The Red Sox are at last getting production from a position that was a black hole in their lineup last year.
Christian Vázquez can’t hit.
Or at least he never has before, nor was he ever expected to. Over 999 PA since debuting in 2014, he has hit just .246/.296/.335 with 10 HR going into this season. He was better in the minors, with a career batting line of .266/.344/.389, though that includes rehab stints he has made since 2014. Last year, his offense reached a nadir, hitting a paltry .207/.257/.283 in 80 games played, and his 42 wRC+ was the second worst in baseball among hitters with at least 250 PA. The only hitter who was worse… was his backup catcher, Sandy León. It was only thanks to his pitch framing that he was able to crack replacement level.
The season is still relatively young, but Vázquez’s wOBA is 121 points higher than last year! He is hitting .305/.352/.517, and his 6 HR are already more than he has ever hit in a season! His .212 ISO is over twice that of his career rate! The Red Sox put him in the lineup last night as the DH.
The diminutive Vázquez has never tried to hit for power, mostly because he knows he can’t. He has always just tried to make contact, which is the one area at which he excels at the plate. It is not just the juiced ball either, though that has definitely been a factor with a 17.1 percent HR/FB compared to 6.6 percent rate for his career. He has only enjoyed a little bit of BABIP luck, too, as a .323 BABIP is not exorbitantly high.
Vázquez is actually hitting the ball harder. He is pulling the ball more, and his hard-hit rate has shot up according to Statcast; he’s over 43 percent this year compared to under 29 percent last year. His plate discipline has improved, too. He is swinging at far fewer pitches outside of the zone, which has resulted in his walk rate shooting up. A 7.0 percent rate is still below the league average, but it is way higher than the 4.9 percent rate he had over the two previous seasons.
While there seems to be some real improvements made by Vázquez, it has only been 128 PA, and his .336 xwOBA is about 30 points lower than his actual wOBA. That being said, his .240 wOBA last year leaves a lot of room for improvement. He is at 1.5 WAR at FanGraphs, which now counts pitch framing, compared to just 0.2 WAR for all of last year. Even if he regresses badly, he could still finish the year in the 2-3 WAR range, which is about 2-3 more wins than the Red Sox got from their catchers last year, and now they are in a tighter divisional race, no thanks to their terrible start.
Amazingly, the Red Sox were able to win 108 games last year despite having the worst catcher offense in baseball by a mile. Now they are tied with the Diamondbacks for the sixth-best catcher offense in baseball, and according to FanGraphs, only three teams have gotten more WAR from their catchers. The Sox will need all the help they can get to catch up in the AL East, and I’ll be rooting for my fellow boricua to keep up the good work at the plate!
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.