Chris Stewart and the art of catching


We are watching a true defensive master at work...-record scratch-....or are we?

In the last six games, Yankees fans have seen the whole compliment of the Chris Stewart skill-set - he's hit two singles (in twelve at bats), hit into two double plays, played so hard his body ran out of water, and ran himself into an out going from first to third (I thought MLB banned amphetamines a few years ago to prevent stunts like that). Whether in the batter's box, on the base paths or in the trainer's room, you can always depend on Chris Stewart to be Chris Stewart.

If you've been watching YES these past two seasons, you know by now that it doesn't particularly matter how often he makes an out at the plate, for he is a defensive catcher par excellence. Since catcher defense is the final frontier of statistical analysis, only now are we on the precipice of understanding what "good defensive catcher" truly means.

I've been giving this a great deal of thought recently: if Chris Stewart is a great defensive catcher, then what does that say about the very idea of catcher defense? Breaking down Stewart's catching game gives me the brain-queasiness I felt after watching the Darren Aronofsky film π - it's too technical and too obtuse and is this math or art or what!?!

The crux of Stewart's defensive greatness is his pitch-framing least that's what I've heard from the YES crew. They went out of their way to praise Stewart's pitch-framing in the eighth inning of Friday night's game; I've never heard grown men so hopelessly in love with the framing of pitched balls. The way Chris Stewart frames pitches makes Jose Molina look like Gustavo Molina. Michael Kay and David Cone fawned over his wrists - so strong, yet so supple. Those wrists could tame any borderline fastball, but what woman could tame them?

So we've established that Stewart is spectacular at framing pitches; the problem is that he doesn't seem very good at actually catching pitches. His dropped called-strike in the eighth inning, which allowed the runners to advance and may have cost the Yankees the game, was inexcusable even by regular catcher standards.

Now this is odd - catchers are supposed to catch, right? Etymologically speaking, the very word "catcher" derives from the English word "catch", meaning "to intercept and hold (something that has been thrown, propelled, or dropped)" and the suffix "-er", meaning "some dude who does that thing I just said." A catcher has many duties, of course, but once that pitched ball is in the air, his responsibilities break down thus:

  1. CATCH
  2. THE
  4. BALL
  5. ...oh, and if the pitch is borderline, try to make it look like a strike. But seriously, though, catch it.

In case a visual aid is needed, here is the chart of catcher responsibility:


As a defensive catcher, Chris Stewart is something of a paradox: a catcher with only a passing interest in actual catching. Here is a visual representation of the Chris Stewart Catching Experience:


If catching is an art, then perhaps Chris Stewart is just another temperamental artist - a man so consumed with the dance between his mitt and the umpire's eye that he can't bring himself to care for such trivialities as catching a ball down the middle of the plate. Or perhaps Stewart is so evolved as a catcher that he knows when he is and isn't needed, and adjusts accordingly; I mean, if the umpire is going to call it a strike regardless, then what is the point of catching it, right?

...or maybe Chris Stewart is just a terrible all-around baseball player. That is really the one explanation that doesn't make my brain hurt.

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