When the Yankees traded Gary Sánchez to the Twins as part of the package that returned Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt, it marked the end of an era both from a player personnel standpoint and an organizational philosophy standpoint. They were moving on from an ostensibly bat-first catcher who at certain points appeared to be a cornerstone of the roster. And in moving to a timeshare of defense-first catchers, it was clear the team was willing to forgo offensive production from the catcher position in exchange for sturdier performances behind the plate.
Then we learned that Rortvedt would miss the start of the season with injury. Suddenly, the Yankees had to pivot to find another backup catcher, and ended up trading Albert Abreu and Robert Ahlstrom to the Rangers for Jose Trevino. It’s safe to say that in the time since, Trevino has blown all expectations out of the water.
After a scalding hot spring training during which it seemed like he launched a home run every game, Kyle Higashioka’s bat has gone dead. He is batting .162/.224/.206 with no home runs, and strikes out once every five at-bats without making up for it with walks. Out of all catchers with at least 70 plate appearances, Higashioka sits dead-last with a 28 wRC+.
Trevino on the other hand has held his own at the plate, batting .246/.297/.362 with two home runs and a 96 wRC+. Sure, he will never possess the same raw exit velocity and barrel abilities that Higashioka does, but in truth the Yankees don’t need another three true outcome hitter at the bottom of the lineup. Trevino strikes out and whiffs at roughly half the rate of Higashioka while walking the same amount. Having a contact-oriented hitter with a little pop at the bottom of the lineup might actually be more beneficial than someone who will occasionally run into one, especially when it comes to setting the table for the big bats when the lineup turns over.
On the defensive side, Trevino might just be the best framing catcher in baseball. He is tied for second with +2 Statcast framing runs, albeit with roughly half the pitches caught of leader Sean Murphy. He has by far the highest strike rate of any catcher at 54.4 percent —more than two points higher than person in second which is really quite absurd when you consider that places on the leaderboard are mostly separated by fractions of a percent — and is fourth in the league in in-zone called strike rate (92.4 percent). Higashioka is in the bottom-half of the league in terms of framing runs and strike rate. FanGraphs agrees with this assessment, placing Trevino at the top of the strike zone runs above average leaderboard and second in framing runs, with Higashioka sitting middle of the pack.
Here is 1:16 of pure, borderline-pornographic bliss for you framing aficionados out there.
I LOVE watching Trevino frame pitches. His technique is immaculate and such an obvious upgrade over predecessor Gary Sánchez. He generally uses two different methods when framing. The first is the patented José Molina-style glove freezing technique — a while back, Molina explained on an episode of Effectively Wild that the key to framing strikes is minimizing glove movement.
In the other clips, notice the way he positions his glove right on the edge of the zone to receive the ball, and then snaps it subtly back toward the strike zone. Contrast this with what I liked to call the “rebound technique” employed too often by Sánchez, where he would lunge with his glove toward the ball before moving it back toward the middle of the plate. All that glove movement makes it much less likely that the umpire will be fooled into calling a borderline pitch a strike.
But the aspect of Trevino’s game that I’m most excited to talk about is the parts that don’t show up on the stat sheet. I love the way he catches games and interacts with the pitchers during an outing. He’s an expert at reading how the hitters react to each pitch and adjusts sequencing mid-AB accordingly. I also love the non-verbal cues he gives his pitchers during an outing. Just check out all the different interactions from just two consecutive plate appearances during Jameson Taillon’s May 22nd start against the White Sox. After allowing a run on three straight singles in the fourth, Taillon was in a bit of a jam facing the lefty Gavin Sheets followed by the righty Adam Engel.
Trevino calls for a first-pitch backdoor curveball to Sheets, but Taillon misses his spot in a dangerous area down and in. Watch the way Trevino sort of pauses to let Taillon recompose himself before throwing the ball back:
Two pitches later, Trevino calls for an 0-2 slider down and in. He first flashes his glove to give Taillon an aiming point, and then points to Taillon to acknowledge execution of a good pitch after Sheets fouls it off:
Finally, after Sheets has battled back to 2-2, Trevino calls for an elevated four-seamer. Taillon executes the pitch perfectly, and Trevino recognizes it. He takes off his mask to make eye contact with Taillon before again pointing at him, almost as if to say “yup, that was the one.”
The next batter was a true masterpiece of pitcher-catcher understanding and letting the batter dictate the sequencing. Taillon dismantled Engel with four straight sliders that got increasingly more nasty. I don’t know if the gameplan said to attack him with all sliders down and away, but I have a hunch that Trevino read Engel’s swings on the pitch while recognizing how well Taillon was executing the slider to that exact location. Watch how quickly Trevino gets the ball back to Taillon and calls the next pitch, almost as if to keep the muscle memory of the previous pitch fresh in his pitcher’s mind:
When you listen to Trevino’s postgame pressers, you get clear sense of how plugged-in he is to the clubhouse and how he has his fingers on the pulse of the pitchers and catchers room. To his credit, he has talked multiple times about how instrumental Higashioka has been in helping him gameplan for each start. Maybe that is a cooperative effort that can serve as a blueprint for the Yankees’ catcher deployment moving forward, with Trevino getting the bulk of games and Higashioka focusing on the behind-the-scenes preparation that is so important for each start.
Trevino has been nothing short of a class act since joining the Yankees. After collecting his first walk-off for the Yankees over the Orioles, his first thought was to pay tribute to the victims of the horrific events perpetrated in Uvalde, Texas. But beyond just his personality, Trevino has shown through his play that he deserves more reps behind the plate.
To steal a phrase from Josh, the Yankees catching platoon is a sort of litmus test for Yankees fans. How you feel about the decision to use two defensive-first backups as a starting tandem says a good deal about the way you view the game. There are some people who will never get over having below-league-average offensive production from the catcher position, regardless of how hard above-average offensive catchers are to come by. There are others who understand that value is value regardless of what form it comes in. If the Yankees receive more value from their platoon’s work behind the plate than from the offense of some other catcher out there, that’s a net gain. And I’d argue that the greater value that Trevino has offered thus far over Higashioka has earned the former a larger share of playing time.