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Maybe Austin Romine isn’t all that bad?

Laugh. Go ahead, get it out of your system. I’m aware that the title of this piece seems totally ridiculous. Suspend your ridicule for just a few minutes and play along as I reach to find some of the redeeming qualities of the Yankees’ backup catcher, Austin Romine. There must a reason that he hasn’t been cast aside yet, right?

There’s one reason why many want to get rid of Romine: his hitting. Normally, the backup catcher’s run production isn’t really a big deal. However, in Romine’s case, it reached such a low in 2017 that many are understandably fed up. I was at that point too!

The 29-year-old mustered a .218/.272/.293 batting line last year, which is not pretty. Such a performance doesn’t offer much hope for 2018. Despite this, there hasn’t been a veritable rumor regarding the Yankees moving on from Romine.

So, what are the Yankees missing? Nothing, actually. I posit that they are higher on Romine’s bat than the consensus. That isn’t to say that the Yankees believe he’s an excellent hitter, but rather, one that can be tolerated in the lineup occasionally throughout the season.

Here’s where I’m going to tell you to ignore Romine’s admittedly hideous triple-slash line. That’s right, just throw it out and forget about it. Romine is not that bad of a hitter. He should never be mistaken for a good offensive player, but Romine was incredibly unlucky in 2017. He was so unfortunate, in fact, that he had the second largest unfavorable differential between his actual wOBA and expected wOBA.*

Player Name wOBA xwOBA Differential
Miguel Cabrera 0.322 0.374 -0.052
Austin Romine 0.253 0.297 -0.044
Hyun Soo Kim 0.274 0.312 -0.038
Kendrys Morales 0.326 0.359 -0.033
Mitch Moreland 0.335 0.366 -0.031

*Minimum 200 at-bats

Instead of what appeared to be an abominable offensive performance, Romine’s batted ball quality instead described a tad below average showing (league average xwOBA was .311). In a vacuum, being a below average hitter isn’t anything to write home about. Yet, for a reserve catcher, it’s just fine. Expect better results in 2018, even if it means Romine is merely sub-par in the batter’s box.

Of course, looking at xwOBA alone in order to be comfortable with Romine in the lineup for 30 to 40 games is insufficient. Looking further, there are a couple of factors that make Romine’s tough luck story believable. When I identified a few under the radar infield options last week, Romine happened to come up during my research. As a refresher, in 2017, 33.5% of all batted balls were hit 95 miles per hour or faster. Romine exceeded that, doing so 35.6% of the time. The problem is that he didn’t make the most of that rate because of a 7.3-degree average launch angle.

From an optimistic perspective, that launch angle signals room for growth. For his career, Romine has been a groundball hitter, and his launch angle last year confirms as much. Maybe it’s something that can never be resolved, but it seems like dozens of other hitters have adjusted their swings for the better, so why not Romine? He’s hitting the ball hard enough, so a little more lift could benefit him.

I briefly touched on this point earlier, but let me reiterate it: offense from a backup catcher isn’t usually high priority. In spite of that, Romine appeared to be pushing the limits of the acceptable bare minimum. Even though Romine has a solid defensive reputation (though it’s probably a tad overrated thanks to Nichols’ Law) and a strong relationship with the pitching staff, his hitting appeared to be a negative that was too much to overcome. After examining closer, Romine’s hitting should be bearable and I’m satisfied with him entering this season as Sanchez’s caddy. I know, I can’t believe I said it either.

You know it’s been a tedious winter when you resort to playing devil’s advocate for Austin Romine.

wOBA, xwOBA, Exit Velocity, and Launch Angle via Baseball Savant

Photo credit / Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

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