No, Chase Headley won’t be this good all year, but there are some promising signs in his game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Something weird happened last night. Chase Headley was not in the starting lineup. That in and of itself isn’t weird. Joe Girardi is pretty good at making sure his regulars get enough rest. What was weird was the reaction. Fans were upset! In our comments, on Twitter, and probably on a bunch of other social media sites I don’t even know exist. Upset about Headley being out of the lineup! What a time to be alive.

Fans were upset for a good reason, of course. Headley has been a monster hit season. He is hitting .409/.519/.614 (227 wRC+) with two home runs, three stolen bases, ten walks, and nine strikeouts through the team’s first 14 games. No, he won’t do that all season, but hot damn, Headley has been a beast early on. It’s the complete opposite of last year, when he was beyond useless in April. Remember that? How could you forget.

“I started extremely poorly, and that contributed to the team starting bad,” said Headley to Zach Braziller earlier this week. “I knew I couldn’t start the way I started last year. You can’t just take a month and two weeks out of the season, and say, ‘Oh, I had a (good) season with the exception of this month and a half.’ It counts … It’s a small sample size, but I feel like I’m playing the way I’m capable of. I feel like I’m swinging at the pitches I want to, and that’s always a good place to start.”

Headley is not really as good as he’s been so far this year nor is he really as bad as he was last April. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and the question is where. Hopefully closer to this year than last April. Here are a few notable early season trends within Headley’s game that help explain why he’s been so productive these first two weeks and change of the new season.

1. He’s going the other way an awful lot. In the very first game of the season Headley beat the shift three times against the Rays. Once with a bunt and twice with ground balls directed the other way. We haven’t seen Headley beat the shift quite that obviously since then — I’m talking about those well-placed rollers where the defense is normally positioned — but he has continued to use all fields. Here’s the batted ball direction breakdown:

chase-headley-batted-balls

That covers both sides of the plate, though it essentially represents Headley’s numbers as a left-handed hitter. Only eight of his 54 plate appearances have come as a righty so far, and in those eight plate appearances he’s put six balls in play. So yeah, for all intents and purposes, those are Headley’s numbers from the left side of the plate.

As you can see, he’s going the other way substantially more than he has in the past. We’re talking nearly twice as often as he did from 2014-15. And the important thing here is not just the number of balls he’s hitting the other way. Look how many he’s pulling too. Headley has nearly an even split. He’s going the other way as often as he pulls the ball. That makes him tougher to defend.

2. He’s not hitting the ball on the ground. When Headley was going through his brutal April last year, he was beating the ball into the ground, and that is no way to hit. Especially when you’re not a good runner. Fly balls and line drives not only go for hits more often than ground balls — the league BABIP on fly balls and liners is .388 this year compared to only .240 on grounders — they also go for extra-base more often. The next ground ball I see go for a home run will be the first.

So far this season only 32.4% of Headley’s balls in play have been on the ground. That is tiny. That’s Kris Bryant (31.0%) and Nolan Arenado (31.9%) territory. Slugger territory. Headley’s ground ball rate was 44.2% last year and it is 44.4% for his career. He is well below that now. Between this and the first point, Headley is hitting the ball in the air to all fields in the super early going this year. Of course more hits are going to fall in when you do that.

3. He doesn’t swing out of the zone. Headley has always had a pretty good eye. He walked in 9.6% of his plate appearances last year, and he had several seasons with a walk rate north of 10% back with the Padres. Headley knows the strike zone, and his year he’s taken his plate discipline to another level. Look at his chase rate on pitches out of the zone:

2014: 25.8%
2015: 25.1%
2016: 25.8%
2017: 18.1%

That 25.8% chase rate last year? That’s really good. The MLB average was 30.6% and Headley was several percentage points below that. Now he’s all the way down at 18.4%. Right now 194 players have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and Headley’s chase rate is fifth lowest. He’s been one of the most discipline hitters in baseball.

Keep in mind this is not just about drawing walks. Walks are overrated. Okay, maybe not, but people focus on them too much. The entire point of working the count is to get a hittable pitch. Laying off pitches out of the zone helps get the count in Headley’s favor, which better allows him to do damage. Also, chasing fewer pitches out of the zone means fewer balls in play on those pitches, and putting a pitch out of the zone in play usually results in weak contact.

* * *

Inevitably Headley will cool down at some point and not because Girardi gave him the night off last night. Something tells me he’s not really a true talent .485 BABIP hitter. Just a hunch. He’ll cool off and go back to being Chase Headley and everyone will resume complaining about the days he is in the lineup, not the days he’s on the bench.

In all seriousness, Headley is showing some promising early trends — using all fields, getting the ball in the air, not chasing out of the zone, etc. — and those things will help him be a productive hitter going forward. His performance is a bit on the extreme side right now. His ground ball and chase rates are so incredibly low that they have nowhere to go but up. But, if Headley can maintain these trends to some degree, he’ll help the Yankees more at the plate this year than he has the previous two seasons.

