Roster Recap: Your Starting Catcher, Christian Vazquez

Before 2017, we knew who Christian Vazquez was. A defense-first catcher with a bat that did just enough to be palatable. That defense, though, that was something special. Vazquez was a brick wall behind home plate, showing off superb skills when it came to fielding his position. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Vazquez had been clocked at a 1.8 seconds on his throws to second base. All of that gets scouts salivating, and makes you not care about that bat as much. But you’ve already seen the issue – that TJS he had to endure. 2016 was something of a mixed bag for Vazquez. That was his first year back after going under the knife, and it’s not wrong to say that his arm didn’t look as special as it did before. Everyone expected that in some way, shape, or form, but it was still a little bit worrying. Vazquez’s defense was still good overall, but his ability to throw out baserunners was clearly hampered.

Then 2017 happened, and man, did he look like a catcher reborn. That bat we just talked about? You know, the one that was just barely acceptable? It brought him to a whole new level. Add that to a fully armed and operational baseball catcher, and you’ve got yourself a starting-caliber player.

What Went Right in 2017

His bat! It lives! Vazquez had his best offensive season to date, setting new career highs in batting average, OPS, TAv, and pretty much any other batting rate stat you can think of. His 345 plate appearances are also a career-high, and started off the season so well that he unseated Sandy Leon atop the depth chart by May. Vazquez starting going the other way more as well, flicking singles into right field far more than he did before. He stopped hitting grounders 60 percent of the time, and lifted the ball more often, resulting in a .114 ISO, the highest of his career.

April and August were by far his best months of the season, as he started a combined 25 games in those months and posted an OPS over 1.000. That’s a hell of a streak. It also included arguably the best moment of the season for the 2017 Red Sox:

Jonny Gomes starts that clip off talking about extending the inning somehow. I don’t think Vazquez was too interested in that.

Vazquez’s defense also returned with a vengeance. He finished fifth overall in Fielding Runs Above Average, threw out 42 percent of potential base stealers, and his good work with handling baserunners lifted the Red Sox to second in the majors in caught stealing percentage, at 39 percent. Only Cleveland’s 43 percent was higher. Opposing teams stole just 61 bases against the Red Sox, third-lowest in the league, and while that’s a tandem effort between Vazquez and Leon, it goes to show how good the Red Sox have it behind home plate.

What Went Wrong in 2017

June and July weren’t kind to his bat, as he struggled at the plate and couldn’t muster an OPS over .600 during that span. His power would come and go over the months, and while it spiked in April and August, it would disappear over long stretches, and bring down whatever value he had with the bat during those spans of time.

That’s probably it, honestly. There wasn’t much he did wrong, it’s the future we’ve got to be wary about when it comes to Vazquez.

What To Expect in 2018

Vazquez is 27 years old, so he’s probably got a little more room to improve. But it needs to be said: 2017 doesn’t look very repeatable. He posted a .348 BABIP, and while some of that is thanks to an improved approach and batted ball profile, it doesn’t seem like something Vazquez would be able to sustain, given his lack of speed and general streakiness. I’m not saying it can’t happen – I’d love for him to even improve on everything here – but I’m skeptical that he can keep this up. The defense will still be divine, yes, but for Christian Vazquez, the one thing keeping him from catcher godhood is his mortal bat.

Photo by Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

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