One of the few, but very real, problems with the Red Sox this year has been the length of their lineup. The top of the order is outstanding, and much more often than not that has been enough to win baseball games. They’ve won a lot of baseball games! The bottom of the lineup hasn’t been quite up to par for most of the year, however, and there are some real problem spots. Second base has been bad, and there really aren’t any signs that it will get significantly better. Third base has been inconsistent, though Rafael Devers obviously has the potential to significantly turn things around. Center field has been awful, though Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting the ball better and if it continues it should lead to better production. Catcher has also been terrible, even factoring in how bad catchers are at hitting all around the league. The good news is that one half of Boston’s catching tandem is looking a lot better of late.
Obviously, based on the headline and that big ol’ picture at the top of the page, I’m talking about Christian Vazquez. Most of this first half has been spent with the catcher being awful at the plate, and it’s been so bad that his recent hot streak really hasn’t put much of a dent in his numbers. On the year, he’s hitting .211/.251/.286 for a 43 wRC+, meaning he’s 57 percent worse than the league-average hitter. Among the 271 players with at least 150 plate appearances this year, only four have been worse at the plate. That’s not great! Still, there is at least a little room for optimism, because the month of June has seen a much better version of Vazquez.
Now, we’re dealing with a small sample here, and since he plays catcher it’s an even smaller sample than your typical one-month split. Vazquez has come to the plate only 50 times in this month. Still, when you’re hitting as bad as the 27-year-old has been all year, any uptick in production is worth mentioning. With that in mind, he is hitting .277/.320/.468 for the month for a 112 wRC+, meaning he’s been 12 percent better than league-average. He’s been the fourth-best hitting catcher this month, just ahead of Buster Posey by wRC+. Again, the sample size is small, but there are some real changes to be seen here.
The biggest shift for Vazquez this month has been his quality of contact. Some of his horrible start was surely due to bad luck — I don’t care how bad you think Vazquez is, there’s no way he was that bad — but there’s also no denying that his quality of contact was awful. That has changed in June. He’s hit a couple of home runs (his first two of the year), but that isn’t the entire reason for his rise in batted ball success. While he’s hit for more power here, he’s actually hitting fly balls at a much lower rate than he has the rest of the year.
This goes against conventional wisdom in the modern game, but it seems to me like it’s a good strategy for Vazquez. The catcher just doesn’t have big power, and an increase in fly balls is going to do more harm in taking away single opportunities than good by adding power. He’ll run into one every once in awhile, but the flyball revolution shouldn’t be for everyone and Vazquez is one of those cases. This change in approach has come with more line drives and a 39 percent hard-hit rate — 20 percentage points higher than his April and May rates. As a result, he’s simply getting more hits. After posting batting averages on balls in play in the low-.200’s in the first two months of the year, his BABIP is a much more reasonable .306 this month.
Really, that’s what it’s all come down to for Vazquez. Again, this is a small sample size and there’s no guarantee this will continue. For as good of an indicator as hard-hit rate can be for how a player should perform, it’s also not a predictive number. Continuing to hit the ball hard is obviously much easier said than done, and that’s particularly true for someone like Vazquez who has spent more of the season struggling than succeeding. That being said, it seems there has been some sort of effort to get back to the basics and stop looking for power. If that continues, Vazquez could very well be a solid contributor moving forward, or at the very least help make catcher less of a black hole. For now, he should be playing much more often than not, and if this continues we can stop speculating about a possible catcher addition at the trade deadline.