Player update: The case for Kyle Higashioka
The Yankees have chosen to Get Higgy with it -- as they’ve made the decision to largely start Kyle Higashioka as their starting catcher.
|Photo credit: MLB.com|
Following the 2020 season in which Gary Sanchez bat an embarrassing .147 with a 70 OPS+, Higashioka, who spent over a decade in the minor leagues, found himself earning the job of Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.
But Higgy didn’t only prove himself behind the dish. While earning his time working with Cole and making other, more frequent game appearances, Higgy logged a .250 batting average, with four home runs, 10 RBIs and a 107 OPS+. On a 60-game season, with limited appearances, that’s nothing to sniff at -- especially since that statistic includes his three-home run game in September 2020 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Regardless, it’s difficult to call the 2020 season a “breakout season” for any MLB player just by virtue of its limited length. However, 2021 has the makings of calling itself the Year of Higgy. Especially since Aaron Boone announced that Higgy won’t only be in games in which Cole is pitching. While Boone hasn’t officially announced that Sanchez has lost his job as starting catcher, that was pretty much the implication.
Kyle Higashioka will be getting more playing time. Aaron Boone said that he had a conversation with Gary Sanchez about the situation.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 27, 2021
Aaron Boone on Kyle Higashioka getting the start tonight over Gary Sánchez:— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) April 27, 2021
"He's just earned more playing time. Simple as that."
Kyle Higashioka 2-for-2 with a HR tonight after Aaron Boone said that he's earned more playing time.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 28, 2021
Even prior to the announcement of more work for Higgy, he showed up for the Bombers in “clutch situations.” Facing the Blue Jays once again back in April, working as Cole’s personal catcher, Higgy delivered another multi-home run game. According to STATS, he also made history as the “first catcher in MLB history to with three multi-homer games within his first dozen career home runs.”
As for Sanchez, well, we can let this statistic speak for itself (and no, this stat doesn’t only count games when Cole has started). Please note, this stat was released prior to the May 6th loss to the Astros, a loss that came at no fault of Higgy’s.
The Yankees are 6-2 in games Kyle Higashioka has started this season and 5-11 when he does not start— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) April 29, 2021
Speaking of the May 6th loss, Gary Sanchez found himself as the lone bench player, unable to fill in for any position when both Aaron Hicks and Gio Urshela found themselves hurting. So, Sanchez couldn’t even find playing time off the bench. Not to mention… on the WFAN broadcast of that same game, John Sterling referred to Sanchez as the “backup catcher.” Oooh, burn.
The talent of Sanchez cannot be denied. However… the hopes are high for Higgy, and they’re well-earned. While no one player can have a great game every game, Higgy’s improvement over the past two seasons has landed him in the spot that he’s in. Yes, his performance during the all-important Astros series was dull. Yes, Sanchez finally hit a home run against the Nationals on May 7th. But one home run does not make up for an otherwise quiet bat since… opening day. And Higgy countered with a home run of his own, against Max Scherzer no less, in yesterday's 4-3 extra-innings victory. Consistency is key, and Higgy is proving that fact.