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 Christian Vázquez.
The Year in a Sentence
Christian Vázquez hasn’t taken over as the clear everyday catching option that the Red Sox had hoped he’d be by now, and was largely ineffective in 2018 when he was able to get onto the field.
Most of this past season for Christian Vázquez would fit under the Negatives category, but he did turn it on (relatively speaking) in the postseason. Heading into October it seemed as though Sandy León would be handling the bulk of the time behind the plate given how he handled the pitching staff, but his offense became too much of a black hole at a certain point. Instead, Vázquez took over midway through the ALDS and started the majority of the games after that. The numbers weren’t anything special — he hit .216/.237/.324 — but he worked strong at bats on a consistent basis while also not taking away from the pitching staff. Again, the bar to clear was not very high for Red Sox catchers last year, but Vázquez at least looked like a major-league backstop in October. That’s clearing said bar.
Moving to the regular season, Vázquez also made a difference on defense. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we look for flaws with his work behind the plate, and don’t get me wrong because there are some. At times he is frustrating with his technique receiving pitches that can lead to passed balls, and his arm hasn’t been quite the same since his Tommy John Surgery. Still, after hearing how elite he was while coming up it’s possible the hype has made us jaded, because he’s still a very good defensive catcher. He’s particularly strong in the art of framing, which is the most valuable aspect of a catcher’s game. According to Baseball Prospectus’ framing metrics, he was worth nine runs just from framing over a half-season. For context, that was 12th best in baseball and the top mark was Yasmani Grandal with 15.7 runs.
Offensively, you really have to stretch to find a positive from the regular season for Vázquez. If you want to find something, though, you can. Vázquez didn’t get a ton of playing time in June, but he was starting to turn it on during the month. Over 16 games and 60 plate appearances, the catcher hit .298/.333/.526 for a 128 wRC+. Even more amazingly, this wasn’t a BABIP-aided hot streak from the 28-year-old that we’re used to seeing. Instead, he put up a .228 Isolated Power that carried his value. Unfortunately, he got hurt shortly after that so we couldn’t see how long the hot streak could last.
As far as the negatives go, well, it is basically his entire body of work at the plate in 2018. As I mentioned above, Vázquez looked good in the postseason despite not really putting up strong numbers. That wasn’t the case for the majority of the regular season. Over the 80 games he played and 269 plate appearances, the Red Sox catcher hit just .207/.257/.283 for a 42 wRC+. In other words, he was 58 percent worse than the league-average hitter in 2018. If you need more context for just how bad that is, only Sandy León was a worse hitter than Vázquez among the 313 hitters who received at least 250 plate appearances. Not great!
There really wasn’t anything working for the righty at the plate, either. He did avoid strikeouts at a high rate, which should give him a relatively high floor in terms of average. Unfortunately, his batting average on balls in play cratered which brought his overall average way down. On top of that, he didn’t really draw many walks and his power was nonexistent outside of the aforementioned month of June. You can’t put up a 42 wRC+ over a full season without struggling in just about every area, and that was the case with Vázquez.
Then, there was the fact that he ended up missing a big chunk of the season. Now, we obviously can’t hold this against him. Players get hurt sometimes, and this wasn’t exactly indicative of an injury-prone player. Vázquez slid into second base in an early-July game and ended up breaking his pinkie, an injury that kept him out until rosters expanded on September 1. Overall, he ended up missing 47 games and León took over as the clear favorite in the clubhouse, at least for a bit.
The Big Question
The answer to this question is: No, not really. There was some hope that he’d be able to slowly build up his power and walk rate to offset any expected drop-off in BABIP after his solid 2017. Clearly that didn’t happen here. Now, he obviously bad in 2018 whichever way you slice it. I’m not going to say otherwise. That being said, it’s possible his BABIP swung way too far in the other direction, and he is due for a nice little bounce back. This past year Vázquez ended the regular season with a .237 BABIP, 111 points lower than the previous season. There was some regression expected, of course, but not to this extent. He didn’t see a major change in batted ball profile either. In fact, according to Fangraphs he hit the ball hard more often, hit it soft less often and used the whole field more evenly. Vázquez did hit more fly balls, which hurt BABIP, but overall the low mark seems a bit fluky.
The Year Ahead
The catching situation is among the biggest questions remaining with this Red Sox roster, with Vázquez, León and Blake Swihart jockeying for position on the depth chart. My expectation is that Vázquez will get every chance to take the clear top spot on the depth chart in 2019. As far as performance goes, I wouldn’t expect anything special but I do think he’ll give them more than what they got from the position last year. Of course, that’s not really going out on a limb. There’s nowhere to go but up in terms of catching production.