Finding Fan Favorites: Garrett Stubbs has made a career out of being unique
We have many privileges as students at the prestigious University of Southern California.
But there’s one privilege you may not realize that we have: the privilege of calling the most unique catcher in baseball one of our alumni.
Garrett Stubbs is unlike any catcher you’ve ever seen.
Attentive Trojan baseball fans were clued into this during Stubbs’s senior season at USC in 2015. All of his traditional hitting stats were amazing. He ranked fifth in the Pac-12 with a .346 batting average, fourth in on base percentage at .435, fifth in runs (51) and seventh in doubles (15).
But the traditional, expected stats are besides the point. What set Stubbs apart that season were his stolen base and sacrifice hit totals. Stubbs was second in the Pac-12 with a whopping 27 steals and tied for the league lead with 17 sacrifice bunts.
Both of these remarkable stats showcase skills that catchers are not expected to be good at.
First, it’s remarkable to think that Stubbs was the best hitter on the team, and yet, he was unselfish and skilled enough to lead the Pac-12 in sacrifice bunts, which enormously helped the rest of the Trojans convert their offensive opportunities.
In addition, catchers tend to be slower than the average MLB player because of the toll that squatting takes on their knees and legs. Plus, catcher is the most difficult position to play physically and mentally. Catchers need to practice their defensive skills more than other positions, which leads to less proficiency at skills such as baserunning.
Always an anomaly, Stubbs was able to become an elite baserunner despite the demands of his position.
In no way did that come at the expense of his catching skills.
Stubbs was as good as it gets behind the dish, throwing out 52.8% of potential base stealers and making only three errors in 468 chances.
How good are those numbers?
Good enough to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Awards committees across the country noticed Stubbs’ numbers as well. He even won the Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in college baseball.
Somehow, the MLB regarded college baseball’s best catcher as only the 229th best player in his draft class. The Houston Astros made him the 229th overall pick in the eighth round of the MLB draft.
Nevertheless, Stubbs has been working ever since his draft day to prove his worth as a player, and when he has gotten an opportunity, he has been fun to watch.
If anything, Stubbs proved he was more unique as a pro than in college. He has developed to play outfield now as well, which is totally out of the ordinary for catchers. Most catchers can only play first base if they play the field at all, but Stubbs has gone above and beyond that.
In general, Stubbs has filled an incredible amount of different roles in his young major league career. He has appeared as a catcher, left fielder, right fielder, pinch hitter and, most remarkably, a pinch runner in his MLB career. Stubbs had the highest sprint speed of American league catchers in 2019 and 2021.
Stubbs has also maintained his elite defense, throwing out 41% of potential base stealers in his pro career and four out of nine would be base stealers in his major league time.
Despite all of this, he never carved out a regular role on the Astros. He spent 2019-2021 shuttling back and forth between the minors and majors, never sticking around long.
Luckily, another team recognized his value and knew they could snag him from the Astros. The Philadelphia Phillies traded for Stubbs this past offseason to make him their backup catcher.
It seems that in Philadelphia, Stubbs has finally found a more permanent MLB home. He made the 2022 opening day roster and has shined in his opportunities so far this season, boasting a .400 batting average so far.
While Stubbs might not be the youngest or flashiest up and coming player in baseball, he certainly is one of the most unique. He possesses a range of skills that few, if any, other players in the majors have.
Next time you are checking the stats of your favorite players, or you’re looking for an MLB game to watch, check in on Garrett Stubbs. He simply does a lot of things at a high level on a baseball field, and high-level baseball is beautiful to watch.
Plus, he’s going to be battling it out in a red helmet and catcher’s gear similar to a suit of armor. It doesn’t get more Trojan than that.
Ethan Inman is a freshman writing about exceptional USC athletic alumni who are relatively unknown despite their achievements. His column, “Finding Fan Favorites,” ran every other Thursday.