CHRIS STEWART, CATCHER
|Born: February 19, 1982
Drafted: 12th Round, 373rd Overall, 2001 (White Sox)
How Acquired: Trade from Yankees for Kyle Haynes
College: Riverside (CA) CC
Agent: Jim Kuzmich
WTM’S PLAYER PROFILE
|Stewart is a classic no-hit, good-glove backup catcher. He has a very good defensive reputation: he threw out over 40% of base stealers in the minors and, at the time the Pirates acquired him, an above-average 33% in the majors. He also appears to have exceptional pitch-framing abilities, based both on his reputation and on pitch framing data. The latter shows him to be one of the best catchers in baseball at turning balls into strikes. At the plate, he does little beyond draw the occasional walk while not striking out much. After signing Brian McCann, the Yankees were expected to non-tender Stewart, but the Pirates reached a deal for him.
Stewart signed too late to play out of junior college in 2001, so the White Sox sent him to advanced rookie ball in 2002. He held his own at the plate and showed the defensive skills he’s always had, throwing out 44% of base stealers.
The Sox jumped Stewart up to high A and he struggled at the plate, although he at least showed good strike zone judgment.
Stewart continued to struggle at the plate in AA, but Baseball America rated him the best defensive catcher in the Sox’ system.
The Sox sent Stewart back to AA and he improved dramatically at the plate, while also throwing out 52% of base stealers. After the season, BA rated him the Sox’ #19 prospect.
Stewart spent most of the year in AAA and retained some of his hitting improvement from the year before. He played only briefly in a September callup. During the off-season, the White Sox traded him to Texas.
Stewart spent the first two+ months of the season with the Rangers as a seldom-used backup. In mid-June they sent him to AAA, where he played only part-time. He went back to struggling at the plate. The Rangers outrighted Stewart to AAA after the season.
Texas released Stewart at the end of spring training and he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. They called him up for two days at the end of April, then optioned him to AAA, where he spent the rest of the season. In mid-season, the Yankees designated him for assignment, but he immediately signed a minor league deal to stay with New York. After the season he became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox.
In spring training, the White Sox traded Stewart to the Yankees and he spent the season with their AAA affiliate. After the season he signed a minor league deal with the Padres.
Stewart did half the catching for the Padres’ AAA affiliate. They called him up briefly in September when they needed a catcher and he got into two games, but didn’t get to the plate. The Padres designated him for assignment after the season and he signed with the Giants.
Stewart opened in AAA, but the Giants called him up in May when Buster Posey went out for the year. He spent the rest of the season as their #2 catcher. Stewart didn’t do much at the plate, but he threw out 39% of base stealers.
At the start of the season, the Giants traded Stewart to the Yankees and he spent the season, perhaps prophetically, as Russell Martin’s backup.
Stewart made the Yankees’ roster and ended up as their principal catcher for much of the season when Francisco Cervelli got hurt. Stewart’s hitting was almost non-existent.
Stewart spent the year backing up Russell Martin, although the start of his season was delayed a few weeks by minor knee surgery. He surprised with the bat, flirting with .300 late in the year, although his average was buoyed by an unsustainable BABIP of .364. He didn’t hit for any power. Stewart’s defense didn’t always seem quite as good as advertised. He threw out 23% of base stealers, compared to Russell Martin’s 39%. He had two more passed balls than Martin in less than 40% of the playing time, although the pitchers were charged with wild pitches at a slightly lower rate than with Martin catching. (Of course, it’s probably not fair to compare a backup catcher with Martin.)
Stewart was slated to spend 2015 as the backup to Cervelli, although the Pirates expect him to play more than he did with Martin on the team. He opened the season on the disabled list due to a hamstring injury he suffered during spring training, but he joined the team in mid-April after a rehab. He ended up playing only slightly more than the previous year, as Cervelli quickly established himself as an above average all-around catcher. Stewart continued to show outstanding pitch framing skills, but his defensive play was disappointing otherwise, in some ways. He threw out 24% of base stealers, which was a shade better than Cervelli, and committed only one passed ball, but he had nine errors, many of them throws, in limited playing time. For much of the season, Stewart was the personal catcher for Gerrit Cole, but the Pirates seemed to be trying to get away from that late in the year. At the plate, Stewart again rode a high BABIP (.348) to a good batting average. The high BABIP may be sustainable, as Stewart’s approach has been simply to try to make contact and get the ball through or over the infield. Batted ball data such as exit velocity shows that he hit the ball less hard than any other player in MLB. The tradeoff for the good average, of course, is a lack of power and low walk rate.
