The Red Sox are 34-16. They have the most wins in baseball and the highest winning percentage in baseball and show no signs of slowing down as summer approaches. They have MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and will get a former MVP back today when Dustin Pedroia makes his season debut. They have Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel and a 25-man roster that largely makes your eyes pop out of your head in awe. They’re that good. Hell, they’re great.
There are exceptions, of course, and no one is more exceptionally mediocre on this team than its ragtag group of catchers. Christian Vazquez and Sandy León are uninspiring no matter what you think of backup ‘catcher’ Blake Swihart (who may be traded or designated for assignment by the end of the day to make room for Pedroia), but there are no truly good options among them. It is a relative weak spot, to be sure, but it’s -- obviously -- far from an Achilles heel. The Sox are successful despite their catchers, but the important part is that they’re successful.
This doesn’t seem to be a universal opinion, and it’s not just about the catchers. Be it the Swihart Wars, batting order woes, day-off shenanigans or bullpen choice worries, Red Sox analysis seems hellbent on making the perfect the enemy of the good. I understand that this is a feature of being a baseball fan, not a bug, and despite my constitutional resistance this sort of thinking, even I almost lost it on Wednesday after another Vazquez screwup.
To recap, Eduardo Nunez tried to score from second in a 1-1 game on a ball to the wall and found himself barreling toward home plate, behind which the on-deck batter Vazquez stood, arms raised, telling him not to slide. The problem was that the ball was indeed coming into the infield, and Nunez needed to slide, and didn’t, and was tagged out. It could easily have cost the Red Sox the game and Vazquez, the brainy catcher, seemed in a stupor about the whole thing, when in reality it was a play so easy Swihart would have made it. Probably.
Then the Red Sox won, I went to sleep happy, but in last night’s game León didn’t catch a ball, and Swihart Twitter was back on its bullshit:
you see even though I didn't mention him directly this was a tweet about Sandy Leon's inability to catch a simple throw directly at him that cost the Red Sox a run— Matthew Kory (@mattymatty2000) May 24, 2018
Gonna need Sandy Leon to catch throws that go directly in his glove— Sox Lunch (@Soxlunch) May 24, 2018
Let’s be clear about something right now: Getting rid of Swihart will solve the first-order problem of shoehorning him into cherry-picked observations like this, but it won’t do much for the second-order problem of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Every team can be better, yes. Speaking of which, here’s a gentle reminder that Swihart, the savior that isn’t, has a .379 OPS, and that León actually can catch throws straight at him, which he does, as a catcher. Also there’s this:
Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon is (10-for-28 .357 batting average) with a homer, double, three RBIs, six runs, four walks, seven strikeouts in May— Christopher Smith (@SmittyOnMLB) May 25, 2018
Every time I think I’m willing to overlook this half-honest, half-crazy analysis in the name of Sox solidarity and friendship and not being a terrible scold online I start wondering if I’m actually the crazy one for not doing it. Baseball is obviously popular because it gives frustration-adjacent people a chance to be frustrated virtually ad infinitum. I used to be one of those people on a minute-to-minute, and I know depressive Yankees fans, for God’s sake. Success doesn’t kill it; by drawing attention to flaws, it probably exacerbates it. Since we’re all helpless in the face of the action, it’s tempting to shout out the answers to what looks like a puzzle when you’ve found them. I’m a crossword guy, dammit: I get that part.
But solving a baseball team is not like solving a crossword puzzle. Or, at least, solving this Red Sox team isn’t like solving one. It’s a jigsaw puzzle. We have the picture on the box to guide us, and in that picture, for this season, León and Vazquez are the catchers, Hanley is the de facto third hitter and players have regular, strangely scheduled, off days, just as they did under John Farrell. Like Farrell last season and Vazquez and León this year, they are what fits for this team and trying to smash other pieces together is a wasted effort. First off, it doesn’t work. Second, and more importantly, the picture doesn’t get much prettier than this. I’m gonna try my best to enjoy it. It probably won’t be good enough, but it really is beautiful.