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On catchers and security blankets

Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka provided an integral security blanket for the Yankees defense.

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most heart-rending times for any baseball fan is when a player with uncertain command and control of the ball enters the game in relief. Suddenly you have a reliever throwing the ball at 100+ mph with no idea where the ball will land. Is it going to land 40 feet in front of home plate, above the umpire’s head, or somewhere altogether else? It’s like a game of roulette where most results end in a loss. Kind of like, you know, regular roulette.

That feeling of despair and despondency when that flamethrower throws the ball out of the stadium was one that was all too common for many Yankees fans. You know that feeling when Aroldis Chapman or Dellin Betances would enter the game. The despair would start almost immediately.

And yet, this year, I barely remember that same feeling of anguish. Of course that is not to say that I did not feel any hopelessness. I felt the normal existential dread associated with being Yankees fan in the year of 2022, but not the same kind of dejection associated with an errant pitcher.

It’s not like the Yankees lacked flamethrowers with iffy control. I’m looking at you Aroldis Chapman and late season Clay Holmes. The difference was not the pitchers. It was the catchers.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made one of their most important decisions last offseason when they decided to trade Gary Sánchez. He was an excellent player for the Yankees for significant stretches of time, but he was always a hitter first and a catcher last. His defense was not atrocious, but he was clearly overmatched when it came to blocking balls from behind the plate.

Sánchez could never really manage to figure out how to block the Yankees’ pitchers. They always seemed to slip balls past him. Consequently, watching a game with him behind the game at catcher with the score close at the end of the game resulted in some serious heart palpitations. The stats actually back up the eye test: Sánchez was a below average blocker behind the plate, allowing -1.6 blocking runs against the average catcher in 2021 according to Baseball Prospectus.

In contrast, Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka both had very good years behind the plate in 2022. Trevino had 0.5 blocking runs above the average while Higashioka was bang on average at 0.0 blocking runs above average using Baseball Prospectus’ measurements. Any way you look at it, they both provided a good ability to block balls behind the plate.

The eye test really backs this up. I felt so much more comfortable watching close games knowing that these catchers would be able to pick a ball if it came their way. Somehow losing a close game where the pitcher lets up multiple hits or a home run stings a lot less than having a pitcher throw an errant pitch and the catcher let it past him.

Of course, the defense from Trevino and Higashioka writ large was excellent. They both provided well above average defense in both pitch framing with 9.3 runs above average for Higashioka and 18.5 for Jose Trevino. Higashioka had average control of the base paths, while Trevino had 1.5 throwing runs above average.

Ultimately, Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka show how valuable excellent catchers are behind the plate. At least from my perspective, they made many games much more comfortable to watch. For that, I am more than willing to give up a little bit of value from offensive production. They were that warm, comforting, blanket that Yankees fans could rely upon. That’s what I call value.

And with that, I am signing off. Writing for Pinstripe Alley has been one of the best experiences of my life. I might have only written here for this season, but the Yankees managed to put enough triumph and defeat to last a lifetime. It has been an absolute pleasure. Here’s hoping for next season. Now it is time for me to focus on the schoolwork that I am paying to do.

Editor’s note: And we thank Chris for his writing throughout 2022. He was a welcome addition to our staff this year! Best of luck to him.