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Chris Stewart a defensive boon for Yankees...passed balls aside

Yankees catcher Chris Stewart on picture day during

Yankees catcher Chris Stewart on picture day during spring training at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2013). Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

With two outs and the Yankees trailing 2-0 in Toronto on Wednesday night, Hiroki Kuroda threw a strike to hitter J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia just watched the pitch sail through the zone and would have been the third out of the inning.

But catcher Chris Stewart also watched the pitch sail through the zone.

Stewart, apparently crossed up, failed to glove Kuroda’s offering, resulting in a passed ball. Arencibia ran to first, Stewart committed a throwing error and two more runs scored, burying the Yankees in an early hole they would not crawl out of.

The comedy (tragedy?) or errors aside, passed balls have become an all-to-frequent occurrence for the Yankees this season.

The Yankees and Rockies are tied for the fifth-most passed balls in MLB, allowing 12. Toronto leads baseball by a wide margin with 28, the White Sox check in second with 19 and pennant contenders Detroit and Oakland are tied with 13 each. The Nationals have the fewest in MLB, allowing only three.

The primary culprit for the Yankees has been Stewart, who has eight passed balls in 704.1 innings, three in his last 124.2 innings alone. Austin Romine has allowed four in 344 innings.

This season’s performance has actually been somewhat of an improvement for Stewart, who allowed eight passed balls last season as well, but in only 395.1 innings. Prior to joining the Yankees in 2012, Stewart had allowed five passed balls in 589.2 innings.

The Yankees have committed to Stewart this season in part due to his strong defensive reputation, and in part due to necessity. Certainly not for his bat – Stewart is a career .218 hitter with a .580 on-base plus slugging percentage and has a .220 average this season and .578 OPS.

Passed balls are a very public and very visible error for a catcher to make. So fans can be excused for wondering if Stewart is deserving of his strong defensive reputation.

But advanced stats say we shouldn’t be so quick to turn our backs on the backstop.

- Defensive Runs Saved, the primary defensive metric utilized in the Wins Above Replacement stat places Stewart as fifth best in MLB, among all catchers with at least 700 innings behind the plate. He has five defensive runs saved, placing behind only Welington Castillo (17), Russell Martin (12), Salvador Perez (11) and Yadier Molina (10). This is calculated on

- rSB, an advanced metric that calculates how many “runs” a catcher provides their team by throwing out runners and preventing attempted steals, also shows Stewart in a positive light. He has 2 rSB, tied for fifth in MLB with Miguel Montero, Nick Hundley and Matt Wieters. Leading him are Martin (9), Castillo (4), A.J. Ellis (4) and Perez (3). These numbers can also be found on FanGraphs.

- RPP calculates, again in runs, how good a catcher is at blocking pitches. This is particularly interesting given the passed ball numbers for the Yankees this season. Stewart ranks third in MLB with 3.3, trailing Yadier Molina (5.1), Martin (4.4) and Jonathan Lucroy (3.4). Again – FanGraphs.

- Baseball-Reference helpfully calculates their version of WAR separately for both offense and defense. Using their numbers, Stewart has a -0.1 offensive WAR and 1.2 defensive WAR.

New York Sports