This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.
Last night, in the bottom of the 12th inning of a 0-0 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sandy Leon deposited a 92 mph fastball from Antonio Bastardo into the monster seats for a walk-off win. The HR was the 3rd hit of the game for Leon and his 5th hit in the 2 games this season (8 at-bats). It’s just a 2-game sample, but coupled with last year’s shocking offensive output, it makes me think that Leon might actually be a good hitter after all and a legitimate everyday catcher.
Prior to last season, Sandy Leon had 209 at-bats over 4 years and hit a whopping .187 with 1 HR and 5 doubles. He was obviously not an everyday starter and was used primarily in a defensive back-up and to spell the starting catcher with the Washington Nationals, as well as during his first year in Boston. He was seen as an insurance policy in case of injury. A depth piece that turned out to be desperately needed in 2016.
Christian Vazquez was recovering from Tommy John Surgery and began the season on the DL, so the Red Sox began the year with Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart as the catching tandem. Swihart was not good and ended up being optioned back to Pawtucket in mid-April to be converted to an outfielder and the Red Sox catching depth shrunk. Then on June 15th, both Hanigan and Swihart (called back up as an outfielder/emergency catcher) were hurt in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, opening the door for Sandy Leon. He didn’t just walk through the door, he sprinted through it.
In his first 40 at-bats, Leon had 20 hits. He had 9 extra base hits over that span (8 doubles and a HR) and was having a significant impact on the team, both behind the plate and in the batters box. His hot start slowed a little, but after 55 games in the majors, Leon was still hitting .350 and had amassed 7 HRs, 7x his career HR numbers (1 previous in 4 years), 14 doubles, and 2 triples (the first, and only 2 of his career thus far). He earned the starting role and didn’t look back, but his offense slipped a bit down the stretch, understandably. He finished with a highly respectable .310 average, a +.123 from his career numbers prior.
Leon earned the starting job for 2017 despite some critics. Was 2016 an aberration? He slumped late in the season, was that him coming back to the norm of a .200 hitter? Was he durable enough to catch a full season? Many of the questions are still a long way from being answered, but it sure as hell is encouraging to see Leon start 2017 on fire and hitting in clutch situations. Last night was the perfect example: 3 hits, the last being the most clutch hit of the ball game to win it. I can’t predict the future, but it certainly looks like Leon is more than just a back-up defensive specialist for this year’s Boston Red Sox.
On Friday night yet another left fielder for the Boston Red Sox bites the dust. Brock Holt sprained his ankle sliding into 2nd base on a stolen base in the 4th inning and had to leave the game a bit hobbled. It’s too early to tell if the injury will sideline Holt for very long, but left fielders have had a hell of a time this season. Holt is the 3rd Red Sox left fielder to get hurt in the last 5 weeks and his 2nd injury this year. Holt recently returned from an extended absence due to a concussion and lingering symptoms, so for his sake, I hope the injury won’t keep him away from baseball long.
In early June, Blake Swihart jammed his left ankle on the concrete wall while making a catch near foul territory and has yet to return. A few weeks later, Chris Young strained his hamstring rounding first base after a solid base hit and is still on the 15-day DL nursing the injury. Both players are improving and Swihart has begun hitting again, but whoever steps into left field next for the Red Sox better be extra cautious. I’m looking at you Bryce Brentz.
When Chris Young grabbed for his leg when rounding 1st base on Thursday, everyone’s heart sank. It is the quintessential sign of a pulled hamstring and leaves the Red Sox very thin on big-league ready outfielders. Young went on the DL immediately following the game and the Red Sox called-up Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder Bryce Brentz to take his place.
Brentz has seen some limited time in the majors, appearing in 9 games in 2014. This year, he began the season with the AA Portland Sea Dogs and then moved up to Pawtucket. He has a .278 average with 3 HRs and 17 RBI in 38 games with the Paw Sox, including 14 doubles. He has struck out 33 times and certainly hasn’t looked amazing, but he now has a chance to prove himself at the major league level.
