Yankees pitch better with Stewart behind the plate

During the game on Saturday, David Cone, the Yankees’ best color analyst, went out of his way to praise Chris Stewart for how he handled Nova, the game Stewart called behind the plate and for the targets he gave his pitcher. Cone was effusive in his praise for Chris Stewart the entire game. The only positive thing Cone said about Martin during Sunday’s games was that Russell Martin had cat-like reflexes as a catcher. Does David Cone know something the Yankees should know?

Catcher ERA is a statistic that is not widely regarded. So much of the statistic depends on sample size and circumstance. But the simple fact is that when Chris Stewart catches, the Yankees pitch better. Russell Martin has caught 88 games for a total of 712.2 innings. Yankee pitchers during those 712.2 innings have an ERA of 4.10, an OPS against of .762 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.91. Chris Stewart has caught 38 games for a total of 301.1 innings and during those innings, pitchers have an ERA of 3.17, an OPS against of .676 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.51.

Your first reaction to reading that might be that naturally Stewart would be better because he has been C.C. Sabathia‘s personal catcher and Sabathia is the Yankees’ best pitcher. And yes, Stewart has caught Sabathia more than any other Yankee pitcher. But even there, the difference is striking. Stewart has caught Sabathia sixteen times and Sabathia’s ERA in those games is 3.24. Russell Martin has caught Sabathia four times and in those four games, Sabathia’s ERA is 5.45.

The difference holds true for every starting pitcher Stewart has caught this year. That is either extremely coincidental, or there is a strong correlation. You decide:

  • Phil Hughes:  20 outings with Martin (4.68 ERA), 3 outings with Stewart (2.95 ERA).
  • Ivan Nova: 19 outings with Martin (5.45 ERA), 4 outings with Stewart (1.59 ERA).
  • Hiroki Kuroda: 20 outings with Martin (3.50 ERA), 3 outings with Stewart (1.69 ERA).
  • Freddy Garcia: 14 outings with Martin (6.17 ERA), 9 outings with Stewart (3.77 ERA).
  • Andy Pettitte threw once to Stewart and pitched eight shutout innings. He had a 3.55 ERA with Martin.

It is difficult to make a case of sample size and coincidence by looking at those numbers. Every pitcher? And is it also coincidental that Stewart did the same thing with the Giants last year? For the Giants in 2011, Stewart caught 63 games and Giants’ pitchers had an ERA of 2.70 in those games. Buster Posey caught 41 games and the pitchers’ ERA was 3.34. Eli Whiteside caught 81 games and in those games, the pitchers’ ERA was 3.28.

To be sure, it would be great to hear from a sabermetric expert on if this argument is all wet. But from this uneducated seat, Yankee pitchers have more success pitching to Chris Stewart than they do pitching to Russell Martin. Since both catchers are marginal offensively, perhaps the Yankees should start Stewart more often. Perhaps he should catch a starter every time that starter had a bad outing his last time out. Or perhaps :::gulp::: Chris Stewart should be the starting catcher.

About William Tasker

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.

6 thoughts on “Yankees pitch better with Stewart behind the plate

  1. Stewart's offensive line isn't any worse than Martin's – his batting average is far better – .268 vs .196. and his OBP is close – .294 vs .312 for Martin, and OPS is .651 vs .683 for Martin.

    I'll take Stewart's offensive production any day of the week, if it means we can avoid stinkers like yesterday's game. Really – any time the Yankees (or any other MLB team) score 7 runs, they should win.

    When it comes time to offer a contract to one catcher or the other after the season, I'd definitely be showing these numbers to Martin's agent. Or, better yet, just sign Stewart and let Martin go off to his "big" free agent payday.

  2. I don't think you can blame Martin for Hughes' stinker yesterday. He's been like this his whole career. Has a couple of good starts followed by a couple of bad ones. His inconsistency is maddening. At some point the Yankees are going to have to figure out what to do with him. We can forgive Nova for his issues lately. It's only his first full year as a starter. Hughes,however,has been in the majors for 5 years now, both as a starter and a reliever. If he can't at least show a consistent effort in his starts every time out, maybe the bullpen is his best option.

  3. For me it comes down to this – When a catcher is focused as much or more on being able to throw runners out (or worried he cant), he will call more fastballs, and thus the hitter will get more pitches to hit (this was the same problem with Posada a few years ago.) When the catcher is more focused on his pitcher getting outs (ala Jose Molina, now Stewart), the mix of pitches is better, and the hitters are more off balance. I dont think you need a complicated formula to figure this out, just tally in what counts and how many fastballs each catcher is calling. If this is the case (which I think it is) then someone needs to get into Martin's ear about worrying about outs at the plate, and not on the bases. A few points on the ERA is worth a lot more than a few points on the Caught Stealing %.

  4. "Catcher ERA is a statistic that is not widely regarded."

    Pitcher ERA tends to get criticized. Therefore, wouldn't it make more sense to be looking at something like catcher FIP or xFIP?

  5. Compelling. Actually followed Stew last year with the Giants and noted the same. This cannot be coincidence. I think Stew works his butt off, has his thinking straight and (according to what I read), is a highly intelligent (aka thinking) catcher. For the Yankees, this guy is the deal of the century. I also believe as does Yankee mangement that the catchers bat is somewhat irrevelant but a bonus if he hits well.