitting .310 and averaging at least one base knock per game. Leon had historically been a weak hitter during the first part of his career with the Washington Nationals. Some will say that it was leonbecause he finally had consistent playing time, while others will look to his changing plate mechanics. But perhaps his success may have been due to the unfamiliarity of Leon as an everyday player among major league pitchers.

Ultimately, the Red Sox benefited from Leon’s renaissance en route to a record-setting offense and an American League East title.

What should Red Sox fans expect from Sandy Leon in 2017?

Should they expect the same kind of explosive offensive production? What about the consistency?

Well, the only real explanation for any such prediction would be his recent performance and Spring Training statistics. In 13 games, Leon batted .265 with only 34 at-bats. Small sample size, but respectable considering much of Spring Training consists of low-level minor league players and journeyman bench players.

His Opening Day performance highlighted another element of Leon’s game. In the second inning, Leon threw out Gregory Polanco as he attempted to steal second. In the fifth, Leon beat the shift on a bunt down the third-base line with two outs, setting up a three-run home run by Andrew Benintendi.

Leon blasted a walk-off home run in the twelfth inning on Wednesday night to secure a hard-earned second win. He previously hit a single and double earlier in the affair.

But despite these factors, he is not alone at the catching position on the Red Sox depth chart. For the past couple of seasons, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart have been developing young catchers in the high minor league levels and, at times, the major league level. Vazquez has superb defensive ability and must work on his bat; Swihart is a reliable hitter who needs to improve his defense behind the plate—even though the Red Sox have toyed with him in left field.

The presence of Swihart and Vazquez puts pressure on Leon to be successful in 2017. Red Sox fans should expect him to have consistent, but not spectacular, contributions this season.

Defense is a Real Problem for Hanley Ramirez

When the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million contract this past offseason, many people were surprised. Then, once the Sox chose to transition Hanley from shortstop to Fenway’s notorious left field, that surprise turned to worry. Even during his peak years, Ramirez was never great defensively, so to introduce him to a totally new, and equally challenging, position at the age of 31 was a major risk; a risk which, so far, hasn’t really paid off.

While Hanley has been a strong offensive force, his defense has been particularly dreadful, as judged by a slew of advanced metrics. In Total Fielding Runs per Year, for Hanley Ramirezinstance, Ramirez has a -27 rating, essentially meaning that, extrapolated to represent 135 games, his current defensive performance is 27 runs below average. Moreover, Hanley has thus far accumulated -6.1 Range Runs, meaning he is the second-worst fielder in all of baseball at getting to balls hit in his vicinity. And finally, in Ultimate Zone Rating, a catch-all defensive stat incorporating a player’s range, arm and tendency to commit errors, Ramirez has a -7.7 score, which, again, is the second-worst in the Major Leagues.

Basically, the stats tell us that, for all his offensive greatness (10 home runs and 22 RBI so far), Hanley is, at this point, having no more impact on the Red Sox’ fortunes than would a replacement level player. According to Baseball-Reference, his 0.9 offensive WAR is counterbalanced by his -1 defensive WAR, to create a player who is currently performing no better, or worse, than a stand-in scrub who could be signed for the Major League minimum salary of $507,500. Considering Boston has at least $88 million tied up in Hanley Ramirez, such a situation is very concerning.

Now, I’m not a total believer in WAR as the ultimate, definitive indicator of baseball performance. After all, from a fan’s perspective, you’d want to see your team sign a superstar such as Hanley Ramirez over a replacement level throwaway such as Junior Lake or Odubel Herrera. But, to a certain extent, I agree that such advanced statistics outline a general trend of a player’s impact and, in the case of Ramirez, that trend is not good. In fact, his defense, or lack thereof, is damaging his value and hurting the Red Sox considerably, to the point where you have to consider making a change.

It’s hard to imagine such a stat-inclined front office as the Red Sox’ allowing the experiment to continue without success for much longer. Whispers about a possible promotion for Rusney Castillo are already surfacing, while Jackie Bradley Jr., a defensive whiz, is back with the big club and looking for outfield playing time.

In order to move Ramirez from left field, however, he must have somewhere to go. Shortstop, his previous position, is already occupied by Xander Bogaerts, while first base and designated hitter are also filled by Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, respectively.

Hanley Ramirez

Therefore, the Red Sox may soon face a huge dilemma, in that Hanley Ramirez, their most potent power hitter, is signed through at least 2018, but perhaps lacks the skills to play adequate defense anywhere on the diamond.

Furthermore, Hanley is approaching an age where most players decline, so what defensive prowess he ever had will be further damaged, making for an uncertain, and often awkward, adventure in the years to come.

Jeff Bianchi Hopes to Help Red Sox

Jeff Bianchi

Defensively speaking, the Boston Red Sox might just have one of the best MLB infielders stashed away in the upper Minors.
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Lifetime, 28-year-old PawSox utility man Jeff Bianchi might be a .216 hitter in 162 big league games, but it is his defense that gives him pride.

Defense and versatility landed jeff bianchiBianchi a job with the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers, only spending time in the Minor Leagues to rehab an injury.

