Twins

Christian Vazquez Is Turning Into Drew Butera 2.0

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Vázquez’s Minnesota Twins tenure is starting to remind fans of a star from yesteryear who played a similar role with his teams and shared similar struggles.

I’m talking about former Twins backup catcher Drew Butera.

Okay, “star” may be an exaggeration, but the former backstop was a well-respected member of the Twins organization whose on-field numbers were maligned by many. But through the power of friendship and some stellar defensive work, Butera legged out an impressive 11-year career in the big leagues. That gets him the pension and the gold card pass that allows him into any MLB game for the rest of his life. But as well as Butera was liked, and as impressive as his career longevity was, many Twins fans will probably remember him for his offensive shortcomings.

Is Vázquez destined for a similar fate? Butera started his career with the Twins; Vázquez, 33, is a veteran. Still, the similarities are starting to mount as his free fall continues at the plate.

So far this season, Minnesota’s backup catcher holds a .160/.182/.191 slashline, which is 95% worse than league-average output. It’s hard to be a player who receives considerable playing time (30 of the club’s first 49 games) while having an OPS that starts with a five. Vázquez’s OPS begins with a three.

His offensive deficiency comes from an untenable 41.6% chase rate. Vázquez expands his zone and ends up flailing at inopportune, sometimes even non-competitive pitches. When he makes contact, he doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to do much damage.

And his output has tumbled to a new low. He didn’t wow fans with his offense last year, but his game-calling and defense secured his roster spot. It made his .223/.280/.318 clip manageable, even though it was 35% below league average according to wRC+.

That means his combined batting line since joining the Twins is an anemic .209/.258/.290 clip, with just seven home runs and a 5.9% walk rate across 421 plate appearances.

Put that side by side with Butera’s total slash line while with the Twins, and it’s easy to see the comparison. Across parts of four seasons with the club between 2010 and 2013, Butera hit .182/.230/.263, which was 67% below average in that span.

Many will remember his spot in the lineup feeling like a black hole, especially considering that fans were used to prime Joe Mauer’s production from the catcher role when Butera wasn’t playing.

Given the similarities between their woeful levels of offensive production, it’s no wonder fans are starting to feel the same way when the well-respected Vázquez gets the nod behind the plate in a given game. Of course, the backup catcher eventually needs to play. Ryan Jeffers can do many things, but he can’t catch 162 games in a season. Even as it is right now, the club is spreading him pretty thin with very few off days to keep him in the lineup.

So, where does the team go from here? Are they fine with having another Butera-like player occupying a spot in the lineup at this current rate? How low can Vázquez’s production at the plate get before it becomes too much to handle?

Yes, having a backup catcher who can’t hit isn’t the end of the world – you’d be hard-pressed to find a team with two rock-solid options behind the dish. But let’s not pretend that Butera’s defensive acumen and respect in the clubhouse did much to help those Twins squads in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which happened to be three of the worst campaigns in recent franchise history. Despite the weak bat, I’m also willing to accept that Butera brought a lot to each of his teams. You don’t spend 11 years in the big leagues without providing value somewhere.

Still, the margin of error for the Twins this year is already pretty thin. It’ll be interesting to see how Vázquez’s role plays out, especially if he can’t start finding some grass soon.

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