Point: The Red Sox should swap Blake Swihart for Christian Vazquez
On Tuesday night, Blake Swihart might have cost the Red Sox a game. If you ask the catcher himself, at least, he'll tell you the 9-5 loss to the Orioles is on his shoulders. It was, after all, Blake Swihart who whiffed on a pop foul off the bat of Mark Trumbo, leaving him at the plate to take Clay Buchholz very deep with what would prove to be a game-changing home run.
These things will happen, but it's not really an isolated incident. Swihart has had more than his fair share of early season defensive struggles, be it keeping the ball in front of him (he has a league-leading three passed balls to go with a middle-of-the-pack four wild pitches) or making plays on fly balls (he took one off the face on the hop just days before his mistake against the Orioles). His three stolen bases allowed in four attempts isn't bad, but it's not particularly great either.
Really, all of these numbers are fairly inconclusive, but there's also something to be said for how he's working with Boston's pitchers. So far, the results aren't good. And while obviously the pitchers themselves have a lot to do with that, there are some things that Swihart clearly can be called out for. Take, for instance, that Buchholz homer from Tuesday. Buchholz said after the game that it wasn't a mistake pitch, which is both right and wrong. Buchholz did place the fastball where Swihart called for it.
The problem is that Swihart called for a Clay Buchholz fastball inside to Mark Trumbo, and that's an absolute recipe for disaster. Buchholz' fastball is not his weapon, but a facilitator for his better off-speed pitches. The fastball isn't hugely fast, and doesn't really have much life to it. And Mark Trumbo loves nothing more than a fat fastball inside. Knowing that and knowing in turn to never give him that pitch is the sort of thing we were always talking about when we referenced Jason Varitek's "computer."
It's not that Varitek never made such a mistake. Brain farts happen. But if all this evidence only suggests that Swihart is dealing with some defensive struggles, we don't need any new evidence to tell us that Christian Vazquez is one of the best when it comes to pretty much all of these things.
In another situation, inertia might leave Swihart in the majors. But this isn't the case of the established veteran vs. the up-and-comer. In fact, the only reason Swihart is the incumbent is because Vazquez got hurt last year and never really got his chance. Moving Swihart down to the minors and Vazquez to the majors now that Vazquez seems to have proven himself up-to-speed down below (he's reached base in nearly two-thirds of his plate appearances through five games) would more just be setting things back to the would-have-been status quot than anything else. What Swihart needs to learn can be learned just as well down below, so lets get him into a proper learning environment and get Vazquez up to play ball.
Counterpoint: No. Stop it.
We're seven games into the season and Blake Swihart has a .391 OBP. C'mon man.
Look, I know the pitching has been scary bad. But Vazquez isn't going to solve that. He's a great defensive catcher, but the catcher can only do so much. Yes, Buchholz placed that fastball, but in general it's command that's killing both Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly--Boston's two biggest problems.Christian Vazquez can call perfect pitch after perfect pitch and it won't matter when they can't produce it.
I'll say that it's possible the Red Sox are a better team with Christian Vazquez behind the plate right now. But probably not by much. The defense is important, but for the most part Rick Porcello is the one pitcher in the rotation who has much to gain from having Vazquez behind the plate--Wright is a knuckleballer, Price doesn't need help, and Kelly/Buchholz we've discussed--and there's not nearly enough evidence to say that Swihart's issues are anything more than variance. If one of these two missed pop-ups comes in June instead of April--or honestly if he just didn't have to catch Wright--we're not talking about this.
But those things happened when they happened, and now we are. Don't demoralize one of Boston's best young players by demoting him on the basis of a handful of games where he's actually done just fine at the plate. Vazquez' chance will come. Better it comes naturally--which does tend to happen with catchers--and we give Swihart a chance to play out of this rather than making a panic move on a player who's not really that big a problem.