State of the Sox: Catcher
Over the next ten days I will be posting an overview of every position on the Red Sox. Today we will be looking at catcher. Read the others here: First base, Second Base, Third base, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field, Right Field
Catcher in 2019:
The Red Sox split catching duties in 2019 between Christian Vazquez (427 plate appearances) and Sandy Leon (188). The former had the best season of his career by far (.276/.320/.477/798 with 23 home runs, 26 doubles, and a 102 wRC+), while the latter wallowed in ineptitude for the vast majority of the season (.192/.251/.297/.548 with 5 home runs, 3 doubles, and a 40 wRC+). The duo combined to provide 1.2 bWAR for the team in 2019, coming in at 18th among catching units in MLB. Vazquez had something of a breakout, even if the overall stats aren’t stunning, setting career highs in slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, doubles, and wRC+ while providing his usual stellar defense. Leon was abysmal offensively, and even his alleged ability to bring out the best in pitchers failed tremendously in 2019, rendering him essentially useless (worth -0.2 fWAR for the season).
Depth chart for 2020:
Vazquez projects to be Boston’s primary catcher once again in 2020. He had a career year in 2019, and any questions about his ability to be a solid starting catcher have been answered. Leon is gone (thankfully), with new acquisition Kevin Plawecki taking over the backup catching duties. Juan Centeno and the newly signed Jonathan Lucroy provide minor league depth in case of injury.
How catcher can be better than 2019:
For the catching position to be better than it was in 2019, Vazquez would have to prove that his 2019 was his new normal rather than a blip on the radar. This isn’t impossible, all though it’s not particularly likely. He didn’t have tremendous batted ball luck in 2019 (.305 BABIP), so one should not expect him to be any worse off in that regard. He did, however, seemingly get at least slightly lucky with regards to how many of his fly balls carried over the wall. A full 16% of his fly balls went for homers in 2019, way more than any season prior (his previous career high was 6.8%). It seems likely that he won’t have quite that much luck in 2020, which could affect both his average and his power numbers. If he can, however, replicate 2019, it is likely that the catcher position will be better as a whole than it was for the Red Sox in 2019, as it would only require for Plawecki to outperform the utterly incompetent Sandy Leon.
How catcher can be worse than 2019:
Catcher could easily be worse than it was a season ago. Vazquez has always been known as a great defensive catcher with enough hitting ability to not be an offensive black hole. He had a phenomenal offensive season in 2019, especially by his standards, and it is more likely than not that he regresses somewhat in 2020. This does not mean that he will go back to being as atrocious with the bat as he was prior to last season, but we shouldn’t expect another .275 20+ homer season out of him.
I think that Vazquez will demonstrate that his improvement in 2019 was real, but I do not expect him to be as good as he was a season ago. I’m expecting something around .250 with 15 home runs. Plawecki should be fine as a backup catcher, and will almost definitely be better offensively than Leon. I see the catching position being solid, but not spectacular, in 2020.