I know it is already four months into 2020, but over the next several weeks I will be ranking the players who played the most games at each position for the Yankees over the past 10 years. This means that any player who played the most games at a position in a given year makes the list. And I will be ranking them based on their entire Yankees tenures, not just on a single season. Today, I’m starting with catchers.
Since 2010, there have been five catchers who fit the above criteria — not one of whom is Jorge Posada, who retired after the 2011 season.
5. Chris Stewart (best Yankees season by WAR: 2013, 2.7 WAR)
What a season 2013 was. Here’s the Opening Day starting lineup:
Brett Gardner, CF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Robinson Cano, 2B
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Vernon Wells, LF
Ben Francisco, DH
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Jayson Nix, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
While Cervelli was the Opening Day catcher, Chris Stewart played the most games at the position for the 2013 Yankees — he played in 109 games. But he was rather mediocre. In his time in pinstripes, he hit .219 with a paltry OPS+ of 60.
But Stewart was always considered a defensive-minded catcher. He was known to be an excellent pitch framer, but other than that he wasn’t too great. For example, people always got on Gary Sanchez for his poor defense in 2018: 45 wild pitches and 18 passed balls. In 2013, Stewart had 32 wild pitches and 12 passed balls. Not as bad as Sanchez, but J.P. Arencibia led the A.L. that year with 13 passed balls — in 214.1 more innings played.
4. Francisco Cervelli (best Yankees season by WAR: 2014, 2.0 WAR — in just 49 games)
Cervelli brought the energy and was a very good backup for the Yankees over his time in New York. But he ended up edging out Posada for most games started at catcher in 2010, 80 to 78.
Over seven seasons as a Yankee, Cervelli was not bad with the bat, hitting .278 with an OPS+ of 97, right under league-average. He did, however, have an OPS+ of 141 and 127 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. But that was over only a combined 66 games played.
All in all, Cervelli may be remembered more for his somewhat strange workouts rather than his time in the Bronx.
Here's Francisco Cervelli and Atlanta United Striker Josef Martinez doing some sort of wonderfully bizarre yoga/wrestling/interpretive dance thing.
3. Russell Martin (best Yankees season by WAR: 2011, 5.3 fWAR)
The Yankees signed Martin to a one-year deal for the 2011 season, and he was their starting catcher for two seasons. He was still only 28 years old when he came over, but he never was quite the same player that he was his first few seasons in the league with the Dodgers.
Nevertheless, he was an All-Star in 2011, hitting .237 with 18 HR, 57 RBI, and a 100 wRC+. Of course, that does not seem like an All-Star-caliber season, but he ended up with a 5.3 WAR that was second in the A.L. only behind the Orioles’ Matt Welters (5.7 WAR). Martin was slightly worse in 2012, his last season with the team. He had a 3.8 WAR with a 95 wRC+.
He was always a solid defender, with a fielding runs above average (FRAA) of 27.5 and 16.9 in his two seasons with the team. He also was a very good framer, witha 28.4 and 19.7 framing runs above average in those two years.
2. Brian McCann (best Yankees season by WAR: 2014, 3.7 WAR)
After having Chris Stewart be their main catcher in 2013, the Yankees knew they needed an upgrade at the position. They went out and signed a then 29-year-old McCann to a 5-year, $85 million contract.
McCann’s situation was similar to that of Martin: he was still in the prime of his career yet he has regressed a bit over his last couple of seasons. Nevertheless, McCann was solid with the bat in his first season with the Yankees, hitting 23 homers with 75 RBI. While that was his best year WAR-wise, he mustered a below-average 94 wRC+. He was better in 2016 blasting 26 HR and driving in 96 with a wRC+ of 106.
He was below-average defensively. In 2015, he was 41st in the league in runs extra strikes (a framing metric) at -5. He also had a relatively slow pop time of 2.05 seconds. These numbers improved, however, in 2016, going to 0 and 2.04 seconds, respectively.
The Yankees ended up trading him to the Astros three years into his contract for Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman (who was later part of the Giancarlo Stanton deal).
1. Gary Sanchez (best Yankees season by WAR: 2017, 4.3 WAR)
This was a relatively easy choice. Sanchez came up in 2015 and got two plate appearances before absolutely tearing it up in 2016. In case you forgot, he hit .299 with 20 homers and 42 RBI in just 53 games. He had a WAR of 3.1 that year and a wRC+ of 170.
We all know how good Sanchez can be offensively. He has always been a 30+ home run threat. His average has suffered recently, but that is less important in today’s game. Barring his steep drop off in 2018, he was been one of the best offensive catchers in the entire sport.
Unfortunately, his defensive is not up to par with his offense. However, he has improved and there are some elements of his defensive-game that are very good. For example, he has one of the strongest arms in the game, last year average 87.7 MPH on his throws (fourth in the majors). He was also ninth in the majors with a 1.95-second average pop time to second base. His framing could use some work — he ranked 49th in 2019 with a -4 runs extra strikes. Another area where he struggles is blocking pitches. But as aforementioned, he has improved:
Sanchez’s offensive potential puts him as my top Yankees catcher in the last 10 years.