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Boston’s Battle for Backup Backstop

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It is with reasonable certainty that Christian Vazquez will be the starting catcher on Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. However, what’s left unsettled is who will be second on the depth chart; that race comes down to Kevin Plawecki or Jonathan Lucroy.

Opening Day is March 26 in Toronto, giving these two a little over two weeks to showcase why they belong on the roster.

These are two guys who have struggled in recent memory but both have different incentives to make this team. But what are their respective cases?

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Kevin Plawecki

Plawecki is 29 years old and was once considered to be a shoo-in for the two-headed monster with Travis d’Arnaud in New York. However, he’s never seemed to be able to get it together with the bat in his hands … at least not to the same success he’s had in the minors.

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In 978 plate appearances, the Purdue product has slashed .218/.304/.332 with a .280 wOBA and a wRC+ of just 75.

That is not very impressive, to say the least, making it hard to buy that he will show much improvement despite slashing .471/.609/.471 in nine spring contests.

That said, he’s emerged into one of the game’s better defensive backstops. In 2019 alone, he ranked 16th in runs extra strikes with four. He also ranked second among qualifiers with a 53.6 percent strike rate, as well as holding a tie with Christian Vazquez with 7.8 fielding runs above average (FRAA).

His bat might not be elite or even average for that matter, but it’s worth noting that all of those numbers indicate he’s an upgrade over Sandy Leon. But for him, it’s more about sticking with a major league club and perhaps reaching some untapped potential.

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Jonathan Lucroy

Unlike Plawecki, Lucroy has tasted glory at the major league level.

At one point, the now-33-year-old backstop was considered one of the best catchers in all of baseball, exhibited by his two All-Star selections. But ever since the end of the 2014 season, he just hasn’t been the same.

From 2010 to 2014, Lucroy slashed .285/.343/.437 with a .342 wOBA and a wRC+ of 113. Since then, his numbers across the board have dipped to .262/.327/.395 with a .312 wOBA and a wRC+ of 91.

It’s also been a tale of two careers for him defensively. Using the same timetables, Lucroy began his career (2010-14) averaging 37.7 FRAA per 150 games. Since then, that number has dropped to -4.5 FRAA per 150.

It’s become one of baseball’s greatest unknown mysteries trying to find out what happened to Jonathan Lucroy. This sudden nosedive that took place at his age 29 season, even though he was an All-Star at 30, is puzzling. Lucroy had carved out a potential Hall of Fame path for himself before a suddenly abrupt decline in ability on both sides of the ball.

He did have offseason neck surgery to replace a disc and has responded by slashing .235/.409/.353 in 10 Spring Training games. While not as impressive as Plawecki, it certainly hasn’t been bad given the sample size and late start to Spring Training.

For him, it’s about recapturing that success he once had. For Plawecki, it’s about sticking on a major league roster. So, who holds the edge?

Right now, it looks like it is Plawecki. However, by the end of the spring, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Jonathan Lucroy get the nod. Having a veteran backup catcher, especially one that pitchers such as Chris Sale enjoy throwing to, is crucial for a team looking to get back to the playoffs.

That being said, this is a battle to watch out for as Spring Training reaches its final couple of weeks.

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