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Daily Red Sox Links: What’s up with Christian Vazquez?

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The Red Sox simultaneously have three capable catchers and none. Plus Dustin Pedroia is playing live baseball again, the starting rotation needs to be better and J.D. Martinez hits and hits hard.

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Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When you have one of the best records in baseball, finding any problems usually amounts to a great deal of nitpicking. The Boston Red Sox are one of those teams, but there are still some weak points. One of the biggest right now is behind the plate. Even though they boast three players able to play catcher (or maybe four?), they have gotten a pathetic amount of production from that post offensively. According to Baseball-Reference, the Red Sox are last in the majors in wins above average at catcher (-1.7), ranking pretty far behind the New York Mets (-1.1), Arizona Diamondbacks (-1.0) and Texas Rangers (-1.0), which are the next worst teams.

Whether its fair or not, Christian Vazquez has been at the center of that sour note. Slashing just .179/.230/.217 with a walk percentage below four, he has been pretty much an automatic out in the lineup. If that didn’t illustrate the problem enough, take note that his wRC+ is currently sitting at 18. That’s nearly pitcher-level hitting success. Even if we take out Shohei Ohtani, the average pitcher with at least 10 plate appearances before Monday night had a wRC+ of roughly -22. While Vazquez is not that bad, he’s much closer to that level than being even a league average bat.

Light-hitting catchers can sometimes make up for poor offense by being excellent defenders. Vazquez has leaned on that before since he’s never been the next coming of Gary Carter. But his glove work has not been able to balance out the toothpick he’s wielding at the dish. He had 12 defensive runs saved last season but has -3 this season. He’s also failing to stop teams from stealing bases (11 steals allowed, three caught stealing) and ranks outside the top 40 catchers in baseball in fielding runs above average (-0.7). At the very least he has provided a minor positive in framing, with 0.1 framing runs this season, but that’s way off the pace that allowed him to rank eighth in baseball (10.5) in 2017.

Behind Vazquez, the Red Sox still employ Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart. While Swihart may be on the chopping block with the roster changing soon, he has not gotten much of a chance to prove he can be an everyday catcher. That’s kind of been the theme of his career. He also has been bad offensively (.138/.219/.172, 6 wRC+), but its tough to tell how real that is since he’s only had 32 plate appearances compared to Vazquez’s 114. Leon also hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities (47 plate appearances) and has been similarly ineffective, with the a wRC+ of 15.

It makes sense for the Sox will continue to ride Vazquez. He signed a three-year contract extension earlier this year that will pay him $1.425 million in 2018 and up to $6.25 million in 2021 before a $7 million team option for 2022. Clearly the organization sees him as a solution for at least the medium term and for good reason. He wasn’t spectacular last year, but with a bWAR of 1.1 he was better than most and a perfectly capable hitter near the bottom of the lineup. The Red Sox don’t have a lot of things that need fixing, but getting Vazquez (or any of their catchers) back to that type of production is one of them.

There has been a lot of good in the first quarter of the season, but that doesn’t mean things can’t get better. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)

On the plus side, Dustin Pedroia is nearing his return, doing some very Dustin Pedroia things in Triple-A. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)

Getting back to live baseball is a big deal for Pedroia. (Alex Speier; Boston Globe)

Ditto. (Joe McDonald; The Athletic) ($$)

After the starting rotation started the season on a dominant pace, it has fallen back. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)

Eudardo Rodriguez has been one of those starters that could stand to improve. He’s been pretty much average this season (101 ERA+), but has his sights on improving. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)

J.D. Martinez isn’t just hitting well, he’s annihilating balls with hard contact. (Matthew Kory; The Athletic) ($$)

Swihart has found some allies as he remains pretty much glued to the bench. (Chad Jennings; The Athletic) ($$)