Luis Severino is showing why the Yankees were smart to stick with him as a starter

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The pitching line does not do Luis Severino justice. Last night he was charged with four runs in eight innings, though it was one run through six innings before the White Sox rallied for three runs in the seventh. Those three runs came after Pete Kozma booted what appeared to be an easy double play ball. At the very least, Kozma should have gotten one out. Instead, he got none.

Severino should not get a pass for allowing the three-run home run to Avisail Garcia because, my goodness, it was a horrible pitch. He left a cement mixer slider here:

luis-severino-avisail-garcia

Dude. You can’t leave a hanging slider there. Severino made a terrible pitch and he paid the price. That home run was basically the difference in the game. A 1-0 deficit in the late innings is a heck of a lot different than a 4-0 deficit.

That home run pitch to Garcia was also Severino’s only terrible pitch of the night, or at least that’s how it seemed. He struck out ten in eight innings and also generated ten ground ball outs. Severino faced 28 batters total and only five (five!) hit the ball out of the infield. He did a nice job holding down an admittedly weak White Sox lineup aside from the Garcia dinger.

Three starts into 2017, Severino has a mediocre 4.05 ERA in 20 innings, but the underlying stats are more important. In those 20 innings Severino has 27 strikeouts and only two walks, as well as a 50.0% ground ball rate. That’ll play, young man. Keep in mind this is the same pitcher who had an 18.8% strikeout rate and a 6.6% walk rate as a starter last year. Those numbers are 35.5% and 2.6% this year, respectively.

Now, I don’t think anyone expects Severino to maintain those strikeout and walk rates because basically no pitcher does that — Clayton Kershaw came close last season! (31.6 K% and 2.0 BB%) — but the fact he’s missing bats, limiting walks, and getting grounders early on is very encouraging. Severino really does look like a completely different pitcher. The guy we saw in 2016 is gone.

There are two big differences between the Severino we’ve seen so far this year and the Severino we saw last year. One, his changeup. He’s actually using it! He threw 12 changeups last night and eleven changeups in the start before that. (I’d tell you know many he threw in his first start if Trackman had, you know, recorded the data.) That’s on par with what he did in 2015. About a dozen changeup per game. Last year he lost confidence in the pitch and threw 12 total in his final four starts.

And two, his confidence. That’s not something we can quantify. It’s something we have to observe. Severino is throwing with conviction this year and he’s aggressively attacking hitters. He’s not nibbling and not shaking off the catcher. He’s getting the ball and throwing it. It’s almost like Severino has taken his reliever mentality from last season out to the mound as a starter this year. That’s how he looks. Like an amped up reliever as a starter.

Considering how bad Severino was as a starter last season and how great he was as a reliever, I totally understand why many folks wanted to keep him in the bullpen. I get it. I do. A kid struggles as a starter, shows lights out stuff in relief, and it’s tempting to just keep him there because hey, bullpens are important too. Why mess with success? Pair him with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman and turn it into a six-inning game. Surely Adam Warren could be a competent fifth starter while Severino dominates in relief, right?

The Yankees never stopped believing in Severino as a starter though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt his case that the team is short on established arms under contractual control beyond this season. They need starters long-term and Severino, who turned only 23 in February, has by far the highest upside among the club’s young arms. Guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa and Chad Green have shown promise, but not as much as Severino. Not close, really.

Three starts into the season, which is obviously a tiny little sample size, Severino looks like a very different pitcher than the guy we saw last year. He looks like the guy we saw in 2015. Better in some ways, really. This level of overall aggressive plus confidence in his changeup are two things that were desperately missing last year. Severino has gotten off to a great start this season and he’s justifying the club’s faith in him as a starting pitcher. Now it’s time to build on this start going forward.

The Yankee offense gets quieted by Miguel Gonzalez in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox

After winning eight in a row, the Yankees almost got shut out by Miguel Gonzalez. They made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, but one run definitely wasn’t enough. The Yankees lost 4-1 on Tuesday to snap the eight-game winning streak. Oh well. Time to start another winning streak.

Gonzalez is not impressed with the Yankees lineup (Elsa/Getty)
Gonzalez is not impressed with the Yankees lineup (Elsa/Getty)

A series of unfortunate events

Luis Severino got off to a really good start for the first eight hitters, taking care of them on 30 pitches total with four strikeouts. The first bit of damage was done by their No. 9 hitter Leury Garcia, who squared up a 96 mph fastball and deposited it over the right-center wall. 1-0 White Sox. Look amazing against the first eight guys and get hurt by the ninth hitter, go figure.

