Back again with my way to early breakdown of Christian Vazquez and his pursuit of the starting catcher job. It’s true we’re looking at a very small sample so far this season, but there are some underlying reasons to why he’s batting .526/.571/.789 in 6 games this season. So here is my, waaaaay to early statistical assessment of what Christian Vazquez could be if everything falls in his favor this season.
Personally I don’t think Sandy is going to be the starting catcher past the All-Star Break at the latest. Vasquez and Swihart are the future, and the organization knows it. If they didn’t, there would be one less catcher on the 40 man, and Sandy can’t possibly keep his level of production up. But that’s an article for another day.
The writing is on the wall, and sooner or later Vazquez is going to be the full time catcher. But hey, if I’m wrong and Sandy is hitting .350 in July I will be the first one to heap the praises on him and fully admit that he proved me, and a lot of other writers, very wrong.
Even if Vazquez’ ceiling is around a .215 average with sub average power, the Red Sox still have a perfectly solid catcher based on his defensive superiority. But that is not enough for Christian Vazquez! He’s come on strong to the ’17 season with the intention of adding an above average level bat to his already All Star quality defense.
So what’s changed for Vazquez at the plate so far this season? All you need to do is take a look at where he is making contact. Vasquez up until 2017 has been very good at making contact in the bottom outside corner of the plate. Over his career that has been his main source of solid contact and hits (too bad he couldn’t have helped Xander Bogaerts with his low outside contact last season, a problem he seems to have fixed so far in ’17).
Looking at Vazquez’ heat map through 21 ABs this season, he is seeing the ball much better and making contact all over the bottom of the zone. He’s actually hitting more in the bottom inside corner then he is in his sweet spot, low and outside.
While he may not be able to maintain his 5% K rate, if Vazquez can continue to make contact on pitches down and inside to him, he will have effectively doubled his ability to be an effective hitter. It looks like he has improved his vision at the plate significantly, and his increase in low inside contact is a direct cause of him being able to recognize and hit cut fastballs at a career high rate. The inside cut has traditionally been a difficult pitch for him to hit, with rates as low as 4.6% in his 2014 season. In comparison 8% of his hits this season have been on cutters.
To me, it looks like something has finally clicked. But the nature of baseball is that it is incredibly fluky, and it’s difficult to project everything based on a few games worth of stats. But in this case the stats are backing up the eye test.
Guys may be able to play a year after their Tommy John surgeries, but it really takes another full year for these guys to get their strength and confidence back. And baby, it is back for Vazquez. He has been looking relaxed at the plate, and he’s getting on base.
Besides Mookie, who’s constant smile is only interrupted by the occasional snarl when he’s looking down a fastball, no one of the Red Sox looks like they’re having more fun playing the game this year. That level of confidence combined with his improved vision at the plate and plus plus level defense means this could be the year that Vazquez reclaims his rightful spot as the starting pitcher for the Red Sox. The team is 4-2 in games he’s caught so far. Just saying. Farrell, get that kid out there.