Entering this season, the Yankees essentially planned to punt offense at the catcher position. Kyle Higashioka (lifetime 63 wRC+ through 2021) and Ben Rortvedt (40 wRC+ in 98 MLB plate appearances) were set to share time behind the plate as defense-first backstops while the team showed Gary Sánchez the door. Then, a Rortvedt injury led to the Yankees making what seemed like an innocuous trade: the acquisition of Jose Trevino.
Trevino was cut from the same cloth as Higgy and Rortvedt: a plus defender without much to offer as a hitter. He posted a measly 66 wRC+ in 519 plate appearances for the Rangers pre-trade. Now that he’s donned pinstripes, he’s suddenly hitting like an All-Star: .300/.346/.490 (141 wRC+) in 107 trips to the plate. Where did this come from?
The easy answer, as always, is small sample size noise. It’s just 107 plate appearances, after all. And if you really slice and dice it, the period in which he’s been a great hitter is even shorter:
- Through May 15: 51 PA, .170/.235/.191, .195 BABIP (27 WRC+)
- After May 15: 56 PA, .415/.446/.755, .425 BABIP (245 wRC+)
Trevino inevitably will cool off. That’s baseball. But at the same time, there is some evidence that Trevino is an improved (or at the minimum, a different) hitter.
Stance and Mechanics
Trevino’s made notable changes to his batting stance and hitting mechanics since he came to the Bronx. First, let’s talk about the batting stance:
Trevino’s gone from a closed stance in Texas to a progressively more open one in New York. And as you’ll see in the following video (where I grabbed the first screenshot), he had a tendency to step in the bucket with the Rangers:
Let’s freeze it at a pivotal part:
I’m not a hitting coach or anything remotely close to one, but that looks like a mess to me. His swing is all arms after his front foot steps back, thereby shifting all the weight of his lower half away from the pitch.
Here’s an example of what he looks like this year against a pitch in a similar location:
It’s so much better. He looks much more balanced and doesn’t have to use just his arms to have a chance against this particular pitch (which he hilariously tripled on).
Now, back to last season with the Rangers. Take note of how his hips/butt really stick out towards the visiting dugout as he goes all arms once again:
You’re seeing the same thing I am, right? I really think there’s been a correction to his hitting mechanics. The balance he has at the plate vs. last season is night and day. His lower half is much calmer and allowing him to retain full body balance at the dish.
Let’s look at another video, this time from this May against Baltimore:
I want to talk about his front foot now. In this video, Trevino appears to lift and land his front foot in virtually the same position. No more stepping in the bucket. Ultimately, I think it’s simply much more natural for Trevino to start with this open stance since he had a habit of opening up during his swing with Texas, anyway.
Also worth mentioning: Trevino’s implementing a larger leg kick too. The evidence:
This is another example of how he’s using his lower half more with the Yankees than with the Rangers. Perhaps it’s why he’s already matched his career high home run total (five) after needing 302 plate appearances to do so in 2021.
It’s very clear that there has been an emphasis on getting Trevino’s lower half in a better position to hit. From adjusting his stance from the start to implementing a more significant leg kick, he’s utilizing his lower half far more effectively than before.
For all of the mechanical adjustments discussed, it’s not like Trevino’s suddenly clobbering the ball. His 87.9 MPH average exit velocity is below league average (88.4) and only 0.4 MPH higher than last season (though he recorded an 87.9 mark back in 2020). Trevino’s hard hit rate (34.9%) is actually a career low.
Here’s where things are different (and perhaps for the better): launch angle, pull rate, and chase contact rate.
The 29 year-old backstop is lifting the ball more (12.8 degree launch angle), which is up from 9.5 degrees a season ago. This is particularly important for someone without big exit velocities. Think about it this way: a soft ground ball is much more likely to turn into an out than a soft fly ball (a blooper) or soft liner. Here’s a visualization of how the league performs at Trevino’s average launch angle and exit velocity:
Plenty of balls dunking in front of outfielders, right? And wouldn’t you know it: most of Trevino’s batted balls are in the 85 to 95 MPH range and he fares pretty well in that grouping. Hell, even at marks lower than 85, his batting average remains pretty high:
40.7 percent of Trevino’s batted balls are to the left side, significantly higher than last year (32.6 percent). This is intentional and perhaps a byproduct of his open stance. Of course, we also know the Yankees’ mantra “hit strikes hard”. Well, Trevino has a history of hitting the ball harder to his pull side:
Here’s this year’s chart:
Generally speaking, most hitters post better exit velocities to their pull side, and thereby better results. So, it’s no surprise that Trevino’s going this route too. More hits distributed to the pull side certainly seems to benefit Trevino, so it’s no wonder he’s taken this approach.
