Catch the Competition for Opening Day

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Image from: Today’s Knuckleball

Coming into the 2016 Red Sox season, Red Sox fans should be very eager for the competition between Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez contending for the opening day catcher role. There are several arguments as to why both could win the starting role, but besides how well they perform in spring training, let’s look at the various positives they both bring to Fort Myers.

Blake Swihart had a solid debut season last year, showing plenty of upside. He batted .274 with a .319 (OBP) on base percentage, and a .712 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) in 84 games. From mid-June until the end of the season he led American League catchers with a .306 batting average, after a slow start to the beginning of his major league career that started in May. He left last season on a high note that gives us plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Swihart is projected to put up strong numbers this upcoming season. He is estimated to hit .274 again, with a .327 OBP, a .742 OPS, with a .415 slugging. I would be very pleased with numbers like these for this upcoming season, but what are the positives that Vazquez can bring to the table?

When Christian Vazquez made his MLB debut in 2014, he did not provide us with the offensive stats like Swihart did. He hit .240, with an OBP of .308, .617 OPS, in 55 games, in almost 30 fewer games then Swihart had in his debut season. Nonetheless, Christian is a defensive stud. He can frame and block pitches very well, and has a quick release to second. In only 55 games Vazquez threw out 15 base runners out of 29 stealing attempts, with a .987 fielding percentage, and was on pace to throw out 29 runners for the entire year. To further assess his impressiveness; that same year Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, threw out 21 runners, only 6 more runners than Vazquez in 107 innings.

Granted both catchers possess strong reasons as to why both can win a starting role, Swihart’s hitting abilities and Vazquez’s defensive moves, only one is going to be the guy who gets the nod on opening day. Personally, I believe Blake Swihart will be the guy to be crowned with the opening day start. For three reasons:

  1. Vazquez, being the better defensive catcher, sat out all last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. The biggest strength of his game is his quick strong arm. Even though he is healthy enough to come back to compete in spring training, it is still going to take time for him to build up arm strength and get past certain mental blocks that can affect his play behind the plate.
  2. Blake Swihart is more familiar with our pitchers. Pitcher and catcher relationships are pivotal. A year on the DL for a catcher who is trying to win a spot can really hurt his chances of winning over a starter role as it’s an entire year lost of relationship building.
  3. Swihart’s offensive numbers. If Vazquez didn’t get surgery on his elbow, this may be a different story but with the uncertainty of the type of arm the Sox will get from him, you need to go with the person you can guarantee something from. That guarantee right now is offensive numbers from Swihart.

Even though I believe Blake Swihart should be the starting catcher come opening day over Christian Vazquez, there are still 40 days left until opening day. That is 40 days for Vazquez to prove Red Sox Nation and I wrong. A little “in team competition” is a good thing to see, as it causes players to push one another to their limits and allows players to reach new levels of their game. I am very excited to keep an eye out for this push for the starting catcher role on opening day, as they are forcing one another to only get better.

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