A popular gripe that’s worth considering

8/23-8/25 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Game 128: Home
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

If the Yankees are serious about successfully completing the Hail Mary pass that is their playoff hopes, they’ll need to win for the remainder of the season. For the first time all season, they’ve had a roster that resembles something competitive, despite still not being at full strength. Last week, Joe discussed a couple ways the team could improve their chances as it pertains to the pitching staff.

Today, I’m here to discuss another idea that seems to be gaining popularity — specifically, upgrading the lineup from within. It’s time for Joe Girardi to give Austin Romine more opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean Romine has to be the full-time catcher after this year; if the team wants to pursue the likes of Brian McCann, by all means, they should. We’re talking right now.

Let’s start with Chris Stewart. Through 277 plate appearances this season, he’s batted .231/.305/.302 (.276 wOBA, 68 wRC+). He’s managed four home runs all season (.070 ISO) and has been valued at 0.8 fWAR. He doesn’t walk a ton and doesn’t strike out a ton, but he also doesn’t really get on base. I’m not claiming he’s a bad catcher, but I don’t think he’s cut out to be the main guy.

It seems pretty clear by this point that the team values his defensive contributions. In terms of fielding metrics, FanGraphs lists him at 4.3 Fld (based on UZR) which is good but not great. Even though I personal question the legitimacy of fielding metrics in general, particularly as they pertain to catchers, I’m willing to concede that Stewart is probably a capable catcher defensively in general (though he has only thrown out 28% of base runners which is slightly below average, and it seems like he’s bobbled more pitches than one would expect out of a defensive-oriented guy).

What’s interesting though about Stewart is that he’s basically been utilized far more this season than he ever has throughout his career at the MLB level. In 2011, he started 67 games with the Giants (183 plate appearances), which was significantly more than he had prior with any of his former teams (the Padres, Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox). This year, he’s already played in 86 games (and counting), and has already accumulated about 100 more plate appearances (and counting). Anecdotally, Stewart has looked gassed at times. If this theory is indeed true, it would make sense that he would be struggling by this point in the season. After all, he does play a very demanding position.

Interestingly enough, Stewart’s splits seem to support this theory to some degree. Through the first half of the year, Stewart produced a .283 wOBA (73 wRC+). While the first half of the season wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, the second half of the year (at least thus far), by comparison, has been considerably worse (.260 wOBA, 57 wRC+). Although Stewart has picked up his production in August, his July was completely abysmal (.200 wOBA, 16 wRC+). Hilariously, his lone home run this month was the first one he hit since May. Although August has been better for Stewart (.316 wOBA, 96 wRC+), he’s also had several more breathers.

On the other hand, Romine is young, healthy, available and has shown increasing value of late. Of course it’s a gamble; I’m sure the fact that he was awful early on in the season hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence in Girardi either. I think the team is in a position though where it has to take risks that could pay off if they’re serious about remaining in the hunt – even if those risks only provide incremental benefit.

Admittedly, Romine’s overall season stats aren’t exactly inspiring (.227/.271/.327, .265 wOBA, 61 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). He’s hit one home run, walks very little (5.0 BB%), strikes out at a fair pace (25.6 K%) and has been graded as below average defensively (-0.2 Fld), though the same caveats about defensive metrics apply to Romine as well, in addition to the small sample size disclaimer (23% caught stealing rate for what that’s worth).

So what’s the draw you may ask? It’s simple; Romine is the hot bat and has been for a while. If he cools off, fine, sub him out without blinking. But for now, take advantage of him and get offense from a position traditionally void of offensive production. During Romine’s eight games started in July, he produced a .385 wOBA (143 wRC+). In August, through eight games he’s improved further (.395 wOBA, 150 wRC+). Am I claiming Romine is the next Posada? Of course not, nor do I have those expectations. I’m just saying give the kid’s bat a chance with more frequency as Stewart really hasn’t giving the team any incentive not too.

Of course, the small sample size disclaimer applies to Romine’s offensive contributions as well. But isn’t it worth considering the idea at this point? At the very least, if Girardi wants to approach this matter conservatively, he could always just level out the playing time between the two catchers rather than giving Romine the starting gig altogether. It may not be desirable for those two players on am emotional level, but it may be what’s best for the team. Changing the roles of Stewart and Romine probably won’t be the ultimate factor that decides the fate of the season, but if it could help, the team should consider it. Unfortunately, it seems like Girardi isn’t quite as sold on the idea.

8/23-8/25 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Game 128: Home
  • JLC 776

    Has anyone considered letting Girardi catch?

    • vicki

      better: tony pena.

