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A pitcher’s dream behind the plate, Sandy Leon looks to improve at the plate

Sandy Leon has played 293 games over four seasons for the Sox, contributing to three first-place teams and appearing in 15 postseason games.BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

There came a point last season when Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon stopped looking at his statistics and focused on what mattered, that he was an important player on a team with a chance to win the World Series.

It was better not to look anyway. Leon finished with a .511 OPS, the lowest in baseball among the 313 players who had at least 250 plate appearances.

That the Sox went on to win the Series made it easier to accept his struggles at the plate.

“It was a long year for me offensively,” Leon said on Thursday. “I know that. I tried to do too much during the season with my mechanics and nothing really worked. But we had an unbelievable team and won the World Series. I can’t be worried about my offense because our season was so great.


“I’m getting a ring. That’s what I’m going to remember about 2018. Not what I hit.”

Leon, 29, has learned the value of such perspective in his career.

He was designated for assignment by the Washington Nationals in 2015 and purchased by the Sox, who at the time were desperate for a catcher. Leon cleared waivers after that season and made his way back to the team through the minor leagues.

In all he has played 293 games over four seasons for the Sox, contributing to three first-place teams and appearing in 15 postseason games.

The Sox value Leon for his catching, particularly how well he calls a game and works with the pitchers. Chris Sale swears by him, as do the other Red Sox starters.

“I trust him implicitly,” Sale said. “I love working with the guy.”

Leon has gotten married since he joined the Sox, had a son, and there is a daughter on the way in May. Life is good.


“I came to this team and thought it might be one year, if that,” Leon said. “Now here I am. God has given me all the blessings. My wife, my kids, and now we won the World Series. I could write a book and it would be great.”

But a healthy perspective can’t make those statistics disappear. There’s not much job security in a .511 OPS.

“Offensively, I need to improve. I need to do the right thing to help the team,” Leon said. “In the offseason, I tried to simplify everything. Just do what I’m capable of it. It’s a new year.

“Just put a good swing on the ball and get a good pitch to hit. It feels better.”

Assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett said Leon has been more compact in his movements overall, which includes cutting down on what was a pronounced leg kick as he went into his swing.

“He’s using the ground to generate some power. He’s made some good adjustments,” Barkett said.

Manager Alex Cora has noticed the difference in the early stages of spring training.

“His leg kick is a little bit lower. He’s getting his foot down,” Cora said. “He’s swinging through the ball and not cutting off his swing. The ball has carry; he’s not hitting as many ground balls.”

Context is important when evaluating the offensive contributions of catchers. The American League average for catchers last season was .227 with a .658 OPS.

So while Leon did not hit well, even modest improvements would get him back in the pack. Leon hit .266 with a .741 OPS, 47 extra-base hits, and 74 RBIs from 2016-17, so he’s proven he’s capable.


“Sometimes you try to do too much at the plate and then you think about it too much and it’s just bad,” Leon said. “As a catcher you have a lot going on working with the pitcher and when it’s your time to hit and think about your mechanics, it’s a lot. You have to free your mind.”

The Red Sox have said they would prefer to trade one of their catchers before the start of the season. Leon or Blake Swihart are the most likely candidates given the confidence Cora appears to have in Christian Vazquez.

“I never worry about that,” Leon said. “I love Boston; I love this team and I love the organization. Baseball always changes and if I get traded, I’ll do my best for another team.”

Leon celebrated the World Series victory with his teammates at the parade and also with his hometown of Maracaibo in Venezuela.

In December, Leon organized a party for the small town that included a softball game and presents for the kids. It was a meaningful gesture in a land that has been wracked by civil and economic unrest for several years.

“I love Venezuela. It will always be my country,” said Leon, who now makes his home in Florida. “It was nice to do something for the people there and see my family. Everybody was so excited that the Red Sox won.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.