Why Sandy León is The Odd Man Out

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Aug. 13, 2018 – Source: Hunter Martin/Getty Images North America)

You know the offseason is slugging by when a popular topic is which below-replacement level catcher is going to be traded by the Red Sox. It has been talked about for the past couple of months, and most people believe it will be Sandy León who will not be on the Opening Day roster. Without any research, I thought it may be aggressive to ship him off, with him being the ace’s favorite catcher and all. But, when you look at him compared to Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart, he isn’t very different. Well, now you may ask: if they’re so alike, what makes León the odd man out? What makes him the odd man out is his lack of versatility and the team’s lack of financial commitment to him.

León’s best trait is his backstopping of the Red Sox’s #1 pitcher, Chris Sale. And, considering Chris Sale hasn’t shaken off a catcher since Kennedy was President, you would think that León is doing some special stuff. Yet, contrary to 2017, the difference between Sale’s performance with León and Vazquez is almost unrecognizable in 2018.  

GGames
IP
Plate Appearances ERA OPS Against
Sandy León18110.1. 4262.04 .515
Christian Vazquez947.21912.27.569

Sale has seemed to grow comfortable with Vazquez, and I imagine he would adjust swimmingly to his new regular. Then, of course, there is the lack of offense from Sandy León.

To be fair, everyone behind the dish slacked in the batter’s box. It just so happened that León was slightly worse than the other two catchers. In 2018, Swihart had a .613 OPS through 207 PA’s, Vazquez had a .540 OPS through 269 PA’s, and León sat in the cellar with a .511 OPS through 288 PA’s. Their soft-, medium-, and hard-hit percentages are eerily similar in 2018, also.

Plate Appearances
Soft-Hit %Medium-Hit %
Hard-Hit %
Sandy Leon28821.851.826.4
Christian Vazquez
26918.054.527.5
Blake Swihart20719.351.129.6

(per Fangraphs)

It is not just OPS where Vazquez and Swihart have the upper hand. With Vazquez, it’s the financial commitment that the Red Sox have to him. With Swihart, it’s the versatility and athleticism. In Spring Training of 2018, the Red Sox signed Christian Vazquez to a 3-year extension worth $13.55 million (a $4.52M average annual value). The contract starts this year, and I cannot imagine that a team would want to pay a $4.52 million AAV to a player that just came off a year like Vazquez’s. León is under control of the Red Sox for 2019 and 2020, and he is only making $2.48 million this year, which makes it easier for other teams to keep him on the payroll.

Blake Swihart, meanwhile, is one of the most versatile primary catchers in Major League Baseball. He played six different defensive positions in 82 games last year, and 55.8% of his defensive innings were spent away from behind home plate. With him being 26 years of age, under team control for the next four seasons, passable offensively, and incredibly versatile, it would be inexcusable to let him go.

The Red Sox seemed to know what they were doing when they paired Christian Vazquez and Chris Sale nine times last year. They knew there was a catcher problem, and they knew that León probably had the least amount of potential. This explains the Vazquez extension, and the increased implementation of Blake Swihart as the 2018 season went on. For these reasons, I believe that it is only a matter of time before Sandy León is traded for a quality prospect or cash considerations.

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