A catching debate for the Yankees?

During the 2012 season, not only has Russell Martin struggled mightily at the plate (last night notwithstanding), but the pitching staff was floundering. Enter Chris Stewart who was obtained on the last day of Spring Training in a sudden spin of events that landed Francisco Cervelli in Triple-A. We were all kind of stunned at the event. And then C.C. Sabathia sort of fell in love with Stewart and whether Joe Girardi admits it or not, Stewart is Sabathia’s personal catcher. And then Stewart caught Andy Pettitte, who threw eight scoreless innings. Anjd then Chris Stewart caught Hiroki Kuroda, who threw eight scoreless innings and suddenly we have a debate to talk about. Stewart, who is even less capable offensively than Martin, is suddenly the darling of many for his catching skills. But is it a proper debate?

The numbers are so peripheral that they do not even make sense to talk about. Yes, the Yankees are 8-3 when Stewart catches. And yes, Stewart’s CERA (catcher ERA) is 2.80 compared to Martin’s 4.53. And yes, Stewart’s CERA with the Giants last year of 2.72 was lower than that team’s ERA of 3.30 last season. But we are talking about such small sample sizes and the fact that most of Stewart’s starts have come when receiving the Yankees’ best pitcher. In his one game receiving Phil Hughes, Stewart did not get much better out of the struggling pitcher than Martin has.

Two things have led us to this point. First, Russell Martin has put himself in the bulls-eye due to his terrible offensive start to the 2012 season. Secondly, the pitching staff outside of Sabathia and Pettitte has struggled to the point where it is a constant focal point of the team. When those two things happen, the natural human tendency is to look for quick fixes and lightning in a bottle. Chris Stewart has offered that with the success he has had catching during his thirteen games thus far this season. Those two things just pointed out have led those who follow the Yankees to start questioning the pitches Martin is calling and everything else. Maybe the pitching woes are Russell Martin’s fault.

All the talk becomes like trying to whistle with a mouth full of saltine crackers. Joe Girardi has been insistent that Russell Martin is his starting catcher. Russell Martin will hit better than he has in April and most of May. Perhaps last night was the start of better things offensively for the catcher. Instead, let us all just calm down a little bit and be thankful that the Yankees have two very good defensive options behind the plate. Stewart will not do anything great as a batter, but if the big guy of the Yankees’ pitching staff is more comfortable with him behind the plate, great. The Yankees currently have two superior defensive options behind the plate and that is a good thing.

Russell Martin is the starting catcher and will remain so unless he gets hurt or something. Chris Stewart is the backup and Sabathia’s caddy. No problem. It is up to the rest of the rotation to sort itself out and find a groove that can lead to the Yankees usual spot at the top of the division. There is no catching debate. There are simply two good defensive guys. One is the starter and the other is the backup.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

10 thoughts on “A catching debate for the Yankees?

  1. Kevin S.

    The question isn't whether Stewart should start, it's whether or not the Yanks can trust him enough to handle 30-35% of the starts behind the plate and keep Martin fresher. Remember, this is a dude whose been run into the ground for almost his entire major league career. I wonder how his performance would improve if he didn't have to catch so often.

    • williamjtasker

      That is a good point, Kevin. I think the answer is yes to both counts. Martin should be better with more rest and Stewart is capable of holding up to that kind of usage.

  2. Mike Nagle

    Stewart does look solid and has a shotgun for an arm. I never bought into the Russell Martin hype and Posada was unceremoniously forced out of the catcher position when Girardi fell in love with Martin. Ironic that Girardi as a player was the "Martin" to Posada back when Zimmer advocated on his behalf and now Stewart is serving that capacity. Stewart can barely bat his weight (or that's the knock) but Cervelli wasn't likely to win a batting title either. But this is another indication that spending on Martin is questionable since he limits the team's investment in the catching prospects in that we get less of a glimpse of them at the big league level. You hate to carry 3 catchers unnecessarily but sooner or later we need to determine what the baby Bombers can and can't do at and behind the plate. Right now we know less than we knew a year ago since Montero is gone and none of the other prospects are above AAA. For an aging team, these questions need to get answered sooner rather than later. Stewart is A answer but he isn't THE answer to the bigger question and neither is Martin.

  3. math

    "Then 2012 happened."

    You mean, "then 1/3 of 2012 happened" ??

    • williamjtasker

      Yeah, something like that.

  4. Bill

    I watch Russell Martin hit and can't believe the results. He is a strong looking hitter with a nice looking swing. Last night notwithstanding, he makes contact and all too frequently nothing seems to happen. No way is he a .180 hitter. But that's what the numbers are telling us. The only positive about this is that he probably will cost himself a bundle when it comes to seeking a long term deal. Can't believe he'd get Y Molina money with the numbers he's going to put up, coupled with the consistent decline in offensive performance over the past several years. So maybe the Yanks can keep him for another year or two while waiting for Sanchez, Murphy, et al. Don't think Romine is a viable option with a chronic back issue.

  5. David Reyes

    Is there anyone available who we can trade/pick-up?

  6. michael

    Sad about Romine's condition lately. Not only did he underwhelm repeating AA in 2011, a back injury for a catcher is bad. Along the lines of a shoulder injury for a pitcher. Probably the last thing you want to hear.

  7. Roger Repoz

    At this point Martin's offense compared to Stewart is HARDLY a plus…

  8. Henry

    Martin can't hit and never will. He is awful in the clutch and offers nothing offensively. Stewart look like a better singles hitter and should catch more. Yanks should let Martin go at the end of the season.

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