If not for Kyle Higashioka, Corey Kluber probably never would have thrown a no-hitter for the New York Yankees.
Kyle Higashioka and Corey Kluber will now be forever synonymous with the New York Yankees and May 19, 2021. Kluber pitched excellently en route to a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers, and the veteran backup Higashioka was behind the plate.
Except, Kyle Higashioka isn’t so much the Yankees’ backup catcher anymore. Gary Sanchez’s struggles have continued, and New York has since shifted to the two basically splitting catching duties 50-50. This means Higashioka isn’t just Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher anymore, and he’s actually been behind the plate for Kluber’s last five starts.
Kluber is 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA over that stretch, and I’ll go a step further.
Without Kyle Higashioka, Corey Kluber probably wouldn’t have thrown a no-hitter.
It’s all about the framing
Kluber’s no-hitter in its entirety may be seen here, but let’s break down just how good he was on Wednesday. He threw 101 pitches, 71 for strikes. Yet, only 25 of those pitchers were for called strikes. The rest were all swinging, foul balls, or in play.
This brings the conversation back to Kyle Higashioka. He’s receiving more playing time not just because Gary Sanchez’s hitting struggles have returned, but because he’s a far superior pitch-framer. Remember, Sanchez has worked with catching coach Tanner Swanson on using a one-knee stance so as to improve his framing.
Here’s the problem. Even with the clear defensive improvement, Sanchez’s framing is still just in the 33rd percentile.
Higashioka’s, meanwhile, is in the 98th percentile and he has a strike rate of 54.1% this year compared to Sanchez’s 46.5%.
Kluber’s perfect match
It’s also worth noting that, unlike Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber doesn’t throw hard. He never has. His career fastball velocity averages to just 92.6 mph and in 2021, it’s down to 90.8 mph.
Furthermore, Kluber has also moved away from the fastball this year and throws it less than 30% of the time, per FanGraphs. With so many offspeed and breaking pitches being thrown, he needs a catcher who can frame them accordingly to steal a strike.
But Kyle Higashioka’s impact on Corey Kluber can be measured in even simpler terms despite all of the stats cited above. When Gary Sanchez is behind the plate, Kluber has a 4.91 ERA.
With Higashioka, Kluber’s ERA shrinks to 2.29. In other words, don’t expect this pairing to disappear anytime soon.
It’s all there, folks. If not for Kyle Higashioka, Corey Kluber probably doesn’t pitch a no-hitter in Texas, or at all.