The 2020 season was Kyle Higashioka’s alternative to show himself. After serving because the Yankees’ third catcher behind Austin Romine for a lot of years, Higgy lastly obtained an opportunity to reveal his price throughout this unusual, shortened season.
He made essentially the most of it, particularly throughout his begins behind the plate within the postseason. All through the Division Sequence, Higgy appeared comfortable behind the plate. His actions and micro changes to obtain the ball seemed fluid. What stood out most to me was how continuously I noticed Higgy use his physique, fairly than his glove, to dam balls. From a squatting place, he could make fast lateral actions that Gary Sanchez would most likely battle to drag off. Consequently, Higgy has a better time deadening the ball and protecting it in entrance of him.
Certain, it passes the attention take a look at, however is Higgy’s protection as seamless because it seems? Or does his catching simply seem superior relative to Sánchez’s miscues? To raised perceive Higgy’s participant worth relative to different catchers in MLB, I combed by way of his 2020 defensive statistics on Baseball Prospectus. Let’s take a better take a look at how Higgy’s defensive expertise examine to these of his friends.
Whether or not it’s Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter, Zack Britton’s turbo-sinker, or Aroldis Chapman’s 100 mph warmth, the Yankees have one of many more difficult employees of pitchers to catch. Blocking and framing expertise are essential instruments for New York’s catchers, who should deal with pitches that exhibit unpredictable, abrupt motion.
To say that Higashioka excels at pitch framing is an understatement. He’s one of the best pitch framer within the majors this yr, in accordance with Baseball Prospectus’ known as strikes above common (CSAA) metric.
Higgy additionally ranks among the many top-third of MLB catchers in changing a batter’s non-swing pitches into known as strikes, for pitches situated in what Baseball Savant refers to because the “Shadow Zone” (space on the perimeters of the strike zone the place an umpire can use extra discretion, because the pitch may go both method).
That’s good in and of itself, however with regards to framing pitches on the within of the plate, Higashioka is one of the best in MLB, in accordance with Statcast information. He transformed 81.7 p.c of non-swing pitches into known as strikes on this borderline space, the components of the Shadow Zone situated on the within of the plate for right-handed batters.
Many followers and baseball writers praised Higgy’s blocking capacity all through the Division Sequence in opposition to the Rays. Certainly, his capacity to melt his chest and smother balls look spectacular. Do his blocking stats assist the notion that Higgy’s blocking expertise are top-notch?
In relation to blocking runs, a stat that quantifies what number of runs are gained or misplaced by way of a catcher’s administration of errant pitches, Higashioka ranks 18th amongst 101 gamers who caught in 2020. FanGraphs information confirms that on the season, he allowed only a single handed ball and two wild pitches.
In his ALDS Sport One begin catching Gerrit Cole, Higgy’s fast reflexes amid a cross up with Cole prevented the Rays’ tying run on third from scoring. His defensive mastery was on full show in Sport 4, too, and his capacity to dam 4 completely different pitches that Jordan Montgomery spiked within the filth made it attainable for the Yankees to keep up their slender lead.
Throughout postgame interviews, Montgomery even credited his capacity to get out of bother within the third to Higashioka’s blocking expertise. Cole, likewise, praised his fast restoration after getting crossed up with runners on base. Getting crossed up in such a high-leverage state of affairs would doubtless lead to a handed ball for a lot of MLB catchers.
I’m not saying that Higashioka is Corridor-of-Fame sure, however I do suppose he has extra potential than many individuals suppose. It’s straightforward to jot down off Higgy as a weak-hitting defensive catcher when the man has barely made 200 plate appearances within the majors. In actual fact, his meandering path to the majors jogs my memory of one other Yankees catcher who spent the higher a part of his 20s struggling for taking part in time.
In contrast to fellow Core 4 members Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, who confirmed early promise and had been projected to be all-stars, Jorge Posada was a late bloomer. Whereas Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte turned key gamers on the Yankees’ World Series-winning groups within the late 90s, Posada performed solely 60 video games for the Yankees in 1997, hitting .250/.359/.410 and throwing out simply 20 p.c of runners who tried to steal on him. Because the backup catcher to Joe Girardi, Posada didn’t have a breakout season till 2000, when he hit .287/.417/.527 on the ripe age of 28.
Like Posada, Higashioka’s profession within the large leagues obtained off to a gradual begin as a result of group’s logjam behind the plate. Posada solely turned one of many best-hitting catchers in franchise historical past as soon as he began getting constant at-bats. He wasn’t a high prospect and, like Higgy, Posada spent practically a decade within the minors.
Because the offseason approaches, Higashioka’s improvement as a ballplayer might be an intriguing storyline to comply with, particularly now that Gary Sánchez’s destiny with the group is unknown. For a lot of followers, it is going to be laborious to neglect the sense of safety they felt with Higgy behind the plate.