Atlanta Braves sign catcher Chris Stewart to a major league deal

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Stewart
BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Stewart /

On this lovely Valentines day, the Atlanta Braves signed 34 year old Chris Stewart to a major league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

While this isn’t major news, it is news nonetheless. But as I’m sure you’re wondering right now:  Who is Chris Stewart? And why did the Atlanta Braves give him a major league deal?

Stewart is a catcher who has spent his time in the higher parts of the minor leagues and bounced between a few major league teams, but spent 3 years with the New York Yankees and 4 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What surprised me when doing some research into Stewart is that he was among one of the leagues top pitch framing catchers for the past several years:

Stewart’s framing rankings since 2011:

  • 2011 – 9th overall
  • 2012 – 8th overall
  • 2013 – 2nd overall, only behind Jonathan Lucroy
  • 2014 – 20th overall
  • 2015 – 26th overall
  • 2016 – 103rd overall
  • 2017 – 12th overall

2013 was the only season in which he played more than 100 games, and that was the season in which he placed 2nd in pitch framing.  However, Chris Stewart reminds me of modern day Martin Maldonado of the Los Angeles Angels, and a bit of Tyler Flowers.

Why do I make these comparisons?

I say this because Stewart can frame like Flowers and Maldonado, but cannot hit like Flowers or throw runners out like Maldonado.

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All three can frame a baseball, but Stewart cannot produce much at the plate, which is why I compare a part of him to Maldonado. Where Stewart and Maldonado differentiate is with the percentage of runners caught stealing at Maldonado is significantly better than Stewart.

This is also an area where Stewart and Flowers have some similarities. Stewart’s lifetime %CS (% caught stealing) is 29%, which is just above the league average (27-28%) while Flowers’ lifetime %CS is 23% – below league average.  Maldonado’s lifetime %CS is 36%, which is 2% better than Buster Posey.

This being said, Stewart can frame a baseball, but he can’t produce much at the plate and is average when throwing runners out.

Did we mention that Stewart is not much of a threat at the plate?

Stewart’s lifetime slash line in the majors is .230/.298/.293/.590 while his lifetime slash line in the minors is .257/.311/.359/.690.

His Deal

It seems that Stewart insisted on being brought onto the 40-man roster, and this major league deal makes that happen.  However, the flip side is that the $575,000 deal is not guaranteed.  That part is a bit unusual.

This allows the Braves to cut ties with Stewart – which is probably their plan – without having to give him the full year’s salary, though there are termination points – 30 and 45 days prior to Opening Day – at which part of the contract will be payable.

If he happens to make the team coming out of Spring Training, then the money becomes guaranteed.

How do the Braves plan to use Stewart?

Stewart’s purpose is more than likely just to add depth to the roster until Acuna gets promoted. Stewart may start out on the big league roster as a bench piece, but will more than likely swap places with Acuna on the Gwinnett roster sometime in April… if he’s good with staying a Brave in some capacity.

Next: Atlanta Braves ICYMI post: the 2017-18 off-season

Having an veteran catcher with a feasible amount of MLB service time will be a good thing for the Braves in 2018 as he gets to show some of the young catchers in organization ‘how it’s done’.