Stewart was eligible for arbitration again after the 2015 season, but signed a two-year extension with a team option for a third year. He ended up having an injury-plagued season. He was hit with a variety of minor problems, including head and foot injuries that kept him out briefly, but the recurring problem was with his left knee. The injuries were especially harmful because Cervelli missed a chunk of the season due to a hamate injury, leaving the Pirates with Erik Kratz and Eric Fryer behind the plate. Stewart finally went on the disabled list in early July, started a lengthy rehab in early August, and was called up in early September. The Pirates knew from the time he went out that he was probably going to need surgery, but he was determined to put it off until after the season. As it turned out, Stewart played three games in September and went on the 60-day disabled list on September 13, ending his season. When he played during the season, he was less useful on offense and possibly slipped on defense. The high BABIPs that sustained him in 2014-15 came to an end, as he dropped to .244, although he made up for it somewhat with a higher walk rate. Pitch framing data showed him to have fallen to below-average, although it’s uncertain how valuable such data is with a small sample size. He threw out 27% of base stealers, exactly league average and better than Cervelli’s 18%. The error problem from the previous year largely went away, as he committed only two in two-thirds the number of innings.
Stewart again spent the season as the Pirates’ backup catcher. With Francisco Cervelli missing half the season with injuries, Stewart had some stretches of semi-regular play, especially in August, but this time Elias Diaz stayed healthy. When Cervelli was out, Diaz got some of the playing time. In the end, Stewart got 40 starts behind the plate. His hitting pretty much collapsed, although oddly he did hit his only two career triples. On defense, he continued to be a good pitch framer and he threw out 23% of base stealers, which was a little better than Cervelli and not as good as Diaz. After September 1, even though Cervelli was out for the year, Stewart started only three times, as Diaz became the regular.
Stewart has an option for 2018, but the lack of playing time in September is a good indication that it won’t be exercised. Nor should it be, as the Pirates can’t afford even a backup catcher who provides as little offense as Stewart. Among other things, he managed to drive in only four runs in 144 plate appearances. In addition, Diaz has no options left, although it’s not at all clear he’s an adequate answer either.
|2018: $1,500,000 (team option with $250,000 buyout)
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2002
MLB Debut: 9/6/2006
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2016
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2005
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2006, 2007, 2008)
MLB Service Time: 6.091
|June 5, 2001: Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 12th round, 373rd overall; signed on August 18, 2001.
November 18, 2005: Contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox.
January 12, 2007: Traded by the Chicago White Sox to the Texas Rangers for John Lujan.
October 15, 2007: Outrighted to AAA by the Texas Rangers.
March 27, 2008: Released by the Texas Rangers.
April 3, 2008: Signed as a minor league free agent with the New York Yankees.
April 28, 2008: Called up by the New York Yankees.
June 30, 2008: Designated for assignment by the New York Yankees.
July 2, 2008: Became a free agent and signed as a minor league free agent with the New York Yankees.
November 3, 2008: Became a free agent.
December 16, 2008: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Chicago White Sox.
March 22, 2009: Traded by the Chicago White Sox to the New York Yankees for future considerations.
November 9, 2009: Became a free agent.
December 17, 2009: Signed as a minor league free agent with the San Diego Padres.
September 18, 2010: Called up by the San Diego Padres.
October 6, 2010: Designated for assignment by the San Diego Padres; became a free agent on October 8.
January 15, 2011: Signed as a minor league free agent with the San Francisco Giants.
May 26, 2011: Called up by the San Francisco Giants.
April 4, 2012: Traded by the San Francisco Giants to the New York Yankees for George Kontos.
December 2, 2013: Traded by the New York Yankees to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Kyle Haynes.