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2017 Yankees Season Review: Austin Romine

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The Yankees’ backup catcher did not have a strong 2017, but he remained in the headlines nonetheless.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

For most teams, the status of the backup catcher is of little consequence. As ever, the Yankees aren't like most teams. The Yankees, surrounded by the New York media cauldron and cheered on by a demanding fan base, will be scrutinized heavily, at times beyond fathom. In 2017, Austin Romine, of all people, ended up receiving plenty of attention, thanks to the scrutiny placed on the player ahead of him on the depth chart, Gary Sanchez.

Romine is a nondescript ballplayer, and he had a largely nondescript 2017 in terms of on-field performance. Even so, his season was an eventful one, as the idea that he should be starting, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, was an idea that proved difficult to extinguish.

Indeed, Romine's 2017 will largely be remembered (to the extent that one remembers the individual seasons of a reserve backstop) for Sanchez's penchant for passed balls. Sanchez led the American League in passed balls, allowing 16 across 880 innings behind the plate.

This led to countless headlines. Fans and analysts alike called for Romine to start at catcher over Sanchez due to Sanchez's perceived inability to handle his defensive duties. Things came to a head when Joe Girardi actually gave in and started Romine in Game 4 of the ALCS.

Amidst all the Romine-Sanchez hysteria, it would be easy to assume that this was some sort of difficult decision that warranted the kind of breathless drama it inspired. A cursory look at Romine's numbers this year (and in preceding years) quickly debunks that notion.

Romine was as replaceable as ever in 2017, posting a miserable .218/.272/.293 slash line. His 49 OPS+ was a career-worst. He rated as below replacement level by rWAR, fWAR, and WARP. None of this was surprising, and instead mostly matched his career norms.

Despite this, Romine's 2017 season was defined by the impression that maybe he should start for the New York Yankees. Not All-Star Gary Sanchez, he of the 53 home runs in just 177 career games, the career 138 OPS+, and strong advanced defensive numbers across the board, even acknowledging his struggles with blocking passed balls.

To be fair, Romine did have some other highlights in 2017. Most notably, he got into a shoving match at home plate with Miguel Cabrera at the end of August, a fight that devolved into a bench-crawling brawl, resulting in suspensions for both Romine and Sanchez.

In terms of positive highlights that actually helped the Yankees win games, however, Romine mostly came up short in 2017. He hit very poorly, and didn't profile as a strong defender at the dish. He was a backup catcher.

That Romine was often treated as a better option to actually start over a potential star like Sanchez is not at all his fault. Romine didn't ask for Sanchez to have one peculiar, particularly noticeable weakness. He didn't ask for the media and the fans to react to that weakness with fire and brimstone. Romine can't be blamed for the fact that 2017 was an oddly stressful year when it came to the Yankees' catching situation.

He can be blamed, though, for the fact that he's not very good. He may very well continue to be the Yankees' not-very-good backup, as he's only 28 and still has two years of team control remaining. Should the Yankees stick with him and opt against seeking a different second-string catcher, it wouldn't be the end of the world. It would be a different story if the Romine-Sanchez passed ball storyline somehow continued beyond 2017.