Plus, when you consider the videos I included from last season, you can see why the Yankees wanted him to pull the ball more, or rather, go the opposite way less often. He had a bad habit of not using his lower half at all when hitting the ball to right field. Now, not only has he started to use his lower half more, but he’s also avoiding the right side more often.
Chase contact rate
Here’s a weird one: Trevino is chasing 41.4 percent of the time (league rate is 28.3 percent) and making contact on 79.8 percent of those chases (league is 58.4 percent). Last year, Trevino posted 34.2 and 60.3 percent marks, respectively. So, we’re talking about notable jumps year over year.
It’s usually not good to chase, but Trevino is in good company near the top of the out of zone contact leaderboard (min. 100 PA):
- Luis Arráez (87.1)
- Steven Kwan (85.4)
- Nick Madrigal (81.3)
- Alejandro Kirk (80.8)
- José Ramírez (80.7)
- Michael Brantley/Jose Trevino (79.8)
There’s more to it than simply making contact on pitches out of the zone, of course. This led me to wonder if Trevino is a good “bad ball hitter”. As it turns out: yes, he is. Some numbers on batted balls against pitches out of the zone:
Did the Yankees encourage Trevino to be more aggressive? Seems so. There’s a limit to what pitches he should chase, but he’s made the most of the ones he does go after. Some fun examples from this season:
I love how these are three distinct pitches: a fastball way up out of the zone, a sinker running in on his hands, and a breaking ball near the ground. Trevino did damage anyway.
This seems to indicate that Trevino is pretty good barrel control. Perhaps that’s not a huge surprise for a guy who entered this year with a 19.3 percent strikeout rate. To keep a K-rate in the teens during this era of pitching is impressive, even if it comes at the expense of a lifetime 3.5 percent walk rate.
Of course, Trevino’s also turning in career bests in walk (6.5) and strikeout (13.1) rates. He’s somehow turned a more aggressive approach into a higher on-base percentage and fewer strikeouts.
I’d very much love for Trevino to be the Yankees’ latest major league player development success story — similar to what we saw with Gio Urshela, for example. He’s not 141 wRC+ good — regression will come — but there are some adjustments we can point to in the batter’s box along with some key stats in his favor.
Keep in mind that Trevino doesn’t have to be elite offensively to be an incredibly valuable player. Catchers are hitting .221/.291/.359 (86 wRC+), which is an incredibly low bar for Trevino to clear. Yes, his career wRC+ entering this season is worse than that, but there’s a real chance the Yankees have unlocked tangible improvements in his offensive game.
Sure, he’s underperforming some of his xStats (.340 xwOBA vs. .363 actual wOBA), but it’s vital to note that those xStats also don’t account for hit direction. If you prefer Baseball Prospectus’s Deserved hitting metrics, Trevino deserves a .279/.338/.448 batting line, which is a 123 DRC+. Worse than his .300/.346/.490 line? Sure, but still undeniably terrific, especially for a catcher.
All this not to mention that Trevino’s pitch framing numbers are at or near the very top of the majors. He’s the best defensive catcher per FRAA, mainly thanks to topping the leaderboard in framing runs. Statcast has him in the 98th percentile of framing, too.
Last but certainly not least, Trevino’s been a really easy guy to root for. He grew up a Yankees fan and has had some special moments in pinstripes already. Of course, it’s easy to root for a guy who’s hitting this well and doing good things defensively.
I really didn’t think much of the Trevino deal when it happened. It made sense at the time and felt like a placeholder. The Yankees needed another major league catcher with Rortvedt down, and Trevino was defensive minded which is clearly what the Yankees prioritize at the position now. Instead, it’s been a huge upgrade offensively and there’s a chance that Trevino’s improvements are here to stay.