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.

 

The Red Sox Dead Weight Needs To Go

The Red Sox are within a game or two of capturing first place. It’s miracle in its own right if you consider the Red Sox dead weight. Pablo Sandoval isn’t panning out. Sandy Leon’s flash in the pan hitting last year isn’t carrying into this season. Rick Porcello leads the league in losses at 9. If the Red Sox are going to capture first place they need to cut some of their dead weight and they need to do it yesterday.

Red Sox Dead Weight

The Red Sox are playing great baseball. Josh Rutledge is holding his own at third. Andrew Benintendi is a contender for the Rookie of the Year Award. Mookie Betts is leading the Red Sox with 12 homers. Chris Sale is as masterful as ever. But with the Red Sox dead weight that consists of Sandoval, Porcello, and Leon, it’s hard for the team to play better, and they certainly can.

The Red Sox Are Winning the Late-Inning Games

The Red Sox were among the league leaders last year with runners left on base and runners left in scoring position. It seemed like the Red Sox gave up once they fell behind. We’re not seeing that attitude this season. Back-to-back walk-off wins against Philadelphia last week proved that the Red Sox can play under pressure. What’s even better is that players like Benintendi are the ones coming through in the clutch.

Red Sox Dead Weight Is Dragging The Team Down

It’s not always easy to cut dead weight. Players like Pablo Sandoval and Rick Porcello have such big contracts that it’s hard to find another team that’ll pick them up. In other instances no one wants them. But the Red Sox should just rip off the band-aid and shed these players before the All-Star break. Keeping them around is like putting raisins in oatmeal cookies. They just get in the way.

There’s a great scene in the film Moneyball where Billy Bean, played by Brad Pitt, goes against expert advice and cuts a number of players, including Jeremy Giambi. These players weren’t panning out. They were dead weight on the field and a distraction in the clubhouse. While the plot of Moneyball and the reality of the Red Sox are completely different, it’s a lesson that the Red Sox could learn something from. The front office needs to stop coming up with excuses and make some difficult decisions.

Christian Vazquez Should Start Full-time

The Red Sox catching situation has been interesting fr years, to say the least. This has led some to question whether or not Christian Vazquez should start full-time. I believe hevazquez should start full-time should.

At the beginning of the year, I wondered what we should expect from Sandy Leon in his second full season. He’s currently hitting under .200, which is why Vazquez has been getting playing time. Interestingly enough, this is what led to Leon starting in the first place a year ago. For it was Vazquez who struggled at the plate.

A Better Long-Term Option

The difference, to me at least, is pretty simple. Vazquez is a guy with superb defense and someone in which the Red Sox drafted and developed. Leon, although solid defensively and an average hitter, is not necessarily the long-term plan at catcher. Ultimately, Vazquez is the future catcher of this team. Therefore, why take time away from the future catcher for a guy that you don’t plan on committing to?

Right now, Vazquez is technically the starter, as Leon is only the personal catcher of Rick Porcello and Chris Sale. But to me, this doesn’t signify that the Red Sox have decided if Christian Vazquez should start full-time. Many outlets have been quick to call him the primary catcher, though I’m not convinced. If Sale, Porcello, and potentially Price are here to stay long-term as well, shouldn’t the younger guy be catching them?

Not that there is really a huge difference in their game, but rather that Vazquez is simply the better long-term option. After all, Vazquez is hitting .412 in the games he has started, so why not play him full time?

Vazquez Should Start Full-Time

However, if the Red Sox are committed to remaining consistent with their personnel moves and battery match-ups, then keep Leon where he is. But if it’s simply because they’re relying on Leon to be someone he was last year, then that’s a bad move. Vazquez should start full-time indefinitely and keep Leon as the personal catcher for one of the pitchers once the rotation is set.

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.

Christian Vazquez: Defensive Superstar in the Making

As soon as I saw the Spring Training video of Christian Vazquez shooting down Trevor Plouffe attempting to steal second base, I knew he was special, (the video is titled ‘Vazquez throws out Plouffe’ and can be found on MLB.com). They don’t just hand out the nickname “Little Yadi” to anyone. Vazquez emerged as the potential catcher of the future just a few years ago. Now, he is 26 years old, and we are still waiting to see if he can get the starting job behind the plate.

Ever since Vazquez reached the Major Leagues in 2014, it’s been clear that he struggles Christian Vazquezin the batter’s box. Vazquez has a career .233 batting-average in just 347 at-bats. Vazquez has showed signs though, as he crushed a home run over the Monster against Yankees RP Dellin Betances last year. Betances is one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball, and the fact that Vazquez could hold his own against him and go yard attests to his hitting ability. He simply gets overwhelmed at times against big league pitching.

