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2018 in Review: Blake Swihart

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He’s still here, and that makes all the difference.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Red Sox
That was a good day.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do we come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players we’re using can be seen here, and if we are missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason (when applicable!) and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss Blake Swihart.

The Year in a Sentence

Swihart was discussed at a rate inversely proportional to his relatively meager contributions, such as they were, but he finally became an honest-to-dogg contributor this year.

The Positives

Once Christian Vazquez suffered a major injury, Swihart was forced behind the plate, where he acquitted himself fine and, more importantly, logged enough at-bats to finally show off the hitting skills that made him a top prospect. That said, I think the biggest positive for Swihart was when Hanley Ramirez was designated for assignment to make room for Dustin Pedroia’s temporary return from the DL. That Hanley was jettisoned when our trio of Red Seat podcasters thought it would be Swihart -- including Jake, who’s a big fan -- shows how little we know about the inner workings of a MLB organization. What little we could glean from the move was that Swihart was someone the Sox still believed in and, at least, were not willing to sell for pennies on the dollar.

All Swihart did after that was show why the Sox believed in him, and why I came so far around on him to push for him as the starting catcher, insofar as the Sox will have a “starter” at all. He certainly should be in the rotation both behind the plate and around the field, and whatever value he gives away by hitting away from catcher is likely made up for, in aggregate, by his flexibility and low price tag. As we’ll see, he’s only so flexible; his hitting skills are exclusively against righties, but they are there.

Also he’s very good-looking. It comes up a lot.

The Negatives

He can’t hit lefties. His bat started extremely slow but was on fire in July, but he ended up right around 100 wRC+ against righties on the year, which makes him a fine platoon candidate. He was very extremely bad against lefties, with a -21 wRC+. The defense is good enough for the correct platoon matchup, but against lefties, Blake should be on the bench.

The Big Question

What about Blake Swihart’s defense?

What about it? It was fine. It wasn’t great, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be available, not just at catcher but around the diamond. He’s a glue guy at this point. We’ve been hoping for another Buster Posey but should be happy with another Brock Holt. Just don’t let him hit lefties.

The Year Ahead

The simplest explanation is often the right one, and in the case of Swihart the simple explanation is that the organization likes him and wants to use him whenever possible, albeit in a reserve role. The playing time should increase this year, and I’d expect the wRC+ against righties to inch up as well as he slowly becomes a bigger and bigger part of the team. I’m not expecting 500 PAs -- that means something went wrong. He had 207 last year and I’d expected something like 350 to be in the works going forward, maybe inching up again in 2020 if he’s still around. The most important thing to know, now, is that he truly belongs here. He’s earned it. Now let’s see if he can go earn some money.