Coming into the season, at least in my view the Red Sox offense was built into a couple of different tiers. There was a very good core of hitters that could go up with just about any group in baseball, at least in top-end talent. And then there was another group that presented some upside to be sure, but also enough downside that they could be considered to be more wildcards than for-sure performers. That first group was pretty clearly Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Verdugo. The latter was, among others, Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, and Kiké Hernández. And then there was Christian Vázquez, who seemingly didn’t really fit super well in either bucket.
We’re only a week into the season, but any doubt that Vázquez is part of that first group is gone for me. The fact that there was still some lingering doubt around his bat is something that we discussed a bit before the season. As I mention in the post, while he has been decidedly above-average, particularly considering his position, there has always been one reason or another to discount the production. It’s not necessarily fair, but everyone knows it’s hard to break first impressions and the first impressions of Vázquez at the plate from his prospect days and early MLB career were not positive. That leads to people trying to find reasons to poke holes in what’s happening in the present day.
And, to be clear, it’s obviously too early in this season to say anything definitive for the most part. This is the time of year in which we all really just lean into confirmation bias. If something is happening that was not the expectation, well it’s just a small sample size. If it is the expectation — say, me with thinking Nathan Eovaldi is underrated — well that’s just proving me right. It’s silly, but it’s human nature. Being that I am a human, I’m leaning into it here and saying the Vázquez is indeed legit at the plate. I don’t think that’s particularly controversial at this point though.
Still, is it pretty incredible the strides he has made at the plate, and I think the most impressive part of his performance both this season and in recent seasons is that he isn’t just one type of pitcher. It’s not that he just turned into a power hitter or that he just drops in singles at will. Instead, he does whatever the situation calls for. He’s obviously had a couple big flies already this year, including a game-tying homer in the ninth inning. But he’s also continued to show an ability to shorten the swing and just make good, solid contact when needed. There are still some holes in his game, of course, and I’m not expecting him to hit like 2018 J.D. Martinez, but it’s an impressive skillset you don’t see much from catchers.
Yesterday he had what I think was his most impressive at bat of the season in the first inning. Rafael Devers had just hit a home run, and Vázquez was looking to keep the pressure on and make Matt Harvey work. He quickly fell behind 0-2, failing to take advantage of two hittable pitches. He didn’t let those mistakes cause him to look for a 450-foot homer. Instead, Harvey made a really good pitch on this one with a breaking ball that fell out of the bottom of the zone. Vázquez stayed disciplined, stayed back on it and used a nice, compact two-strike swing to poke one into left field for a double. Not to get too cliche here, but it was exactly what people talk about when they talk about “professional hitting.”
In the finale of the Rays series, the Red Sox were playing for the fifth straight day and they had just played a 12-inning contest the night before. For most teams, that means the catcher gets the day off to get him off his feet. Vázquez got a break from behind the plate, but we are at the point where you just can’t leave his bat out of the lineup. He got the start at DH, and rewarded the decision with a 2-4 day that included a homer, two runs and three runs batted in. It’s not like they had no other options to get the start anyway. Their bench on Wednesday was Alex Verdugo, Marwin Gonzalez and Franchy Cordero.
Again, it’s been seven games, and people paying attention to the numbers know that Vázquez is a good hitter. But there also has been some doubt, and even in the small sample size it’s about time the doubt stops. Vázquez is a good major-league hitter. Full stop. He’s also still outstanding defensively, and at least by my eye test has been out of this world in getting strikes for his pitcher this year as well. He’s one of the most valuable catchers in the game, and while this is a position that can always age quickly, the Red Sox should, and almost certainly do, feel fortunate that they have him on the roster now, and hopefully for a while down the road as well.