Entering the 2021 season, the New York Yankees are arguably the best team in baseball. With a stacked lineup, rotation, and bullpen, the Yanks are more prepared now than they have been in a long while to make a run for a championship. With that said, they must do whatever they can to maintain this. At times, this may require changing the lineup to suit certain players, or resting players to ensure their health. As a result of this, a term that will come up quite often during the Yanks’ season is that of ‘personal catcher’.
“What is a personal catcher?”, you may ask. Essentially, it is a catcher that catches one specific pitcher. The concept of a personal catcher is not necessarily common in the sport of baseball. Rarely is this used, and generally only on elite players. This has been seen in the past with batteries such as Jon Lester and David Ross or R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole.
This is relevant to the Yanks because of the connection between starting catcher Gary Sanchez and star pitcher Gerrit Cole. Last season, Cole’s ERA was significantly higher when throwing to Sanchez than it was compared to any other catcher. In order to remedy this, manager Aaron Boone employed backup Kyle Higashioka to do the job. This paid dividends, as Cole’s ERA dropped dramatically with Higashioka monitoring the backstop.
The question remains whether or not the Yanks should employ this strategy again this year. On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer. If Cole pitches better with Higashioka, why not play him? However, it is not as simple as this. Higashioka is not a stellar offensive player. Granted, Sanchez had a down year last year, which made the decision to play Higashioka at catcher a lot easier for Boone in 2020. If Sanchez is able to bounce back to his 2019 form in which he recorded an OPS of .841, this complicates the decision. Boone will essentially have to choose between Sanchez’s offense and Cole’s pitching.
While this may seem like a difficult choice, it really isn’t. Sanchez’s career-best Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 3.9, which occurred all the way back in 2017. In contrast, Cole has elapsed this mark three times in his career, doing so twice since 2017. WAR is one of the best statistics available for determining a player’s worth on the diamond.
Stats don’t lie, and it is clear that Gerrit Cole’s pitching is more valuable to the Yanks than Gary Sanchez’s hitting. For that reason, Aaron Boone should look to Higashioka to catch every time it’s Cole’s turn to take the mound. Besides, Sanchez will probably only miss one in every five starts, and it will be at the cost of optimizing the Yanks’ $324 million dollar man.