Is Chris Stewart's defense even worse than we said it was?

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Delving deeper into a player who is in the lineup for his glove.

On Tuesday, Tanya Bondurant asked the musical question, "What's the point of a defense-only catcher who isn't playing good defense?" She pointed to his high number of passed balls despite his lack of playing time. In part, the answer to the question lies in the query itself, which suggests a faulty premise is at work: If a catcher who is supposed to be a strong defender is playing shoddy defense, well, he's not a strong defensive catcher, at least not at that moment. You either need to revise your perceptions or figure out where the disconnect is happening.

More broadly, what we have to be careful of with almost any non-hitting catcher is the kneejerk tendency to call them a defensive wizard as a way of justifying their presence on a major league roster. There are very few light-hitting catchers who don't acquire the "strong glove" tag because if not, what the heck is he doing there?

In Stewart's case, there are some things he's doing right: through Tuesday, he had thrown out six of 13 attempted basestealers. That 46 percent kill rate is tied for seventh among major league catchers with 100 or more innings caught. So, there are a few runs saved there. Stewart also does a good job with pitch-framing ("Framing is Chris Stewart's meal ticket, too -- he's saved 16.5 runs in a little more than 8,000 pitches," Grantland's Ben Lindbergh wrote earlier this month). Put that together with his throwing and you would have defensive value even with the passed balls, which are, after all, just an extra base at a time -- just because a runner moves up doesn't necessarily mean he scores.

That's not to say the passed balls aren't worrisome. However, they alone don't tell the whole story. The distinction between passed balls and wild pitches is a thin one, relying on the official scorer to decide which is which. Sometimes the distinction is obvious, but quite often it's not. The best way to combat this is to combine wild pitches and passed balls and count them as one figure. Stewart has only four passed balls, but his pitchers have also been credited with nine wild pitches while he's been receiving. Looked at on the basis of wild pitches and passed balls per nine innings, Stewart ranks 11th among backstops with 100 or more innings caught:

NAME

Tm

G

GS

Inn

PBWP/9

Dioner Navarro

CHC

12

12

101

1.07

Carlos Santana

CLE

34

32

280

0.93

Hank Conger

LAA

16

14

123

0.73

Hector Gimenez

CHW

12

12

106.1

0.68

Wilin Rosario

COL

38

37

334.1

0.62

Jason Castro

HOU

38

36

321.1

0.62

Kelly Shoppach

SEA

25

24

207.2

0.61

John Baker

SDP

14

12

106

0.59

Michael McKenry

PIT

17

15

140

0.58

J.P. Arencibia

TOR

45

41

375.2

0.58

Chris Stewart

NYY

28

25

215

0.54

There is one more way we can look at catcher defense to see how Stewart has done. Catchers generally have high fielding percentages because they receive credit for a putout whenever a batter strikes out. That's one of those tricks of baseball accounting -- someone has to get a putout on every play -- that doesn't help us understand how well the player does when he actually has to throw the ball. Once you remove strikeouts from a catcher's total, the percentages can be shockingly low by today's standards. It turns out that catchers heave the ball into center field far more often than we would accept from a player at any other position.

Stewart's official fielding percentage is .996. He's made just one error this year, and it was in failing to handle a throw, not in trying to catch a baserunner. When you pull out the putouts on Ks, that drops him to .952. That ranks 21st among those 100-innings-plus catchers -- there are 15 catchers in the group, including Russell Martin and Austin Romine, who have yet to make an error this year. Still, .952 isn't bad when you consider just how bad some of the others have been. Here's the bottom of the list:

NAME

Tm

G

GS

E

Fld%

Fld%-K

Dioner Navarro

CHC

12

12

3

.974

.667

Hank Conger

LAA

16

14

4

.967

.733

Francisco Cervelli

NYY

17

15

4

.969

.765

Wilson Ramos

WSN

14

14

3

.972

.769

Jose Molina

TBR

33

27

3

.986

.786

John Jaso

OAK

23

20

2

.988

.800

Miguel Olivo

MIA

18

15

3

.975

.813

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

BOS

38

34

4

.988

.818

Devin Mesoraco

CIN

27

24

3

.986

.842

Carlos Corporan

HOU

18

16

2

.983

.846


Given the forgoing, it might make sense not to get too exercised about Stewart's passed balls. It's a problem, but perhaps not a large one in the larger context of his overall defensive game. As for his offense, well, the average major league catcher is hitting .243/.313./.396 so far this year. That doesn't make Stewart's .256/.292/.366 any better, but at least opponents generally won't have too large an advantage, the fact that all four AL East opponents are doing better with catcher offense notwithstanding.

With Gary Sanchez playing quite well at High-A Tampa (.293/.349/.492, just four passed balls and a 43 percent caught stealing) and J.R. Murphy hitting very well at Trenton (.283/.376/.455 overall, .278/.392/.519 on the road) and naught but journeyman at Triple-A, one wonders if the normally-cautious Yankees might consider a midseason promotion for both players, Murphy going up to Triple-A and Sanchez to Double-A. In that way, Murphy might be ready for a September cup of coffee this year and a major-league audition in spring training next year and the catching position might be rather painlessly upgraded in the short term.

For now, though, muddling along with Stewart seems to be the only option. Barring the last few games, pitching has been the secret of this damaged team's success, and Stewart has certainly contributed there. The odd tendency to let the ball get by him so far this season doesn't change that at all.

More from Pinstriped Bible

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Pinstripe Alley

You must be a member of Pinstripe Alley to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Pinstripe Alley. You should read them.

Join Pinstripe Alley

You must be a member of Pinstripe Alley to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Pinstripe Alley. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker