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A Look At Kyle Higashioka

According to Steve Slowinski (at Fan Graphs):

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. You should always use more than one metric at a time when evaluating players, but WAR is all-inclusive and provides a useful reference point for comparing players. WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth +6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth +3.5 wins, which means it is highly likely that Player X has been more valuable than Player Y.”

Now it is highly doubtful that anyone can summarize a player’s contribution in only one number, especially the backup catcher; they really are a unique breed. Still, even in limited appearances, it is important to see what the Yankees have in Kyle Higashioka, and what they lost in parting ways with Austin Romine.

Austin Romine seemed to be content as a back-up. He had his role – and he knew his role. He also delivered when in the lineup. In the past two years Romine played in 149 games, hit 18 homers, drove in 77 runs, batted .262 and posted a .730 OPS. These were mighty strong numbers for the Yankees’ #2 catcher.

But Ro is gone now, and in his place steps in Kyle Higashioka, who will be the backup for Gary Sanchez this season. Higgy, who turns 30 in April, has hit .164 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 56 games in the Major Leagues. He has shown some power, but overall he has not hit much. This past year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Higashioka hit .278 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs and posted a .929 OPS in 70 games. Again, nice power, and some potential with the bat.

On the other hand, Higgy has a good reputation as a solid framer of pitches. Defensively (and defensive metrics are even more difficult to quantify, especially in limited samples), at least on the surface, he should be fine.

During the 2020 season, Kyle Higashioka will be likely forced into more action than the typical backup catcher if Gary Sanchez’s injury history holds true. Sanchez, has been on the injured list four times in the past two seasons with lower-body ailments that have limited him to a combined 195 games. The big question we are asking about Higashioka is can he be a competent backup after never having done it in the majors?

I personally believe that if previous experience shapes future trends, then Gary Sanchez will play somewhere between 90-120 games. This means that Higgy will play around 42 games. What type of games we will get is unknown.

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of sabermetrics is the way in which WAR is used. Given the nature of the calculation and potential measurement errors, WAR should be used as a guide for separating groups of players and not as a precise estimate. AS such, we take the following with a grain of salt…

According to Steamer, Higashioka is currently projected at .222, 8 HR, 20 RBI with an OPS close to .700 in 2020. I will take that! If he calls a good game, handles the pitching staff well, and puts up numbers like this, the Yankees will be fine.

If Higgy is pressed into deeper service, then we find out what type of player the Yankees actually have. I don’t think we know yet, and, because Gary Sanchez has such great talent, and the Yankees are better when he is in the lineup, it would be good if we (and the Yankees) don’t have to find out.


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