Catchers are often tricky to evaluate. At the bare minimum, a solid catcher should boast timely defense and call a serviceable game. Having a guy behind the dish that’s also an offense threat is a luxury, but not a requirement for most squads.
Historically, the New York Yankees have been successful with backstops that demonstrated different comfort levels with these three skills.
Looking at current catchers Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino through the lens of Yankees’ history illustrates how they’re pieces that could fit into a “winning” puzzle.
The Bronx Bombers have had one or two “complete” catchers. Thurman Munson is a name that should come to mind in this regard. He was a complete athlete that was an exceptional hitter, but it’s often forgotten that he secured three Gold Gloves and threw out out 44% of steal attempts in a time when the league average among catchers was only 38%.
Are Trevino or Higgy anywhere near Munson production-wise? Of course not. However, not every Yankees championship team “needed” a Munson behind the plate.
Players such as Jorge Posada were great with the bat, but weak defensively. Others, such as Joe Girardi, were solid in the field and seasoned that allowed pitchers and teammates alike to trust their input and overall leadership regardless of what they did offensively.
Even a backup such as Jose Molina played an integral role on the ’09 team thanks to his working relationship A.J. Burnett. All of this is to say that there are instances in which even catchers that don’t hit for big numbers or make sizzling defensive plays can be key contributors.
The combination of Higashioka and Trevino is offensively crafty, not flashy. Offensively, Trevino isn’t historically a good bat, but he’s hit .291 with an .812 OPS and 133 OPS+. He’s belted five homers, drove in 18 runs, and delivered two walk-offs. But most importantly, his ability to serve as a solid force in the clubhouse has arguably played the biggest role.
Like Trevino, Higgy’s offensive numbers don’t pop off the page by any stretch (in fact, he’s statistically been one of the worst hitters in the league), but has the ability to “run into one” just as he did against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday evening. In terms of a positive clubhouse ripple effect, Higashioka rose through the ranks the last couple seasons as Gary Sanchez continued to struggle on both sides of the ball.
Along with some streaky offense and general clubhouse effect, the tandem’s positional ability should be a relief to fans that were fed up with Sanchez. When Gary wasn’t hitting, fans were quick to groan that he “couldn’t catch either” — because he either plateaued on defense or slowly regressed. Higgy and Trevino are far different.
According to Baseball Savant, Higashioka has a pop time to second base that’s in the 69th percentile, and Trevino’s framing ranks in the 98th percentile in terms of effectiveness. To the average fan, these stats may feel unimportant, but having catchers that can frame effectively and flat out sling the ball to second base when needed is a luxury in the postseason.
As seen in previous seasons, having a quality defensive catcher can be key. Higgy and Trevino are by no means “complete” products. However, they have the capacity to produce offensively at opportune times and play habitually well in the field. In this way, it would seem that they are a nuanced addition to a long line of Yankees catchers.