In the field, he plays second base, third base, shortstop and left field and plays them well. Playing in just 100 games in 2013, he posted the ninth highest defensive WAR in the National League (2.0). While he was not creating many runs, he prevented them which was good enough for the Brewers.
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“I think defense is very important,” he said. “I take pride in going out every day and getting my work in. I’m just trying to get better every day. I’ve been bouncing around from short, to second, to third and in the outfield. I got a start at first recently.”

“Yeah, guys who can do it nowadays, it’s a very valuable tool on a ballclub,” Bianchi said of versatility. “Take being in Milwaukee for example, if you can play a couple of different positions and play them well, you have a chance to stick around for a while. I’m trying to get reps at different positions and do what I can to help this team.”

Even with a strong performance this spring, Bianchi did not have much of a chance to make the Red Sox team this year because there was not a utility job up for grabs. For now, he is working a number of different positions, but is usually in the PawSox lineup—somewhere.
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“I just need to take it a day at a time.” Bianchi said. “If you start looking too far ahead, you start playing some mind games. Right now, there’s a reason why I’m here and it’s for me to get better. Everyone wants to get to the big leagues, but the fact of the matter is I’m here so I have to make the best of my opportunity.”

While Bianchi did not get much of a shot to make the team out of the gate, he is confident that he could contribute to the Red Sox at one point this season. He picked Boston as a place to contribute for one simple reason.
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“It feels great to come over to an organization like this,” he said. “It’s been a good transition so far. I mean, here we want to win and so far we’re doing it. It’s just a great organization, I’m happy to be here.”

Red Sox Struggling Defensively Thus Far

RED SOX DEFENSE

Defense has always been an important part of the game and on St. Patrick’s Day, the Boston Red Sox reminded fans why that is.

En route to an 11-3 beating against the Atlanta Braves, the Red Sox red soxcommitted four errors in what could be best described as a rather sloppy game. Balls were dropped in the outfield, throws sailed all over the place and resulted in free runs for the Braves.
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So far this spring, the Red Sox are a respectable 8-6, not that Spring Training records matter. What does stand out is their performance, or lack thereof, in the field. So far this spring, the Red Sox have committed 15 errors in 14 games— a number which should cause a slight bit of concern.

People do take excellent defenders for granted because many of them struggle so much at the plate. Take Jackie Bradley Jr. for example. He might be the best defensive center fielder in the league, but the team does not feel comfortable with him as the Opening Day center fielder because they have Mookie Betts.
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As time goes on, the Red Sox should be able to improve on defense as guys play where they are most comfortable. Spring Training is about trying new people and new things so it is safe to say, not everyone can play everywhere on the diamond and in the outfield.

Both in the Minors and in the Majors, players will have the opportunity to play where they play best which will help everyone out. Certainly, Minor League baseball is a much different case because it is a low pressure environment.
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It does not help the fielders when their pitchers are getting lit up on a daily basis either. Some guys have trouble just taking the ball an inning at a time at random— they are what we like to call starting pitchers.

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.

Red Sox Off to a Slow Start

Red Sox off to a slow start

Throughout Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., the Boston Red Sox talked about moving on from their 2013 World Series Championship and focusing on the 2014 season. After being under .500 after the first week of the season, it may be time for the Red Sox to hit the reset button.

The Red Sox were outscored 17-8 in their three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers last weekend. Boston’s offense was inactive in two of the three games and never seemed to get on track throughout the series.

The same could be said during their series against the Texas Rangers, as the offense struggled to score when runners were in scoring position.  In their 10-7 loss to the Rangers in game two of the series, the Red Sox left a total of 19 runners on base.

The shuffling of the Red Sox lineup may be the reason they’ve struggled to generate runs so far. The team has used six different batting orders in their first eight games.

It’s too early to know if the Red Sox will miss Jacoby Ellsbury, who departed to the New York Yankees last offseason, but his absence has affected the team early on. Daniel Nava, who’s primarily been used in the lead-off spot early this season, has struggled so far.  Going into game three of the Ranger series, Nava is hitting .138 and has an on-base percentage of .219.

Ellsbury was not only a good hitter, but he got on base and was able to turn a single into a triple with his ability to steal bases. With Nava struggling to get on base, the lead-off spot just simply hasn’t had enough runners on base.

During the Red Sox first week of the 2013 season the team stole eight bases and were caught only once. Through eight games the 2014 season, they have attempted to steal a base just three times and were successful only once.

The offense hasn’t been the only problem for the Red Sox during the first week of the season; sloppy defense has also been an issue. The team has committed seven errors (five in the Milwaukee series) in their first eight games. To put this in prospective, in Red Sox Manager John Farrell’s first season, the team didn’t make an error in its first seven games of the 2013 season.

It isn’t time to panic in Boston, but the Red Sox need to find an identity until Shane Victornio and Will Middlebrooks come back from the DL. With the Sox playing a four-game series in the Bronx against the Yankees this upcoming weekend, they can’t afford to keep having these offensive and defensive issues.