In their defense, a lot of the disappointment comes from two straight ALDS exits to the Indians and Astros. It’s worth noting that both of those teams played in Game 7 of the World Series in their respective years, with one of them actually winning it all. So the Red Sox were beat by the best, and there’s no shame in that.
On Sunday, the Red Sox were finally swept for the first time all season. Today, they will attempt to avoid losing a fourth straight. If they do so, they will remain the only team to not lose that many consecutive games. Parallels have been drawn between the 2011 Red Sox that collapsed in September, and this year’s club, but why that’s a poor parallel can wait for another day.
With many ready to hit (or having already hit) the panic button, we’re going to look into a couple of things the Red Sox could have done differently to avoid this mess.
One Thing I’d Change - Phantom255x
What they said - Our biggest off-season need was a power bat. We got that in spades. After getting that bat though, the Sox whiffed on their secondary need: a good lefty option out of the bullpen. The Red Sox seemingly did not try to bring in a lefty in the spring. Bobby Poyner has been somewhat surprising, but a mediocre outing doomed him to irrelevancy. Had the Red Sox brought in Tony Watson, things would be much better.
One thing I do think is the key here is the need for a reliever. Not just a lefty, but a reliever in general. Having one that is left-handed would be a plus, but isn’t of vital concern to me, especially once the playoffs roll around. Watson would fit the bill, as he was eminently available and his contract was not exorbitant (3/9). When the Sox missed out, I had hope they’d acquire a reliever at the deadline. No such luck.
Perhaps it’s a good thing they didn’t, since many of the ones I wanted have either gotten hurt (Kelvin Herrera) or been mostly awful (Zach Britton). Further, this month, the Red Sox still have managed to have a top 10 bullpen by several metrics, and the bullpen isn’t a chief reason for the Red Sox losing games right now. They’ve out-performed their peripheral stats, so you should definitely want better from them in September and October, but for the most part, they’ve gotten results.
Still, a Tony Watson here or there would go a long way to making everyone feel much easier. A theoretical swap of Heath Hembree and Tony Watson would be incredible, as Hembree continues to be maddening (Hembree’s only sub 3.00 ERA month, for what it’s worth, was back in June, every other month has been above that threshold). Additionally, Watson would have served as an impact lefty option, which would not have required us to rely on Bobby Poyner as a lefty option early in the year.
My personal choice for something I’d change, would be the off-season extension of Christian Vazquez. I expect a lot of people will be scratching their heads at this. After all, it’s not as if Vazquez is being paid a ton, there’s still a chance he’s one of our two best catchers, and if we did decide to move him, we would not have to eat a ton of salary just to be rid of him, given his age, and his reputation for his defense.
So why nix the extension?
The message it would send would be more positive, I believe. At present, the Red Sox are being anchored behind the plate by Sandy Leon, who is seemingly every pitcher’s dream, and Blake Swihart, who despite early struggles, and several calls for him to be cut (including by yours truly - although in my defense, it was more out of a desire to see him get a chance somewhere else) has managed to put himself back into that discussion for 2019 catchers.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks this, but I think the least valuable of our three catchers, to our particular team, is Christian Vazquez.
Sandy Leon, as noted, works well with the pitchers, they like throwing to him, they rarely shake him off, and a few have even been candid about how much trust they have in Leon to call the game. It allows the pitchers to take their heads out of the game, and focus on what they do best, pitching. Offensively, yes, there’s something to be desired, and outside of a few streaks, he’s not going to give you much there. His ceiling is the most limited of the three catchers, but his value to this team is much greater than can be adequately explained.
Blake Swihart on the other hand, has what is the highest ceiling of the three. He has shown the ability to hit, to run, and on rare occasion, to catch well too. His weakest avenue at this point may be his call-game, but this is something that is gained through experience, and mentorship. He’s still much too inconsistent to definitively be the starting catcher, but in some small samples, he’s shown enough promise that he most certainly cannot simply be cut anymore. In July, for example, he hit .412/.474/.618, albeit in only 38 PAs. Keep in mind it’s an extremely small sample, but Swihart was playing extremely good baseball.
Knowing what I know, with the power of hindsight, I’d get rid of the Vazquez extension, and look to trade him over the off-season. I’m not sure what value he’d have, but Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart would be my picks for catcher. I’m really not eager to repeat a year with the three catcher experiment again, especially if Swihart is going to get yanked around again.