Austin Romine isn’t Gary Sanchez. But he can be a valuable piece of the lineup if the New York Yankees give him the chance.
Gary Sanchez has given the New York Yankees a stability in a catching role starting at a young age and looks to be a cornerstone of a whole new dynasty. But what is a starting catcher without a reliable backup?
Austin Romine can be the backup catcher of this team’s dreams. No, he doesn’t have Sanchez’s brute strength, put on display during his 33-home run season last year. That’s not his fault—Romine just isn’t that guy.
His numbers last year were ugly. He played in 80 games last season, resulting in a lackluster .218/.272/.293 slash line with just two home runs. Defensively, he appeared at catcher in 67 of those games, compiling a pretty impressive .998 fielding percentage, making one error in the process.
However, perhaps these numbers will impress you a little bit more. In 2017, Romine batted .314 in the month of April, driving in 10 runs in 17 games. Over 19 June games, he hit .250 with seven RBI.
What do these two months have in common? They were both months when Romine received consistent at-bats and the only months last season where he participated in more than 12 games.
In April, Romine had 57 plate appearances and in June, he had 60 plate appearances. His next highest monthly total? 35 plate appearances in September.
He got significantly more playing time in April due to Sanchez’s bicep strain and June saw Sanchez struggling defensively and, thus, spending more time as a DH. While nobody wishes injury on Sanchez, the fact is that Romine produces when he gets regular at-bats.
Let’s look at his overall batting average and plate appearances by month.
The pattern is there. The more at-bats he has, the higher his batting average tends to be. Now, let’s look at individual samples from April.
From April 10-16, Romine played in four straight games against the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals. In those games, Romine went 6-for-14, hitting .429 in the process.
Once Sanchez returned from injury, Romine was back to playing every five days or so, and it showed in his numbers.
From May 7-31, Romine played in only seven games, starting six of those. A lack of playing time killed his production, as he batted .077 (2-for-26) with nine strikeouts.
Many will say, “So what are we supposed to do with these numbers? You’re talking about really small sample sizes!”
If we know that giving Romine more consistent at-bats sees his production increase—and if he’s the better defensive catcher—it makes sense to give Sanchez some more time as the DH.
It’s worked so far this spring. Romine has played in 15 of 30 games so far this spring and is batting .406 with four RBI. He is also tied for second on the team in hits.
Unless an asteroid crashes into the Earth, Sanchez is going to get the bulk of the starts behind the dish. That’s how it should be.
But Romine shouldn’t be viewed as someone who belongs firmly glued to the bench, encased in glass that reads “Only Break In Case Of Emergency.”
With some more regular playing time—and a boost of confidence from his manager—Romine could be one of the X-factors that helps the Yankees reach the promised land in 2018.