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.
Most of the attention on this year’s Red Sox team has been around the struggles associated with the pitching staff and for good reason. There are many holes in the pitching staff and if the Red Sox want to contend this year, they need to improve on the mound, but what is being overlooked in 2016 is the Red Sox offense. As a team, the Red Sox are on pace to have one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise.
Through 84 games, the Red Sox offense leads the MLB in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. They are the best offensive team in baseball by far, leading in most offensive categories by a fairly wide margin. Seven members of the Red Sox starting lineup are hitting over .285 (Sandy Leon .477, David Ortiz .337, Xander Bogaerts .332, Dustin Pedroia .305, Mookie Betts .299, Jackie Bradley Jr. .293, and Hanley Ramirez .287) and six players have 48 or more RBI with 3 games left before the all-star break (David Ortiz 69, Mookie Betts 58, Jackie Bradley Jr. 54, Xander Bogaerts 52, Travis Shaw 48, and Hanley Ramirez 48. Since the team has been so offensively dominant, I wanted to see historically where they would be if the pace continued in the 2nd half of the season.
Boston Red Sox All-Time Rankings for 2016 team (116 years) (if current pace continues)
3rd best in batting average (.292)
2nd in slugging percentage (.476)
1st in doubles all time (411)
1st in hits (1689)
5th in runs (918)
9th in runs/game (5.67)
5th in RBIs (874)
3rd in OPS (.836)
It’s hard to argue that the 2016 team wouldn’t be the best or at least among the top few best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise if the pace were to continue. I would imagine the pace would drop off slightly in the 2nd half of the season, but the lineup is so strong that I can’t imagine there will be many prolonged team slumps leading to an extreme drop. Now if only the pitching could improve…
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.
When David Price got pulled after 2.1 innings and 6 runs in Texas last night, it felt like another lost night. The Red Sox got 2 runs back on a Hanley Ramirez HR, then Matt Barnes abruptly gave up a HR to make the score 7-2 after 4 innings. With a thin bullpen and a struggling offense, I didn’t think there was any chance of a W. Then the 9th inning happened.
Last night’s win was desperately needed. It felt like the season was beginning to get away from the Red Sox after losing 12 of the last 21 games and slipping to 2nd place in the AL East. The offense was struggling to score more than 2 runs and the pitching staff looked vulnerable. All problems are certainly not resolved after 1 win, but watching the team pick up a terrible start from their ace by coming back to win against a very good Rangers team is inspiring.
It feels like last night could be the boost the team needs to begin playing better and winning some games. Unlike earlier in the season where it felt as though they could come back from any deficit with their potent offense, lately their team confidence level had dipped. A win like this can only help to improve that confidence moving forward.
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.
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.