With room for two, which catcher goes?

by Matt Rooney

The Red Sox beat the Yankees last night to clinch their third straight AL East title, winning 11-6. With the AL East wrapped up, Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski need to start looking ahead to selecting their playoff roster for this upcoming October. Here, I want to take a closer look at the catcher position: there are three candidates, but there’s only room for two of them. Between defensive whiz Sandy Leon, Swiss army knife Blake Swihart or a mix of both in Christian Vazquez, who gets the cut?

Hitting

Christian Vazquez – In 74 GP, Vazquez has hit a lowly .213 with 3 homers and 15RBI. He has had some huge hits – like a late inning homer run in a 5-4 victory vs Houston in June – but he has been mostly invisible at the plate. Rank: 2

Blake Swihart – Blake Swihart has hit .228 with one home run and 13RBI in 74 GP this season. Like Vazquez, he has also had some big hits – a walkoff double vs the Phillies in July. Swihart has also been getting in a groove behind the plate recently, hitting .253 with 10RBI since the All Star Break. Swihart also has tremendous value as a pinch runner in late game situations. Rank: 1

Sandy Leon – Sandy is the worst hitter of the bunch. In 86 games, he is hitting .183 with 5 homers and 22RBI. Offensively, he rated as one of the worst catchers in the entire league. Rank: 3

Defense

Christian Vazquez – Coming up through the minors, Vazquez was hailed as an outstanding defensive pressure. In 2018 he has been far from that. Since his defensive dominance of the past, he has lost a  step in controlling the run game and has declined noticeably in the pitch framing department, too. He’s still average behind the plate, but is far from where he once was. Rank: 3

Blake Swihart – Blake is the worst defensive catcher of the three, but he offers tremendous versatility as he is able to play every position on the diamond other than CF, SS and 2B. He is rated as about league average as a catcher. Rank: 2

Sandy Leon – Sandy only one error and has caught 24% of stealers this year, but his most impressive ability is his game management skills. Pitchers flat out pitch better when he is calling the game. His 3.46 catcher ERA since 2016 is the best in the majors for a catcher with at least 150 starts. He gives the Sox a huge advantage when he is behind the plate. Rank: 1

Decision

Sandy Leon should be the starting catcher in game one for the 2018 Boston Red Sox. No questions asked. With his framing abilities combined with his ability to make pitchers comfortable on the mound, Sandy Leon gives the Red Sox the best chance to win. That leaves on spot for Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez. Even though Vazquez was the one rewarded with a contract extension this offseason, I’d give the edge to Blake Swihart. Swihart has the highest offensive upside and more versatility, as he can play all over the fielding and be inserted as a pinch runner. Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon – your 2018 Red Sox playoff battery.

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