Mookie Betts and Jake Diekman represented two very different eras in Red Sox baseball. Betts, an MVP and World Series Champion in Boston, was heralded by fans as the most talented player the organization had developed since Carl Yastrzemski. His Red Sox career came to an abrupt end when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020. Diekman, a reliever who only appeared in a last-place season, posted a 4.96 FIP over 38.1 IP before being dealt at the trade deadline. Despite the staunch differences in Red Sox tenures, these players have one thing in common – they gave Boston the catching duo of Connor Wong and Reese McGuire.
In 2023, Red Sox catchers rank second in Major League Baseball in batting average (.295), eighth in on-base percentage (.341), sixth in slugging percentage (.442), and sixth in wRC+ (112) with Wong and McGuire splitting time behind the plate. Because of them, the Red Sox are the only team in the majors to have multiple catchers with a wRC+ above 105 (min 60 plate appearances).
Since he made his Red Sox debut on Aug. 3 of last year, McGuire is tied for the second-highest batting average (.340) among the 312 hitters with at least 150 plate appearances in that span. That high average comes with a .438 BABIP, which is the highest on that same list. The league BABIP in this span is .294, meaning the general assessment of McGuire’s success is that it is not sustainable to this degree. While it may be the correct analysis, McGuire’s impressive batting average has not been a complete accident.
In his time with the Red Sox, 34.2% of McGuire’s 117 batted balls have been line drives. That is the highest rate among the 213 hitters with at least 100 batted balls in this span. Line drives are the best kind of batted balls to hit if you’re trying to get a base hit. Ground balls are usually fielded quickly by infielders, and fly balls are almost always caught if they aren’t over the fence. His league-leading line drive rate in his time with the Red Sox has set him up for success on offense, and it has shown.
McGuire’s .775 BABIP on line drives in this span ranks 10th on that same list of 213.
McGuire’s 2023 hits spray chart is the perfect display of his early success. All of his hits have either gone through the infield, landed in the shallow outfield, or found the gaps. His ability to do this on a consistent basis has allowed him to be a valuable hitter for the Red Sox since day one.
Wong has played 59 career games in the big leagues, and his performance early in 2023 indicates his breakout could be happening. Over his last 16 games, Wong is slashing .333/.360/.604/.964. His 158 wRC+ in this span ranks 25th among the 243 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances. This 16-game stretch from Wong has been highlighted by his May 2 game against the Blue Jays where he went 4-4 with a double and two home runs.
Wong has improved his batted ball profile throughout the course of the year. In 2023, he has an average exit velocity of 90.9 mph, placing him in the 74th percentile. While this is impressive, his 56.6% ground ball rate has been suppressing many of those hard-hit balls. Before April 15, Wong had a ground ball rate of 63.2% on the season. Since then, it is only at 52.9%; still above the league average, but improving.
Before April 15, only 31.6% of his batted balls were fly balls or line drives. Since then, it is 41.2%, a nearly 10-percent increase. These improvements have contributed to Wong’s recent steps forward at the big league level.
I. Am. Speed.
Catchers, generally speaking, are not fast. Connor Wong, however, is fast. With an average sprint speed of 28.2 feet per second, he is the third-fastest catcher in baseball, and in the 80th percentile in the Major Leagues. That 28.2 is only 0.1 feet behind Ronald Acuña Jr, who leads the National League with 15 stolen bases in 2023. Wong’s 3.98 average 90-foot sprint in 2023 ranks second-fastest among all catchers.
There are several defensive components that go into catching – throwing, blocking, framing, etc. Between McGuire and Wong, there is nothing the Red Sox don’t have.
McGuire has established himself as a good blocker in 2023. Statcast recently introduced a metric that measures a catcher’s ability to block pitches based on difficulty. A “tough” block is any ball with a block rate below 85%. 1.7% of all pitches McGuire has seen this year have been defined as tough blocks, tied for the fifth-highest rate among the 65 qualifying catchers. His one Block Above Average against these pitches makes him one of 15 pitchers that handles them well.
McGuire has also shown excellence in stealing strikes in the 2023 season.
He is one of 18 qualifying catchers to have tallied at least one Framing Run throughout the season. McGuire’s 49.8% strike rate is good for 15th-highest among the 57 qualifiers. His strongest area is in zone 12, where his 68.2% strike rate ranks ninth-highest. As for Wong, his impressive 44.8% strike rate in zone 13 leads all catchers in 2023.
The best defensive strength from either Red Sox catcher is Wong’s throwing arm. According to Statcast’s new catcher throwing metric, Wong’s Caught Stealing Above Average of three ranks third among the 53 qualifying catchers. This stat takes into account how likely a catcher is to throw a runner out based on pop time and how close the runner is to the base when the throw is made.
Throwing runners out is more difficult in 2023 than in recent years. With the larger bases and new pickoff rule, runners are having a much easier time swiping bags this year. This makes Wong’s 42% caught stealing rate look more impressive.
According to Statcast, there have been two throws made to catch runners stealing in 2023 that have had an expected caught stealing rate below 10 percent. Both throws belong to Wong.
Between the throw in the dirt and the jump by Vidal Brujan, it took a picture-perfect throw right where Christian Arroyo’s glove met Brujan’s shoulder to get this out. Statcast estimates this play had a four percent chance of being made, the lowest of any successful caught stealing across the majors this year. Wong’s other improbable play came in the next inning of the same exact game.
With Kiké Hernandez applying the tag on Randy Arozarena‘s elbow, this out only had a seven percent chance of being recorded; the second-most unlucky caught stealing this year in Major League Baseball, and in that game.
Wong’s ability to make these unlikely throws is thanks in part to his outstanding 1.88 average pop time, good enough to be tied for the third-quickest among the 47 qualifying catchers. His arm strength, with his average throws clocking in at 82.9 mph, also ranks seventh best.
The Red Sox duel threat at catcher checks every box. On offense, they hit for contact, hit for power, hit the ball hard, and hit the ball at the optimal angle. On defense display excellency in framing, blocking, and throwing. Not to mention they also have speed on the basepaths. This tandem has helped lead the Red Sox to the sixth-best record in the Majors, and the Sox hope they can continue to do so.
All stats updated prior to play on May 8