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10 Positions in 10 Weeks: Analyzing the Catcher Situation

Photo credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

 

The New York Yankees 2020 season has officially come to an end, but that does not mean that content will be straying away. Every Saturday for the next 10 weeks, I will be analyzing one position each week on the Yankees until all positions have been covered, mainly focusing on the future. For the first week, we will begin behind the plate with the catchers.

The New York Yankees had several areas of concern throughout the 2020 season, one of which is behind the plate. Although injuries were not a problem for catchers, the problems the Yankees were faced with could arguably be much larger than injuries.

Let’s first examine Gary Sanchez. On the positive side, Sanchez managed to only miss 11 out of the 60 games during the regular season, most of which were days off. He was also one of three Yankees to have double-digit home runs this season. In an abysmal season for Sanchez, those were the only two positives for him.

Sanchez managed to hit .147 while only recording 23 hits at the plate and striking out 64 times in 156 at-bats. Not only were 43 percent of his hits home runs, but strikeouts accounted for 48 percent of all outs he made.

But Sanchez has struggled at the plate in his last three seasons with an average of only .188. While averages are becoming a statistic of the past in the new analytical era, this stat raises an eyebrow. He has not had just one bad season but also struggled in 2018 at the plate.

Behind the plate, Sanchez returned to his 2018 form. His five passed balls in 41 games behind the plate are a dramatic difference from his seven in 90 games last season. He only threw out five of 19 batters who attempted to steal a base, good for only 26 percent.

Brian Cashman may have a tough decision to make this off-season regarding his catcher. There is a possibility of non-tendering him and letting him hit free agency or possibly trading him in hopes of getting some kind of return. Sanchez does not seem to be a reliable player and a change of scenery could do him some good.

Kyle Higashioka is the other catcher that played some valuable innings for the Yankees this season. He became Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher towards the end of the season and was behind the plate for most of the Yankees’ postseason run. For Higashioka, it was a fantastic season.

Coming into the 2020 season, Higashioka was named the new backup catcher to Sanchez after Austin Romine left the Yankees for Detroit in hopes of becoming an everyday starter. He finally got his chance to prove that he could play at the Major league level.

When push comes to shove, it seemed to work out well for the 30-year old. In 16 games, he hit .250 and set a career-high with four home runs and only struck out 11 times. One noteworthy stat is that he has not walked since 2018.

In 14 games behind the plate, Higashioka committed two errors and only allowed one passed ball while throwing out three out of eight runners attempting to steal a base, good for 38 percent.

It seemed to pitchers were much more confident throwing to Higashioka than Sanchez, especially Cole, whose split stats will tell the story. In fairness to Sanchez, Cole and Higashioka played together in high school, so they go many years back.

If Sanchez is on his way out, the question then becomes is Higashioka the next everyday starter, or do they look at the free-agent market for help? After all, he has never played more than 29 games a season in the big leagues.

Two key factors that may lead the Yankees to give Higashioka a trial starting daily is the fact that he is a very reliable defender behind the plate and that he has the experience of playing every day in the minors. He has played over a decade in the minors as a catcher and has started many games, so he is well-experienced in that field.

Erik Kratz could make a return for one more season as a minor league catcher or possibly as a backup to Higashioka, but there is no certainty to if he wants to play another season.

J.T. Realmuto is headlining the catchers for this free-agent class. Although there is no truth to the rumors, Realmuto was reportedly being eyed by the Yankees as a straight swap for Sanchez. The likelihood of him coming to the Bronx is small, but not completely unlikely. After all, the Yankees seem to always be linked to a top free agent.

It is tough to picture what Cashman could do this off-season in the catcher’s spot, but chances are some kind of change is going to be made. It may not involve a transaction of any kind, but it could mean a reduced role for Sanchez and an increased role for Higashioka.


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