Never has a player had such a surprising and profound impact on a team in such a short period of time as Sandy Leon has had with the Boston Red Sox this season.
Last year, he made it known he could not hit, posting a .439 OPS in 41 games at the major league level. This year, he’s still playing that same clean defense. But he’s hitting — and hitting well-enough to be used as a pinch-hitter.
Yesterday, Leon hit a double, helping the Red Sox rally in the top of the ninth and go on to beat the Texas Rangers, 8-7, in Arlington, He battled in an 11-pitch at-bat, fouling off five pitches with two strikes as he pinch-hit for starting catcher Christian Vazquez.
Through nine games, Leon is 12-for-22 (.545 batting average) with three doubles, a 1.343 OPS, four walks and three RBI.
His play has truly made Red Sox fans feel like they’re living a Teenage Dream, to bum lyrics from a song.
This catching situation could be difficult soon with Ryan Hanigan on rehab in Triple-A Pawtucket. Blake Swihart is expected to be out for awhile, so Hanigan, Leon and Vazquez are the only three catchers on the 40-man roster. (Dan Butler and Ali Solis, on the PawSox, also have a little MLB experience. But they’re not on the 40.)
Leon and Hanigan are both out of minor league options. But seeing how the Red Sox wanted Vazquez and Hanigan catching, Leon put them in an awkward situation. The way he has played, it would be tough to justify designating him for assignment, especially when there’s about a 0.001 percent chance he goes unclaimed on the waiver wire. And that’s not just because he’s had a few nice games at the plate. He’s a sound defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm. The hits are just a bonus.
Vazquez and Hanigan have a combined -0.7 WAR for the season.
Leon has a 0.6 WAR in much less time. And he is a “replacement player”.
There had been talk before the season of dealing Hanigan at some point when Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez were doing well behind the plate around midseason. That scenario did not happen. But with Leon and Vazquez at the big league level, maybe Hanigan is the one to go. After all, he was the biggest detriment behind the plate, posting a -0.5 WAR in 22 games.
Not sure what WAR is? It determines a player’s overall worth. It’s like how schools view GPA — except it’s relevant.
Vazquez is in the midst of an option year, so he could go back down to Pawtucket. And with his .557 OPS, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. If you are at a point where your backup catcher needs to pinch-hit for the starter and they’re both defensive stalwarts, then keeping the inferior batter doesn’t make sense.
So why would one expect Leon to keep hitting if he hasn’t done it before. He said he was working on hitting in Pawtucket and he had over 100 at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League this past off season.