Life of a Sportsaholic

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.

Tag: christian vazquez

The Rise of Sandy Leon

 

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

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.

Sandy Leon Forces the Red Sox Hand

Boston Herald/John Wilcox

Boston Herald/John Wilcox

July 4th is the perfect day to sit back, relax and watch/listen to an afternoon Red Sox game. Yesterday the game started off a bit rocky for Rick Porcello, but the Red Sox offense picked him up and turned the game into a big win for the Red Sox. A big piece of the offense was from an unlikely offensive juggernaut: Sandy Leon. Every time his name was called, I kept saying to myself (and my wife) “I can’t believe he is doing this. Just unbelievable.” Leon went 4 for 5 with 3 doubles on America’s birthday to raise his average to .500. I wrote about Sandy’s incredible stretch in the batters box a few weeks ago thinking that any day his bat would go cold and we would see the return of the career .187 hitter we all expected to see when he was called up. That day hasn’t come and it has forced a major roster decision.

Leon has been so hot offensively he has taken significant playing time away from Christian Vazquez. Vazquez has struggled in the batters box and went from #1 catcher to back-up to Leon to now AAA catcher with veteran Ryan Hanigan returning from the DL today. Since the Red Sox were not going to hold 3 catchers on the MLB roster, Vazquez was the natural choice given that he can still be optioned to Pawtucket without passing through waivers. This decision is less an indictment on him, but rather a credit to Leon and his impressive stretch alongside a systematic need to maintain catching depth.

In the end, I don’t think Leon is a .500, .400, or even .300 hitter, but his story is great to watch. He has earned the starting catcher role, whether that continues to be with the Red Sox through the rest of the season or with another team thanks to a deadline deal. After all, his value has and likely never will be higher than right now.

Sandy Leon’s on Fire

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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.

Close Games Continue to Hurt Red Sox

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Last night’s pitcher’s duel between David Price and Chris Tillman lived up to the hype. Both starters looked a little vulnerable early on, then settled in nicely with shutdown stuff. Unfortunately for Price, of the 5 hits he allowed, 2 were HRs leading to a 3-2 loss. This was the 14th game this year the Red Sox have played with the final score being a 1-run differential and they are 5-9 in those contests.

For me, close game records say a lot about a team. They give a glimpse into the team’s ability to pull together and rally. In last night’s game, the Red Sox bullpen was strong (only Craig Kimbrel for 1 inning), but their offense could not produce the big hit when needed. Earlier in the game, there were chances with runners on base and less than 2 outs that resulted in nothing.

The once over-powering offense top to bottom now has more holes than swiss cheese. Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw both had hits last night, but have been struggling mightily as of late. Christian Vazquez is what he is: a top tier defensive catcher who will hit in the low .200s. Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming back to earth with his average dropping from .350 on May 25th to .310 on June 15th. On their own, none of these things are season-changers, but all together it amounts to some serious struggle.

In June, the Red Sox have a 4-7 record and are 0-3 in 1-run games. Overall they are 15-17 against AL East opponents. Things are trending in the wrong direction.