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Austin Romine and the Negative OPS+ Club

In his own (negative) way, Austin Romine is having a season for the ages.

Jason Szenes

On Friday night, Yankees backup catcher Austin Romine did a rare thing (for him, anyway) – he hit a fair baseball out of the reach of all nine opposing fielders. In fact, he hit the ball so out-of-reach that he found time to run all the way to second base. So rare was this kind of hit for Romine that he wasn't quite sure what to call it, so he named it a "two-base."

"Did you see me hit that two-base?", he said to his teammates as he returned to the dugout. His teammates didn't have the heart to correct him.

In other words, Romine has been bad at the plate this year. Worse than bad, really. That "two-base" lifted his adjusted OPS+ from -16 all the way to -7. Keep in mind that OPS+ is adjusted so that a score of 100 is league average. Babe Ruth holds the single-season Yankee record with a 255 OPS+ in 1920, a feat unmatched in baseball history outside the era of Barry Bonds and the Kingdom of the Bloated Skull. That negative number means our man Romine is hitting over 100% below league-average, an "accomplishment" matched by very few non-pitchers in Yankees history.

At the moment, Romine is part of a very exclusive club – only nine Yankee position players have managed a negative OPS+ over 50-plus plate appearances. Why is 50 PA the cutoff? Because 50 is where we separate the men (who can't hit) from the boys (who can't hit). Usually a player with such an anemic offensive output (like, say, Reid Brignac and his -26 OPS+) will be jettisoned before 50 PA, but there are a few rare souls that, for whatever reason (desperation, blackmail), hit poor enough for long enough to join the ranks of the Negative OPS+ Club:

Rk Player Year PA OPS+ G AB R H 2B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG Pos
1 Austin Romine 2013 61 -7 25 58 6 8 3 0 0 17 .138 .153 .190 *2
2 Dale Sveum 1998 64 -3 30 58 6 9 0 0 4 16 .155 .203 .155 *3/5D
3 Paul Zuvella 1986 57 -23 21 48 2 4 1 0 5 4 .083 .170 .104 *6
4 Walt Williams 1974 56 -30 43 53 5 6 0 0 1 10 .113 .127 .113 79/D
5 Tom Shopay 1969 50 -30 28 48 2 4 0 0 2 10 .083 .120 .125 /79
6 Art Lopez 1965 51 -13 38 49 5 7 0 0 1 6 .143 .160 .143 9/7
7 Benny Bengough 1923 58 -5 19 53 1 7 2 0 4 2 .132 .193 .170 *2
8 Angel Aragon 1917 50 -41 14 45 2 3 1 0 2 2 .067 .106 .089 /7586
9 Bill McKechnie 1913 124 -2 45 112 7 15 0 0 8 17 .134 .198 .134 *4/65
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/23/2013.

Now the first rule of Negative OPS+ Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT NEGATIVE OPS+ CLUB, but there are a few interesting tidbits here I'd like to discuss:

- Before Romine, the last member of the club was Dale Sveum in '98. Please raise your hand if you remembered that Dale Sveum was ever a part of the '98 Yankees. The idea that the winningest team in the history of baseball had a card-carrying Negative OPS-er is mind-boggling. Sveum played 30 games during that season until he was cut loose in early August. The Yankees' record in those 30 Dale Sveum games: 24-6. God, I miss that team.

- You might expect that the Yankees carried most of these dead-weight players during some of their leaner years, but that isn't exactly true. Two of the Yankee teams on this list won the World Series ('98, '23) and two others finished the year with winning records ('74, '86).

- Paul Zuvella sucked.

- Considering that this is the 100th anniversary of his magical 124 PA, -2 OPS+ season, I'm expecting that "Yankeeography: Bill McKechnie" episode any day now.

- If you think El Duque was the first Cuban to play for the Yankees, you're off by a mere 84 years. Angel Aragon first suited up for New York in 1914 – a full 12 years before Fidel Castro was born. Given his pitiful play in 1917, perhaps it's not that surprising the Yankees shied away from Cubans for the next eight and a half decades.

- Officially, only one member of the club has an intentional walk to his credit: Tom Shopay, in 1969. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that he was hitting in front of the pitcher.

- Only one other catcher besides Romine? I'm shocked. It's almost as if the Yankees used to have a lot of good offensive catchers. Perhaps they should look into getting some more.

What does all this mean for Romine? Not much. There's a fairly good chance that he pulls his OPS+ out of the Negative Zone in the near future. But if he can't find a few more hits and walks before someone (JR Murphy, Francisco Cervelli) takes his spot, then he will cement his place in one of the most disreputable clubs in Yankees history. Here's hoping Sveum and Zuvella teach him the secret handshake.

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