Vazquez, Martinez Represent Red Sox Atop Offensive WAR Leaderboardby Andersen Pickard April 10, 2021 0 comments
Following a stretch in which the Boston Red Sox tore apart their franchise outfield and lost several key contributors on offense, there was reasonable doubt regarding whether or not the lineup could truly produce at a reasonable clip.
Now, through just seven games, a verdict has been reached. Not only are the Red Sox hitting at an above-average rate, but they are also dominating in the WAR leaderboard. In fact, Boston is the only squad with two players (Christian Vazquez and J.D. Martinez) inside the top-six in Fangraph’s latest oWAR leaderboard. The next best ranking? The Los Angeles Dodgers, with two players inside the top-11. They are followed by the Cincinnati Reds, who have two players inside the top-12.
Boston also edges out every team in average fWAR for their top two offensive players. For example, the Red Sox’ oWAR leaders are Christian Vazquez (0.7) and J.D. Martinez (0.7), giving them an average of 0.7. The Reds’ leaders are next with Nicholas Castellanos (0.7) and Tyler Naquin (0.5), averaging out at 0.6.
While these data come from a small sample size of at-bats due to the youth of the season, at the absolute minimum, it confirms just how reliable Boston’s offense has been so far. Mike Trout leads all of baseball—pitchers included—with 0.8 fWAR. Vazquez and Martinez are, among others, tied for second. The Red Sox aren’t just scraping together a couple of runs here and there and letting luck do the rest. Instead, credit must be given to a strong and balanced lineup that features Vazquez and Martinez at the forefront, though they are not alone in the offensive contributions.
What Does This Mean?
The data shown above represent the wins above replacement. You’re probably thinking, “Duh, we all saw the graph. We know it shows wins above replacement.” But what that really means is that we can use the little blue numbers in the charts above to compare players and teams to each other without major, glaring flukes.
Of course, these irregularities will still exist. First of all, WAR is not a perfect science and doesn’t always define every player to the most accurate measure. Second, each team has only played a half-dozen or so games, give or take a couple. Therefore, one streaky start—hot or cold—could temporarily alter a number in a positive or negative way.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Red Sox’ offense is on a roll, and there’s no denying that. They pass the eye test, and they are positioned quite well in the metrics test, too.
Perhaps more than anything, though, the data provide evidence into the stories of Vazquez and Martinez on an individual level. Vazquez is on an absolute tear and continues to prove that he is one of the best catchers in baseball. Through 26 plate appearances, he is slashing .458/.500/.833 with a 7.7 percent walk rate and career-best 11.5 percent strikeout clip. He has added a .391 xwOBA, 258 wRC+, and .474 BABIP. He leads all catchers (minimum 15 plate appearances) in runs, home runs, stolen bases, strikeout rate, batting average, wOBA, on-base percentage, offensive WAR, BsR, and wRC+.
This is all, of course, in addition to his 0.7 fWAR, of which 5.4 has come on offense and 0.5 behind the dish. Through just seven games, he is halfway to his 2020 wins tally and one-fifth of the way to his value from 2019. Perhaps most fascinating of all is his comparison to baseball’s other catchers. Vazquez’s 0.7 wins rank first among catchers. That’s 0.2 wins ahead of Will Smith and Omar Narvaez, who are tied for second. J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, Gary Sanchez, and Wilson Ramos (0.3) check in tied at No. 5 with less than half of Vazquez’s total.
Meanwhile, Martinez is no slouch, either. He has drastically improved after a frustrating 2020 in which he was admittedly caught “off-guard.” The slugger now leads all designated hitters in WAR and runs scored. He ranks second in RBI (12) and third in home runs (two). So far, the former Houston Astro and Arizona Diamondback owns an 18.8 percent strikeout rate, which represents a career-best. He has accumulated a slash line of .433/.469/.867 with a .389 xwOBA, 256 wRC+, and .500 BABIP.
For context, in 2020, he posted a .213 batting average (career-worst), .291 on-base percentage (second-worst), and .389 slugging percentage (third-worst). Much of the offense’s run-scoring ability can be credited to him as he both leads the team in RBI and was also one of the first batters whose bat got going following a slow opening series against the Baltimore Orioles.
What To Expect Going Forward
As is always the case with the first week (and month or two, to be honest) of the baseball season, you cannot expect results to continue at the clip at which they are currently at. This goes for everyone—from stars who have struggled to non-roster invites on a tear. Still, the metrics can provide useful insight into what to expect from a non-numbers perspective.
For example, Vazquez won’t finish the year hitting above .350, but he could still be one of the team’s top contributors. Martinez might not keep his strikeout rate under 20 percent, but there is at least an indication that he is seeing and hitting the ball well.
In the end, while stats from early April can’t predict a whole season’s worth of production, they at least contribute to proving offseason theories (for example: Martinez is prepared for 2021) and ongoing beliefs that may have needed some re-affirmation (Vazquez is a reliable and clutch hitter). They also mirror the eye test and confirm that the Red Sox succeed when Vazquez, Martinez, and the rest of the lineup are performing sufficiently.
Follow Andersen Pickard on Twitter @AndersenPickard
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