Brentz is starting in left for the Red Sox on Friday night in Texas against RHP Nick Martinez and will likely have many opportunities to play over the next few weeks depending on the recovery of Brock Holt and Blake Swihart. For his sake, and the Red Sox organization’s sake, I hope he has a nice stint on the major league roster.
During the current Red Sox offensive slump there has been one very surprising bright spot: Catcher Sandy Leon. Leon was forced into service when the Red Sox endured a rash of catcher injuries wiping out their back-up, Ryan Hanigan, and 3rd string option Blake Swihart. In his MLB career (3 years with the Washington Nationals and last season with the Red Sox), Leon hit .187 with 1 HR and 10 RBIs. He hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard in his career….until now. In his first 7 games with the Red Sox, Leon is hitting .556 with 3 doubles, 2 RBIs and 4 BBs.
Now I know this is a complete aberration and Leon hasn’t suddenly become an offensive juggernaut, but it’s a great story not getting enough attention (mostly because I doubt it will ever happen again). The 27-year old has been such a force in the batters box, he has split time with Christian Vazquez by either starting or playing in 7 of the 14 games since his call-up. I know the slowdown will happen at some point soon, but for, I am enjoying every minute of the Sandy Leon show.
Over the past 5 years, the Red Sox have had some great success drafting and developing young talent. Tonight is the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft and rather than attempt to analyze who the Red Sox might pick, let’s take a look at who they have picked over the past 5 years and see where they are now. Since there are 40 rounds, the focus will be narrowed to top part of the draft and any notable lower picks. For those who are already bored, at least take a look at the 2011 draft, it’s something special!
Arguably the best draft of all time, by any team. Of the top 8 players selected, 6 have seen time with the Boston Red Sox this season (2 are back in AAA Pawtucket) and the other 2 are progressing with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. To prove the point even further, 5 of the top 12 picks are either everyday offensive players or frequent bullpen arms for the Red Sox in 2016, not including the 2 other pitchers in that group who have contributed at the big league level this year.
For those who are unfamiliar with how rare this draft truly was, take a look at the other drafts after this one for the Red Sox. There are usually 1-3 players who make the big leagues or who are waiting in the wings at AAA in a really good draft. This draft, thus far for the Red Sox, has produced 7 legitimate big league players, including a few picks that are on their way to becoming superstars.
Before Sunday’s game, the Red Sox were forced to make a flurry of roster moves. In 1 day, they lost their backup catcher, Ryan Hannigan, to neck inflammation and their 3rd string catcher/starting left fielder, Blake Swihart, to a sprained foot/ankle that could cost him the remainder of the 2016 season and even worse, will remove him from any trade conversations. Those two injuries force the Red Sox to tap into some organizational depth by bringing up C Sandy Leon and OF Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox also optioned RHP Noe Ramirez to AAA and called up RHP Heath Hembree.
Although neither Hannigan’s nor Swihart’s absence is devastating for the Red Sox, the injuries come at a time when the team is struggling against divisional opponents and has seen their division lead disappear. The Red Sox are 4-6 in their last 10 games (1-4 in June), all against divisional opponents (Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays). They are now in a virtual tie with the Orioles for 1st place in the AL East, with the surging Blue Jays (8-2 in their last 10) just 2.5 games back. The divisional race is likely to be tight all year because no AL East team has great pitching, hitting and defense, each has at least 1 major flaw.
Through almost 1/3 of the season, the Red Sox are just 14-15 against the AL East, but 19-9 against all other opponents, many of whom are under .500 for the season (Oakland Athletics, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves). If you want to look at the positive, the Red Sox are taking care of business beating the teams they definitely should be beating, but that’s not enough. In order for the Red Sox to make the playoffs and contend in 2016, they have to beat divisional opponents.
It’s really simple. The Red Sox play their 4 divisional foes 19 times a piece, totaling 76 games in the division (47% of their schedule). If the Red Sox finish with a .500 record in the division, 38-38, then they need to go 52-34 (.605 winning percentage) against non-divisional opponents just to reach 90 wins, which may not be enough to make the playoffs. That’s a significant task for a team with an era of 4.38, ranking them 12th out of 15 AL teams. As good as the Red Sox offense can be, they will live or die by their pitching staff come September when the playoff push is in full force.