      • JGYank

        Posada all day.

        • dkidd


  • roadrider

    Girardi is an automaton who will always go with the experienced never-was over the younger might-be. Doesn’t mean he hasn’t done a good job this season but this is one of his more glaring weaknesses (in-game strategy being another).

    • Steve (different one)

      Kindof like how Cervelli had won the job before he got hurt?

    • trr

      It really does seem that way sometimes, but especially in this particular case –

  • toad

    I think the team is in a position though where it has to take risks that could pay off if they’re serious about remaining in the hunt – even if those risks only provide incremental benefit.

    This gets at the heart of it. For the Yankees to make the postseason is going to take some luck. So they have to take some risks – give themselves chances to be lucky. Using Romine is one way to do that.

    Remember the old joke about the very pious guy with deep financial problems who every week prays desperately for a lottery win, after reciting all his woes – sick wife, failing business, etc.

    One week he hears a deep voice,

    “Goldberg. Help me out. Buy a ticket!”

  • stuart a

    at a minimum split the starts..

    as you said play ROmine if he cools off switch to Stewart, why is that so complicated…

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    Let’s not forget, regarding catching metrics, you’ve got two, long time catchers in the dugout who know exactly what they’re looking at. It does seem logical for Romine to play more, if only to keep Stewart fresh. But let’s let the real experts assess the catchers defensively.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Who invited a voice of reason to the party?

    • toad

      Letting experts assess the catchers is one thing. But if it’s at all close, you need to pick the one who is less, not more, predictable.

      At this point downside doesn’t matter that much. You need upside. However much Girardi knows about catchers, I’m not convinced he understands that.

  • dkidd

    respectfully disagree. offense is no longer the problem. the #1 obstacle to making the playoffs is shaky starting pitching, so if chris stewart helps cc/andy/phil in any way, even a placebo effect, i want him in there

    • WhittakerWalt

      You can never have too much offense. It’s a myth that you can carry a non-hitter in any lineup.

    • Preston

      That’s a fair point, I’d still like to see him play more, even if it was a 60/40 split.

  • RetroRob

    In fairness, Romine did suck when first called up. He obviously was better than what he was showing (ditto for Adams), but it’s hard to toss a kid in as the team’s full-time catcher without him showing some signs of being worthy. And I think many of us are way too dismissive of the pitcher/catcher relationship and familiarity, assuming anyone can put on a catcher’s mitt, sit behind home plate, and that it makes no difference.

    As his hitting has improved of late, Girardi has been playing him more, and my perception is he’s been slowly increasing his playing time progressively. The one hitch is Stewart’s bat has come a bit more alive of late compared to the zero he was showing directly before. That will encourage Girardi to continue to give him playing time.

    I agree with stuart a above. Split the time. If Romine keeps hitting and Stewart tanks again (he will), then keep increasing Romine’s time. I don’t think Girardi has any aversion playing the kid.

  • jim p

    On slight improvements: why does Irchiro get sat down against left-handed pitching? He’s hitting .100 higher than against RH pitching this year.

    Through his whole career he’s better against lefties.

    • jsbrendog

      i dont get sitting granderson vs lefties either. he is >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> vernon.

      • vicki

        again, vern is hitting about .300 against lefties, 113 wrc+.

  • Steve (different one)

    Yanks have played 20 games in August, Stewart has started 12 and Romine 8. This is a notable increase from June/July.

    I would also like to see it more even, but Girardi has noticed and is (slowly) giving Romine more starts.

  • WhittakerWalt

    It’s always scary (and a bit mystifying) when the slugging percentage is lower than the on-base.

    • vicki

      he’s doing good to have gotten them both over .300.

  • Idontlikemattwarden

    So an obvious article based on SSS? Insightful reporting as per usual Matthew, you jackass.

    • Kevin P

      Matt is not suggesting they start Romine based off a SSS. He’s saying they should consider it based off the fact that Stewart really doesn’t represent a definitive upgrade and if it doesn’t work out with Romine (who has the hot bat), they can always change the playing time back. Good think your reading comprehension is up to par…jackass.

  • nick

    The day Stewart stops getting the majority of playing time will be received quite well. God bless him but he’s just hideous over the long haul. Wrt a case for Romine, he was also a top 100 prospect not too long a go and has some offensive projection just from his milb career with some pop. Also, IIRC Stick has always been fond of him, which is a ringing endorsement IMO. Hopefully in 2014 he gets more and more comfortable and the playing time increases if Yanks don’t sign a proven catcher. Not that I want to make such a comparison, but remember Posada didn’t start playing over 100 games a year until his age 26 season so Romine has some time prove himself.