The backup catcher is mainly used as a competent defensive presence that can offer the top dog a break once a week or so. Any offensive production that hovers around league average would be seen as a welcomed bonus, or even a pleasant surprise.
The Yankees experienced that last season when Austin Romine logged an OPS+ of 92, just eight percent below league average at a time when Gary Sanchez was struggling with injuries and a prolonged slump.
This year, it has been a much different story. Romine has been flat-out dreadful at the plate in 2019, and it’s reflected when looking at his numbers among the rest of the league. Warning: the numbers are ugly.
Let’s start with that OPS+, which has plummeted from 92 last year to 31 this year, about a third of the production he created in 2018, which was still below league average. Being 69 (nice) percent below league average is bad even for a backup catcher.
After the Yankees’ series win against the Rays, which saw Romine come in as a pinch hitter and hit a single up the middle against position player-turned-pitcher Daniel Robertson, Romine had logged exactly 100 plate appearances on the season. When compared to the rest of the league among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Romine’s wRC+ of 25 ranks as the fifth-worst in all of baseball, sandwiched between names like Josh Harrison and Garrett Hampson. That’s...not good. Neither is his .212 wOBA, which is sixth-worst in the league among those who qualify.
What’s even worse, Romine can’t hang his hat on hitting into bad baseball luck. Among those bottom 10 names on the wRC+ leaderboard, Romine’s .264 BABIP is the highest of them all. His hard contact rate is fairly similar to last year, and his fly ball rate has increased by five percent, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Romine is getting balls in the air, but they’re not traveling a long way. In fact, his infield fly ball rate has risen from 7 percent last year to 18.5 percent this year, causing his home runs per fly ball percentage to drop from 17.5 to a painful 3.7 percent.
Romine’s dreadful hitting campaign would be easier to swallow if his defense had been solid, but in reality, it’s been simply average. After posting a DRS of six last year, it’s exactly zero this year, meaning exactly league average. What’s more, his framing numbers have dropped from 5.4 to -0.4, now below league average. Let’s just say the Yankees should be glad Sanchez is back to being the best catcher in the game.
Again, it’s not the end of the world given his role with the team, but at this rate, it seems like the Yankees could get better production elsewhere. Of course they’d prefer for Romine to kick it up a notch and pull himself out of this dreadful slump, but for now, it looks like he’s very far off.