Chris Stewart Could Be a Viable Option for the Pirates


Typically, not a lot of attention is paid to the backup catcher. At most, he may appear in 50 to 55 games during the season, and will hopefully produce enough where the starting catcher is not completely missed. However, when the nominal starting catcher is not exactly a given, then the backup could play a lot more often, finding himself with a lot brighter spotlight than normal.

That is where the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves right now with Chris Stewart. Currently slated to back up yet another Yankees castoff in Francisco Cervelli, who only has one season with over 300 plate appearances in his career and quite the injury history. Even if Cervelli is healthy, aside from an ability to get on base, his offensive profile is not exactly anything special.

Granted, neither is Stewart. In fact, prior to last season, Chris Stewart likely hit like Kristen Stewart, that female version of Christopher Walken from the Twilight movies. Prior to the 2014 season, Stewart had a less than robust .214/.287/.288 batting line, “good” for an OPS+ of 60. Those numbers are pretty close to the career marks of Brent Morel, who no one wants to see anywhere near the lineup.

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Something changed for Stewart when he got to Pittsburgh. Instead of his usual Morellian batting line, Stewart actually produced, putting together a .294/.362/.331 batting line. Granted, it was in a small sample size of 154 plate appearances, and Stewart has virtually no power to speak of, but for that one season, he was actually useful at the plate.

So, what prompted this turnaround? Well, Chris Stewart had a .364 batting average on balls in play last season, far above his previous career mark of .238. Stewart also hit a line drive in 30% of his at bats last year, a stark increase from his career 15% rate. Not only was Stewart squaring up the ball, but he was getting these hits to fall in.

Obviously, the rates from last season would not appear to be sustainable. However, if Stewart can continue to hit the ball well, and continue to look somewhat competent at the plate, he could be in for a much greater role than the typical backup backstop, especially given Cervelli’s fragility.

Chris Stewart could see a bit more playing time than expected, and that may not be a bad thing. If he can continue to produce like the Chris Stewart of last year, the Pirates may well find themselves with a decent catching situation.

Next: Francisco Cervelli is Looking to Prove he is a Starter