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“Our process has gotten tighter and tighter as a group,’’ Blake said. “We have confidence in them to do the work to prepare for a series and know they won’t be caught off guard. They have partnered really well.’’
Additionally, their advanced numbers are excellent.
According to Statcast, Trevino has caught the highest percentage of strikes of any catcher in the majors, with 54.7 percent. Ryan Jeffers of the Twins, where Swanson worked previously, and Trevino’s former teammate with the Rangers, Jonah Heim, are next at 51.1 percent.
Higashioka is in the middle of the pack at 46.6 percent. Sanchez is 12th in the majors at 49.6.
Another advanced metric that tells the story of what a difference Trevino can make is Catcher Framing Runs, which measures how often a pitch is called a strike or a ball, depending on where it is relative to the strike zone.
Trevino finished third in that category a year ago with eight, while Higashioka was tied for 12th at three, and Sanchez was near the bottom of the league at minus-6.
And though the numbers are good, there’s also a mentality the catchers want to have that is just as vital to the pitching staff.
Jose Trevino Getty Images
It’s also why the Yankees, at least for now, are willing to get so little offense out of the catching duo, who both have an OPS below .600. At least for now, the Yankees are confident they have enough firepower throughout much of the rest of the lineup, while anticipating an uptick at the plate from both catchers. Rortvedt, meanwhile, remains sidelined, now recovering from left knee surgery that will keep him out two more months.
“Our main job is to help the pitchers,’’ Higashioka said. “And in recent years, receiving has become the most effective way to help them.”
But game-planning is nearly as vital.
“That’s equally important, if not more important, than the tactical stuff we want to do on the field,’’ Swanson said. “The level of preparation has evolved and gotten better. Trevino has allowed us to take another step in that regard. He and Kyle have a really good partnership. They take that part really seriously and do the work publicly, so pitchers get to see it and see them commit to it.”
“Any time you can take the burden of thinking about game-planning away from the pitchers and have them know we’ve got them, that improves their performance,’’ Higashioka said. “They should only have to focus on executing pitches. I should be prepared enough that I know the hitter’s tendencies, the pitcher’s strengths and when to go off-script. I don’t want them having to wonder, ‘Is he calling the right pitch?’ ”
Kyle Highashioka Shutterstock
Several Yankees pitchers, particularly in the bullpen, rely on one main pitch to either build off in an at-bat or to put a hitter away — from Clay Holmes’ sinker to Michael King’s “Kluberball,” the changeup he learned from Corey Kluber, to even the cutter that Cole has brought back into his arsenal from his college days at UCLA.
All of them are good pitches because they’re not straight, and the way they move varies considerably from pitcher to pitcher and pitch to pitch.
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“A lot of our pitchers have a unique skill-set or unique pitch,’’ Swanson said. “From a receiving standpoint, you want to use data to understand the strike probabilities and which pitches we convert in our favor and which ones we don’t.”
They also consider both a particular hitter’s weakness and each backstop’s strength — for example, the catcher’s ability to frame a certain pitch in a certain spot, or his positioning behind the plate.
Trevino has adopted the knee-down stance that Swanson has preached, while Higashioka has the ability to remain in a traditional stance and get lower than most other backstops.
“It all stems from getting as close to the floor as you can,’’ Swanson said. “Called strikes come generally at the bottom of the strike zone. To be able to expand the strike zone down is more important than ever.”
“If you had told me five years ago I’d be catching on a knee, I’d say, ‘No way,’ ” Trevino said. “But it opened doors in my career.”
Tanner Swanson MLB Photos via Getty Images
To his point, Trevino said he has been using the new stance for “about two or three years.”
In 2019, prior to the change, he was rated just an average catcher analytically.
Still, Trevino and the pitchers stressed that as much as technology — including PitchCom — has helped, there’s an old-school element to both catchers.
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“I just want to be prepared and know the pitchers — all of them,’’ Trevino said. “Getting to know their strengths, getting to know things they’re not so comfortable with and try to get them more comfortable. Whether it’s framing, whether it’s them bouncing a ball and trusting me to be back there to block it or pick it. The iPads and video are important, but I like to get back there and see how the ball is moving out of their hand and talk to them about having the target in a certain location, a setup or anything like that.”
The work has paid off, according to the staff.
“When we’re out there in big situations, we’re able to trust that everybody has done their homework and research and game-planning,’’ Chad Green said. “It’s not just looking at a wristband and, ‘Let’s just throw this pitch.’ You know he’s watched it on the iPad and seen what works and isn’t guessing. When you see the work, your trust level and commitment on every pitch goes up.”
Or, as Cole put it, “You know you’re throwing the right pitch at the right time and not for no reason.’’
“Somebody told me the best thing to do as a catcher is to not be noticed,’’ Higashioka said. “That means do the job.”
And it just might pay off for the Yankees this season.
But all this work poured into pitch-framing and receiving may be severely devalued if robot umps are introduced soon.
Asked if he’s worried about that possibility, Swanson laughed and said: “I’ve been worried about it for five years. If it happens, we’ll figure out and see what the next edge is.”
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