Chris Stewart has become a hot topic lately, and not in a good way. It's tough to argue with his critics. Stewart doesn't hit much and his defense has been shaky. However, let's be fair. Stewart is simply being what he has always been: a back-up catcher. Making him a starter and expecting quality results is like asking a house painter to duplicate the Mona Lisa. The blame should fall on GM Brian Cashman and Manager Joe Girardi, not Stewart.
A review of Stewart's career shows that he is a back-up, not a starter.
In 2001, he was drafted by the White Sox in the 12th round. He arrived in the majors for a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 2006 and went 0 for 8. He was traded to the Texas Rangers and split 2007 between Texas and Triple A. With Texas, he played 17 games and hit .243. After the Rangers released him, he signed with the Yankees and split the 2008 season between the Bronx and Triple A. With the Yankees, he appeared in one game and went 0 for 3. He spent the entire 2009 season in Triple A. In 2010, he split the season between the San Diego Padres and Triple A. He got into one game for the Padres without a plate appearance. In 2011, the San Francisco Giants signed him. Again, he split the season between Triple A and the majors. He got into 67 games for the Giants, mainly because of starter Buster Posey's broken leg, and hit .204 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Despite his limited playing time, he was third in the National League in errors by a catcher. In short, by the end of the 2011 season, Stewart had been with five organizations and none had seen him as a starting catcher.
His current stint with the Yankees started in 2012 when the Yankees obtained him in a trade with the Giants to be the back-up to Russell Martin. To make room for Stewart, they sent Francisco Cervelli to the minors. Last year's situation worked out well for Stewart. Martin caught the majority of games. Stewart appeared in only 55 games and batted .241 with one home run and 13 RBIs. He functioned adequately as a back-up, although he was fifth in the American League in passed balls.
Stewart was set to be the back-up again this year, playing behind Cervelli. Those plans soon went awry when a foul tip broke Cervelli's hand in April. For Cervelli, surgery, an elbow injury and a 50-game PED suspension followed, and Stewart was now the starting catcher. Stewart is having his troubles as a starter. He has appeared in 91 games and is hitting .218/.289/.573 with four home runs and 24 RBIs. His defense is usually considered solid but he has had some trouble with passed balls this year. (See, for example, Jason Cohen's Chris Stewart and Passed Balls.)
Put most of the blame on Cashman. It was Cashman who let Martin leave for Pittsburgh. After Cervelli got hurt, it was Cashman who did not obtain a seasoned major-league catcher to replace Stewart or split time with him.
Girardi deserves blame, too. Promising rookie Austin Romine was brought up as Stewart's back-up. Girardi, however, has used him only sparingly. Romine has started 39 games at catcher compared to Stewart's 80. Romine's playing time remains limited even though his bat has come alive (.353 batting average since July 11th).
The one person who doesn't deserve blame is Stewart. How can he be criticized for not being a good starting catcher when that's something he is not, never was and never will be?