Christian Vazquez vs. Sandy Leon

Sandy Leon emerged last season as the everyday catcher for Boston. He found success in our lineup, producing a .310 average. Leon only made one error behind the plate last year, and threw out 42% of potential base runners. Most Sox fans will see these numbers and immediately see Sandy Leon as the starter this year too, but not so fast.

Leon was one of the streakiest hitters on the team last year. He was the best hitter on the team at times, while at other times he couldn’t make contact. When he wasn’t hitting well, he was basically a liability. Not to mention, Sandy Leon was absolutely awful in the playoffs. He went 1-10 with 5 K’s against Cleveland in the divisional series. I have not seen enough consistent production from Leon to tag him with the Opening Day start this year; I’m also not John Farrell.

The Case for Vazquez

Christian Vazquez has the most raw talent in the Red Sox catching core. He can take over a game from behind the plate with his framing, and his blocking is advanced beyond his competition. Vazquez is a defensive beast, and it is very apparent when watching him work behind the plate in-game. He is the glue that holds the Red Sox defense together. Blake Swihart has shown an inability to improve upon his receiving thus far, and some say he has caught a case of the yips this spring. Sandy Leon has been a hit or miss in all aspects of his game. Who does this leave? Christian Vazquez, (or Mini Yadi).

Vazquez is dedicated to his craft. He is ready for the challenge that awaits him. We’re talking about a guy who is not only compared to Yadier Molina, but works out with him and his brothers in the offseason. Don’t forget, Molina is only a career .285 hitter. Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon have been inconsistent producers at catcher. Don’t get me wrong, Leon belongs in the lineup against lefties. John Farrell has already come out and said that Hanley Ramirez will DH against righties this year. Does this mean that against lefties we will see Leon DH, and Vazquez behind the plate? Sure, he still needs to improve his hitting. Once he does, there is no question as to who will be catching every day in Boston.

Red Sox Resemble Old Selves in D’Backs Sweep

It’s good to see the Red Sox resemble their old selves again after a few rough weeks. Several Red Sox hitters posted strong numbers as they swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three game series. Sweeping the D’Backs wasn’t just a team effort though. It resembled the way the Red Sox used to play, a style that often led them straight to the playoffs. I dare hope that this sweep will give the team the confidence it needs to start playing more consistently.

I’ll admit that beating Arizona isn’t the hardest thing to do nowadays. The Diamondbacks’sRed Sox Resemble pitching staff has an ERA hovering around 5 right now, putting them in 29th place in baseball. They also lead the National League in earned runs. So the Red Sox didn’t exactly sweep a pennant contender. But the numbers they posted during the three-game series are hard to ignore.

Home Runs Galore!

Hanley Ramirez hit two home runs Friday night, including a three-run shot that put the Red Sox ahead after David Price surrendered a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks Jr. in the first inning. David Ortiz joined Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as the third Red Sox player ever to have 1,000 extra base hits. David Price won the game with eight strikeouts in what amounted to one of his weaker wins for the season.

The second game saw Brock Holt and Sandy Leon go the distance in a 6-3 win Saturday. Holt seems to have fully recovered from his injuries earlier in the season, while Leon’s batting average continues to defy logic. Reliever Brad Ziegler, a former Diamondback, struck out three straight to get out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning. Robbie Ross Jr. picked up the win while Craig Kimbrel, resembling his old self too, grabbed the save.

The third game saw Mookie Betts blast three home runs. He joins Ted Williams as the only other Red Sox hitter to have two three-home run games in a season. That marked eight RBIs in one game for Betts. Jackie Bradley Jr. added a home run of his own in the second inning.

Red Sox Resemble Old Selves In Bad Ways Too

David Price got the win in Friday’s game but not without a lot of help from the Red Sox offense. Surrendering a home run in the first seems to be a habit for the Red Sox pitching staff. Clay Buchholz allowed three hits and three earned runs in four innings Saturday night.

I’m not exactly sure what’s up with the pitching staff. If Dave Dombrowski really wants to see the Red Sox resemble their old selves then something has to be done about it. Price is very good but he’s not consistent. Steve Wright and Rick Porcello are on fire, but Buchholz continues to struggle badly. The bats give them plenty of run support, and the defense is strong too, but the pitching is still not coming together. If the pitching staff could find a groove like their hitters then the Red Sox could blast past the Blue Jays and Orioles to capture first place again. They’re only a few games behind so it shouldn’t be too hard.

Time, however, is running out.