Earlier today the Minnesota Twins crossed a major offseason to-do off their list by signing catcher Christian Vázquez to a 3 year/$30M deal. Since 2020, Vázquez has caught the 5th most games in MLB and was worth 1.6 fWAR in 2022. Important considering Ryan Jeffers' health concerns.
Prior to the signing, the Twins were projected to generate the 5th worst fWAR out of the catcher position. Now, they project to be around league average (15th) with the duo of Vázquez (2.0 projected fWAR) and Jeffers (1.4 projected fWAR).
Here are five reasons the Vázquez signing could be exactly what the Twins need:
1. A great defender
Since 2020, Vázquez has accumulated the 6th most DRS at the catcher position (+17) in 2,277.1 innings behind the plate. His fielding runs above average is also the 6th highest during that span (30.9).
Additionally, he's been a plus pitch framer his entire career. He was worth +1 framing runs in 2022, but has the 8th most framing runs in MLB since Baseball Savant began tracking this metric (+29 framing runs). The Twins have been known to be great with their catchers to improve this metric. Ryan Jeffers was worth +2 runs in 2022. Gary Sanchez went from -6 in 2021 with the Yankees to +1 last year, so it's possible that Vázquez could benefit even more from coach Hank Conger.
Image via Baseball Savant.
2. Elite Pitch Caller
It's baseball so everything is trackable. The statistic rCERA is catcher ERA runs saved. So essentially, it's measuring how effective (or ineffective) a catcher is at limiting runs for a pitching staff. A plus in this statistic is a good thing. It's as close as we can come to assigning a number to a catcher's ability to call a game.
If you watched a Twins game late in 2022, you saw some questionable pitch calls by Gary Sanchez. Jeffers is above average in this statistic (+1 rCERA since 2020) and Vázquez ranks 4th best in MLB since 2020 with a +5 rCERA.
During that timeframe Gary Sanchez ranks dead last out of 130 catchers with a -10 rCERA.
The Twins overall ranked 19th in rCERA (-1) in 2022. The combination of a healthy Jeffers and Vázquez should no doubt help the Twins pitching staff. An improvement from last year. Here's to hoping that we see less righty on righty changeups being thrown in 2023 :)
3. Throws Out Runners
It's not a secret that the Twins have a stolen base problem. Late into the 2022 season it seemed like runners could take extra bases at will. The Twins allowed 94 SB in 2022, the 9th most in MLB only throwing out 20% of runners.
Ryan Jeffers is not a great throwing catcher. Last year he only threw out 18% of runners. Since he came into the league he has the 3rd worst rSB (runs saved by throwing out runners) at -6 rSB, ranking 163 out of 165 catchers.
Since 2018 Christian Vázquez has thrown out the second most runners in MLB (81) at a 30.45% clip.
His exchange time of .67 seconds was 4th quickest in MLB last year. His 1.94 sec pop time ranked 22nd in MLB among 85 catchers.
With stolen bases a problem for the Twins, and base sizes increasing in 2023, all the more reason for the Twins to add a catcher who can control the run game, and they're getting this here.
Here's a nice video of Vázquez's hose piece vs the Twins (sorry Jake Cave).
4. Hits RHP Better than Jeffers
Vázquez is by no means a thumper. He owns a 92 wRC+ since 2020. But, has posted a 95 WRC+ vs RHP during that span.
Twins catchers were especially poor vs RHP in 2022. They ranked 24th in baseball with a 66 wRC+ and a 30.7 K% which was 3rd worst in MLB (YUCK!).
Ryan Jeffers posted only a 57 wRC+ vs RHP last year (ranked 41st out of 55 catchers who had 100 PA).
While the best offensive combo for the Twins would have been to pair a LHH catcher with Jeffers as a platoon, just having a catcher who can at least hold their own vs RHP will be a massive upgrade.
Ryan Jeffers will assuredly get all of the AB's vs a LHP - a career 125 wRC+ vs LHP (Vázquez has only posted 84 wRC+ vs LHP since 2020).
The combo of Jeffers vs LHP and Vázquez vs RHP will be plenty serviceable offensively and a lift upon a total black hole at the spot last year.
5. Veteran Presence
Vázquez is 32 years old and has played in 8 seasons. Two of those eight have resulted in World Series parades (2018 with Boston and 2022 with Houston). He's played in 31 playoff games logging 99 PA's which is more than Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Jorge Polanco have in the playoffs combined.
No doubt a player of Vázquez's caliber will be instrumental in leading a young Twins core in 2023 and beyond. The Twins average age of position players was 26.9, 4th youngest in MLB. He's the cliche "clubhouse guy" and the Twins absolutely need that. In his short time in Houston, he made an impression in that locker room and with the pitching staff.
One can only hope he is on the Twins team that breaks the playoff curse during his tenure here.
Please enjoy this video of Vázquez hitting a walk-off HR vs the Rays in the playoffs last season.
6. He's Buddies with Carlos Correa (BONUS!)
OK, I know I said 5 reasons but I couldn't pass this up. Carlos Correa and Christian Vázquez went to the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy together. Maybe they will find each other playing for their country in the World Baseball Classic in 2023 alongside Twins 3B Jose Miranda and RP Jorge Lopez.
And maybe the combo of Jose + Christian + Jorge can recruit their fellow countrymen back to Minnesota?
It's a dream. But, it certainly can't hurt!