Of all the players letting the Red Sox down, Christian Vazquez deserves greater scrutiny

Tomase: Time to start putting Christian Vazquez under the microscope originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Picking a low point of the disastrous 3-7 Red Sox road trip that concluded with Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Orioles isn’t obvious, because so much went wrong – from continued offensive impotence to bullpen meltdowns to failures in basically every phase of the game.

But the moment that pinpoints exactly where the Red Sox are at as a team came Sunday when catcher Christian Vazquez retreated towards second on a sharp two-out single to left in the second inning.

Instead of taking a 1-0 lead, the Red Sox stranded Vazquez at third. The Orioles blew the game open with a six-run sixth after a lengthy rain delay, and the Red Sox limped to the finish with catcher Kevin Plawecki on the mound in the ultimate sign of surrender.

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For a team that’s scuffling so badly to lose track of the outs is bad enough, but when it’s a veteran and one of your longest-tenured players, it’s inexcusable. The Red Sox can’t do the little things that impact winning, let alone the big ones.

And so they return to Boston to open a three-game series with the high-flying Angels, a full 7.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East and just a half game out of last place. If the season ended today, not only would they miss the expanded playoffs, they’d finish behind the A’s, who have taken a sledgehammer to their roster.

As the losses pile up, the Red Sox face a reckoning. Do they make significant changes beyond recalling band-aid Franchy Cordero to play first base, or do they hope a talented offense, in particular, simply seeks its level?

There’s no better place to start when asking that question than catcher. Vazquez hasn’t given the Red Sox anything since last April, when he told us he was feeling sexy at the plate. He hit two homers in the first six games and then just four the rest of the season, becoming a liability both standing at the plate and squatting behind it.

If Vazquez isn’t going to hit, and if pitchers prefer throwing to [Kevin] Plawecki, and if he can’t keep track of the outs, then why is he on pace to start over 100 games again?

Those struggles have carried over to 2022. He’s hitting just .220 with a .541 OPS and the ERA of Red Sox pitchers throwing to him is more than a run higher (3.65) than when Plawecki gets the call (2.50). If Vazquez hadn’t caught four out of 10 base stealers thus far, he’d be offering nothing of value.

It’s not like the Red Sox are going to release him, but they’ve clearly thought about replacing him. That’s how they ended up pursuing Gold Glover Jacob Stallings this offseason before he was traded from the Pirates to the Marlins.

There’s no reason Vazquez’s place in the lineup should be untouchable. He hasn’t been charged with a passed ball after leading the league in that category last year (10), but there have been four wild pitches on his watch, as well as other balls that squirted away because he tried to stab them with his glove rather than moving his body.

Meanwhile, Plawecki can’t throw to save his life – pitching appearances aside – and thus would be a liability in the running game. But he otherwise has hit .293 with the Red Sox while also catching All-Star Nathan Eovaldi’s most effective starts. Eovaldi allowed 35 earned runs last year while throwing to each catcher, but Plawecki’s 35 came in 96 innings, compared to 66 for Vazquez. Nick Pivetta showed even more extreme splits, posting a 2.98 ERA with Plawecki and a 5.23 with Vazquez.

Is Connor Wong the answer? Probably not, but the Red Sox have reached the point where it’s time to start questioning every assumption. If Vazquez isn’t going to hit, and if pitchers prefer throwing to Plawecki, and if he can’t keep track of the outs, then why is he on pace to start over 100 games again?

Why is he in the lineup at all?

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