Maybe Swihart WAS The Problem

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The release of Blake Swihart was seen as a move solely to create a scapegoat for the Red Sox abysmal start to the 2019 season.  It may not be related, but that move has coincided with the team’s turnaround.  In my latest Red Sox Column To Be Named Later, I look at the team’s numbers before and after Swihart’s release, and the emergence of Christian Vazquez as the undisputed number one catcher.  And as always, a breakdown of who’s trending up and down, and a look at the week ahead.
 
Photo courtesy of overthemonster.com
A Change of (Swi)Hart

In the early stages of 2019 the Red Sox were not playing well in any stages of the game.  Through the first 19 games, and following a demoralizing two game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the Bronx, the Red Sox were 6-13 and sporting a team batting average of .229, with a .300 OBP and .374 slugging percentage, averaging only one home run per game.  The starting pitching was in even worse condition than the hitters.  The Sox starters posted a 6.70 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and allowed 4.1 BB/9 innings.

It was at this stage, on April 18th, that the Red Sox designated Swihart for assignment.  They then traveled to Tampa Bay and swept a three game series in the “Trop” against a Rays team that was red-hot at the time.  Though they have hit a few bumps since that time, the Rays series definitely turned their season around, and at this point serves as a milestone for the season.  Since that time, the Red Sox have gone 16-6 and have climbed back into the race in the American League East.

The bats have awakened and continue to get hotter as the weather improves.  The Sox have slashed .273/.373/.464 in 22 games since April 18th, and have increased their home run output to 1.6 per game.  The offensive resurgence has been led Rafael Devers, who has slashed .393/.453/.571 since leaving the Bronx.  Mookie Betts has also returned to his MVP form, slashing .367/.495/.608 over that same time.

The starting pitching has also drastically improved, logging a 3.27 ERA.  The WHIP over that span dropped to 1.09, thanks in large part to a much improved 2.6 BB/9.  Chris Sale paced the starters with a 1.73 ERA, 42 Ks and a paltry 0.81 WHIP in four starts and 26 IP, showing signs that he has shaken off the early season rust and returned to his form that has seen him start for the American League in the last three All-Star Games.

Eduardo Rodriguez has also found some consistency in his game.  In five starts since April 18th, E-Rod has gone 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA.  He also pitched through the sixth inning in three of the five games, showing improved command and an ability to put hitters away.  His improvement has been critical with the loss of both Nathan Eovaldi and David Price to the injured list.

How did the release of Swihart contribute to the Red Sox turnaround?  In all reality, probably not at all.  But numbers don’t lie.  They have made up 4.5 games in the standings in that time, and are now only three games behind the dropping Rays and just a half game behind the Yankees.  And the numbers show that the day the Red Sox designated Swihart was the day their season turned around, at least for now.

Photo courtesy of athletique.com
Christian Revival

One player who actually may have benefited from the departure of Swihart was fellow catcher Christian Vazquez.  Although Vazquez has been the starting catcher since the start of Spring Training, like the rest of the team he started off slowly at the plate.  Through the first 19 games, Vazquez appeared in 14 of them and was slashing only .200/.234/.467.  In the 16 games he has played since Swihart’s release, Vazquez has been one of the hottest hitters on the team, posting a .339/.406/.536 line, not bad for someone batting primarily out of the ninth spot in the order.

Shop Boston  Red  Sox gear at Fanatics.com!One measure to gauge Vazquez’s batting performance is his use of the opposite field.  When he is going poorly it is usually when he tries to do too much at the plate and gets pull happy.  During his hot streak, Vazquez has hit the ball to right field in over 40% of his plate appearances, while pulling the ball only 34% of the time.

Vazquez has also improved behind the plate, throwing out 43% of would-be base stealers this year, though he still has a tendency to get lazy blocking pitches in the dirt.  With the specter of Swihart potentially stealing his job no longer hanging over him, Vazquez may finally be coming into his own as a major league player.

Trending Up

The Red Sox offense exploded over the weekend in their sweep of the Mariners, getting some measure of revenge for losing three of the first four games to start the season in Seattle.  The Sox scored 34 runs in three games.  With an eight spot put up on the Orioles earlier in the week added in, the team averaged 7.5 runs over the six games played last week.

Devers has been white hot at the plate, slashing .480/.539/.680 in six games with a homer and seven RBI.  Vazquez also had an extremely productive week with a line of .429/.467/.571.  Mitch Moreland has also contributed in the power department, clubbing three home runs and driving in eight runs in four games, batting .333 for the week.  And finally, Sandy Leon has risen from the depths of despair to bat .375 in two games last week, with a homer and three RBI.

On the mound, Rodriquez turned in a gem in his last start against Seattle, tossing seven shutout innings.  Sale had by far his best outing of the season earlier in the week in Baltimore, going eight strong and allowing only one run and striking out 14 in a no decision.

Trending Down

While the offense was clicking last week, some players continue to struggle.  Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s retooled swing produced only two hits in five games for a .118 average.  Steve Pearce has also been unable to find his stroke at the plate, going 1-9 in limited action.

A recap of offensive struggles over the past week would not be complete without a mention of Michael Chavis.  Chavis was scalding hot at the plate last weekend in Chicago, but fortunes change quickly for rookies in the MLB.  Pitchers have begun to find the holes in his swing, and have been feeding him a steady mix of breaking balls low and away and fastballs up and in.  

Chavis was in the midst of a 0-19 skid for the week when a routine pop-up was botched by Seattle’s own rookie second baseman Shed Long and allowed to drop.  Chavis went on to notch two more hits en route to a 3-5 day with five RBI, which got his average for the week to .150 with no extra base hits.  With Dustin Pedroia suffering yet another setback in his rehab stint, Chavis will be given every opportunity to figure it out at the big league level.

Photo courtesy of CLNSMedia.com
On the pitching side, Ryan Brasier had an eventful week.  On Moday he allowed two earned runs in the eighth inning in Baltimore which turned a comfortable 6-3 Red Sox lead into a tight 6-5 game.  The following night, pitching in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game, Brasier hung a slider that was the Orioles Trey Mancini in the direction of the Oriole bullpen.  Only a game saving catch by Bradley scaling the center field wall saved Brasier from walking off the field with a loss.  Instead, Andrew Benintendi homered in the top of the 12th, and Brasier was able to pick up a win.

Look Ahead

Interleague play returns to Fenway Tuesday when the Colorado Rockies come in to town for a quick two game set.  The Rockies are just below .500 this year at 19-21, and have won six of their last ten games.  They feature one of the best players in the game in third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is currently batting .319 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI, and for good measure, plays a gold glove caliber third base.

Following a day off Thursday (which is a huge help with Price still on the IL) the Astros come to Boston for a three game series.  Like the Red Sox, Houston also got off to somewhat of a slow start to the season, but unlike the Red Sox, they turned it around quickly and are right back on top of the AL West standings with a 26-15 record.  They are currently red-hot, winning eight of their last ten going into play on Monday night.  They will be looking for some payback after the Red Sox dethroned them last season.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Maybe Swihart WAS The Problem
Maybe Swihart WAS The Problem
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