On a team that was otherwise unstoppable, the 2018 Boston Red Sox catching situations was among the worst in the league. One of the biggest reasons for that was the ultimately underwhelming season from the recently-extended Christian Vazquez. Given a contract extension prior to the season, Vazquez had arguably the worst season of his young career. Still in line to start, can Vazquez prove that 2018 was an outlier?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Player Previews: Christian Vazquez
Vazquez was a bright spot on an otherwise underwhelming offense during the 2017 season. While he wasn’t the best hitter in the world, Vazquez finished his 2017 season with a respectable .290/.330/.404 slash line with a 92 wRC+. Finding catchers who can hit at a competent level is hard in today’s day and age, so general manager Dave Dombrowski elected to skip arbitration and sign Vazquez to a three-year, $13.35 million extension prior to 2018.
After one year, this move doesn’t look too good. Vazquez finished the 2018 season with an underwhelming .207/.257/.283 slash line and an accompanying 42 wRC+. Even relative to the catcher position, this was terrible production at the plate. Even his defense, which used to be his calling card, was notably down in 2018. Even though he ended the year a World Champion, 2018 was a season to forget for Vazquez.
Vazquez needs to get better, both at the plate and behind it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of reasons to believe he’ll improve in both categories entering 2019. For one, Vazquez was historically unlucky last season. Vazquez finished the season with an unsustainably-low .237 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). By comparison, his career average is .293. Even if he makes the exact same type of contact in 2019 as he did in 2018, some of those balls are going to start falling for singles and doubles. This will naturally improve his overall statistics and make him more useful at the plate.
Chances are his poor defense was a one-year fluke. Vazquez has been one of the best defensive catchers in the league both as a minor leaguer and a major leaguer. At age 28, it’s highly unlikely that Vazquez just forgot how to catch overnight.
Steamer Projections expects a mini-bounce back campaign from Christian Vazquez. According to the projection site, Vazquez is expected to finish 2018 with a .256/.306/.368 slash line and a 79 wRC+. The average catcher has a wRC+ in the mid-80’s, so they expect Vazquez to be a slightly-below average offensive catcher. However, they expect him to make up for it with his defense, as Steamer thinks Vazquez will finish the season with a 0.9 fWAR.
These projections all sound about right, as nobody is expecting Vazquez to suddenly become the best offensive catcher in baseball. However, the real interesting thing is that Steamer only expects Vazquez to play in 75 games. This seems surprisingly low, and Vazquez should be able to exceed this number. One of Vazquez, Sandy Leon, or Blake Swihart will be traded prior to the 2019 season. Leon will most likely be the guy to go, meaning that Vazquez and Swihart will split the 162-game season. The Red Sox clearly trust Vazquez more than Swihart behind the plate, so he should get the majority of the starts. Look for Vazquez to be a roughly average hitting catcher with above average defense and appear in roughly 90 games throughout 2019.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com
(Oct. 27, 2018 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)
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