If, at anytime within the past three years, you had told me that the Red Sox would have a catcher who was actually really good at throwing out baserunners, I would have laughed in your face. To be fair, Christian Vazquez was capable of having a pretty good year in that department, but he would then apparently forget how to throw a ball the next, swinging between positive and negative defensive run values. Connor Wong hasn’t even had a full season yet, but so far he looks great on the defensive end and all we can hope for is consistency.
Wong ranks fourth in Major League Baseball in catcher pop time, Caught Stealing Above Average, and Catcher Stealing Runs (translation of CSAA in run value). Technically speaking, he is tied for second in the latter two categories, but is listed as fourth on the Savant leaderboard. Watching Wong gun down runners reminds me of my beloved Sandy León, who had a combined 12 CSAA from 2016-2018, which ranked fifth in the league over this time.
As much as I’d love to go on and on about León, this article is indeed about Wong, more specifically his relative dominance compared to the other catchers of the AL East.
Firstly comes Wong’s comps to other divisional catchers on the defensive end. While his framing is less than ideal, he has more than made up for it with his CSAA and Pop Time, which rank first among catchers in the East. Similarly, outside of Jose Trevino and veteran Danny Jansen — who both rank top-15 in the league with their framing — the other three catchers all have zero or fewer catcher framing runs this year, even including the young phenom Adley Rutschman. It is also important to note that fewer than 50% of catchers who have received at least 500 pitches this year have a positive amount of catcher framing runs, so zero isn’t necessarily bad, but Wong’s -4 on the season is not ideal. Still, framing is something that can be improved as he grows and matures in the game, especially since it is only his first full season as a major-league catcher (and robot umps may make it an obsolete skill one day, anyway).
Even with an impressive defensive performance that, thus far, makes him second or arguably first among AL East catchers, Wong’s most exciting skill set may be on the offensive end, where he has proven to be dominant all around. While framing is a clear weak spot for him defensively, no such area really exists for Wong on offense outside of a less-than-ideal K%. He’s in the 77th percentile for sprint speed— which ranks second in the East, behind only Rutschman who is known for his speed — is an above-average player by measure of wOBA, bWAR, and wRC+, and his development has really been a bright spot in an up-and-down season. Even though he ranks second to Rutschman in all of these categories, his numbers are still more than respectable, especially when considering the absolute tear of a season the Orioles’ young star has had. In fact, he only trails Rutschman in bWAR by 0.6 while playing 17 fewer games and accumulating nearly half the plate appearances of Baltimore’s main backstop (176 vs. 315).
After a steady couple of years of touting mediocre catchers, Wong’s breakout is a sign of encouragement in Boston and also a signal of the depth of this Red Sox lineup, as they are able to keep an above-replacement-level player batting in the 8 spot and he is still awarded plenty of RBI opportunities. And now the Sox have the second-best catcher in their division who is not too far behind a former #1 pick for the coveted top spot.
So, in the end, Connor Wong rocks. He gave my family a ball when we were at Fenway in May, and Wong and Alex Verdugo combined have 2 bWAR more than Mookie Betts. Oh, and did I mention that the Red Sox have control over Wong until 2029?