The Red Sox have dominated this postseason to this point. Obviously, things can change on a dime and they need to focus on continuing doing their job until the task at hand is complete, but their run through October has been legitimately mind-blowing. Even the most optimistic among us could not have possibly expected this. Beyond the simple domination angle, to me the biggest story of the postseason has been just how well-rounded the production has been up and down the roster. It’s a stark difference from the regular season, when it seemed more like a stars and scrubs group with the superstars being so good that you could deal with poor production from other spots. Right now, however, everyone is doing their job and stepping up in different ways. It’s simply really hard to beat a team with this much talent that is firing on all cylinders.
With that in mind, I want to give a small spotlight to Christian Vázquez. Now, the Red Sox catcher has not been close to the top performer on this Red Sox roster this postseason. In fact, he’s probably closer to the back of that list than the front. That says a lot about their depth of production, though. Vázquez has been better than most of us expected, and he’s been a key part of this run. Before the playoffs starter, many (myself included) argued that he shouldn’t be on the roster at all. I believed Tzu-Wei Lin was a better use of that roster spot than Vázquez. Folks, I was wrong about that one!
The numbers really don’t jump off the page for Vázquez’ performance at the plate this month, and they really need the added context of his position and what the Red Sox have gotten from their catchers this year. He has started seven games and came in as a sub in two more, and over 26 plate appearances he is hitting .240/.269/.400. Like I said, that’s not the kind of line that is going to catch anyone’s attention.
However, you have to consider that he has largely taken over for Sandy León in this role. León was, of course, the everyday catcher in the regular season, but he has been in an almost unbelievable slump since the All-Star break. In fact, his two-single game in Game One was his best offensive performance since the last game of the first half. So, with that context, it’s clear that Vázquez has been a huge upgrade in this regard, though the bar is clearly set very low.
It’s not just the pure numbers, though. Vázquez, to put it simply, looks like he belongs up there, which cannot be said for some other options on this roster. Even if he’s not getting hits — and he has gotten at least one hit in five of his seven starts, for whatever that’s worth — he is putting up a battle in every plate appearance. This isn’t a case where he’s going up for three or four pitches and the opposing pitcher knows he can hold back a bit and still get an easy out. Vázquez is working counts and fouling off two-strike pitches, just generally making pitchers work. Hitting out of the nine spot, it’s key that pitchers can’t get a mini-rest before having to face the fearsome top of Boston’s lineup. That’s not a skill that shows up on the box score, but it certainly matters.
There’s also the defense, which is why León kept getting so much run behind the plate despite his inability to do damage with the bat. Vázquez has obviously had a reputation as a great defensive catcher, but for much of the regular season he wasn’t really living up to said reputation. He was struggling with blocking and framing pitches, at least compared to expectations, and his game-calling left a lot to be desired. Pitchers had (and still have) a tremendous rapport with León, but Vázquez couldn’t build the same relationship. Well, if he was getting blamed for some poor pitching performances in the regular season, he deserves credit for this postseason. He’s been behind the plate for a few great outings, including each of David Price’s last two. You can say that pitchers that good can throw to anyone, and that may be true, but a lot has been made of the Red Sox catchers’ impact on pitching this year. We need to stay consistent with that here.
A lot of the focus this winter is going to be what direction the Red Sox head behind the plate, and based on this postseason I have to say that Vázquez is probably the frontrunner to take the starting role. Of course, that’s not a concern right now. Right now, we only care about what’s going to happen for the rest of the postseason. If the Red Sox sweep this series, Vázquez is going to catch the final two games and he’ll likely put up some more low-key quality at bats in the process. You need everyone to contribute to a World Series, even if they were down and out for most of the regular season. That’s what the Red Sox are getting from Vázquez, even if it isn’t happening in the most noticeable ways.