Meanwhile, the Yankees offense was getting perfect gamed by… Miguel Gonzalez. For the first four innings, other than a loud fly out by Brett Gardner, there weren’t many ball hit with an authority. You might remember Gonzalez as an underwhelming SP for the Orioles who was actually released by them in the beginning of the 2016 season. Ever since joining the White Sox though, he added the Don Cooper specialty — cut fastball — and has served as a useful back-end rotation guy for them. Last year, he had 3.73 ERA in 24 games (23 GS) and earned 2.7 fWAR.

The Yankees broke the perfecto in the fifth with a Starlin Castro infield single. And, of course, Aaron Judge followed it up with a GIDP. Gonzalez is a guy who lives off of late movement in his pitches and that seemed to absolutely befuddle the Yankee hitters tonight. In the sixth, Austin Romine led off with yet another softly-hit infield single. However, Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma both popped out on the first pitch and Gardner struck out to quickly end that.

Severino got into a bit of jam in the seventh. He allowed a single to Tim Anderson and Melky Cabrera reached on a Kozma error — the grounder that normally would’ve been a GIDP went through the wickets. While Jose Abreu made the matters easier by popping out on the bunt, Avisail Garcia hit a hanging breaking ball up the zone into the left field bullpen for a 4-0 Sox lead. We can play the “what if” game here — if Kozma makes that play and turns it into a double play, Severino could’ve been out of the inning unscathed. However, it’s also not a great thing to hang a breaking ball up to a hitter as hot as Avisail Garcia. Players make mistakes. It’s just unfortunate.

In the bottom seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a bunt single to get something going. However, Matt Holliday hit a grounder right on the screws to SS Tim Anderson for a quick double play. That might’ve been the hardest ball hit by the Yankees tonight and it impacted the offense quite negatively. It’s just one of those games.

Sevy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

While the offense seemed powerless tonight, Severino brought tons of it. Tonight, he went 8 innings while walking none and striking out 10. From a guy who just turned 23, you can’t ask too much more than that. On the negative side, he did allow two homers. One of them was from Leury Garcia, who hit a decent pitch close to the outside corner. Another was from red-hot Avisail Garcia, who drilled a hanging breaking ball. That’s the kind of mistake you hope to see less from Severino.

But to be fair, Severino had his slider working well tonight. He got 8 whiffs out of it for a 22.2% rate, which is great (an average whiff rate is around 11%). He also got 8 whiffs from his fastball, which topped out at 98.8 mph per Brooks Baseball. The YES Network gun had his fastball up to 98 mph on the last pitch of the outing, which is something.

Tonight’s outing brought his season ERA up to 4.05 ERA. What I like though, is that he has 27 strikeouts and 2 walks in 20 IP. I’m curious to see how he would do against a Red Sox-caliber lineup. There are a lot of positives to take from what Sevy has shown so far in 2017. Keep him in the rotation.

The ninth inning

It seemed like Yankees were well on their to getting Maddux’d by Gonzalez in the ninth. After allowing a single to pinch-hitting Chase Headley, the righty got Chris Carter to fly out. However, after walking Brett Gardner on four pitches, the White Sox pulled Gonzalez out and put David Robertson in to close it out.

Robertson walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, making this game a bit more interesting with the tying run coming up to the plate. However, he channeled his 2011 Houdini act to strike out Matt Holliday to get the second out. Next up was Starlin Castro, who actually managed to draw a walk to push one across to avoid a shutout for New York. Unfortunately, that was all for the Yankees, as Judge grounded out to short to end the game. 4-1 White Sox.

Box score, WP graph and standings

Here’s tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN and WPA graph from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


Wouldn’t you love to see another winning streak start? Well, the Yankees are back at it again against tomorrow at 7:05 pm EST. Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound versus Dylan Covey.

DotF: Gleyber Torres hurts biceps, Clint Frazier goes deep

Here are the notes for the day:

  • SS Gleyber Torres was scratched from tonight’s game with biceps tendinitis, according to Joe Girardi. He’ll likely go for an MRI. Torres first felt some tightness in his shoulder during batting practice today. A little tendinitis is no big deal, so hopefully that’s all it is. He probably got hurt petting Rookie and Derby too much. Understandable.
  • J.J. Cooper put together a list of five prospects who are already making a case for a promotion. RHP Chance Adams is one of them. “Adams’ control could continue to use some refinement, and he only had a half-season in Double-A last year, but the call to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre should come before too long,” said the write-up.
  • The Yankees have signed LHP Nestor Oronel, according to Matt Eddy. The Pirates released him last month. Oronel, 21, had a 5.53 ERA (5.96 FIP) with 18.1% strikeouts and 7.0% walks in 42.1 rookie ball innings last year. The combination of age and handedness leads to me believe the Yankees possibly see him as something more than roster filler.
  • And finally, RHP James Kaprielian had his Tommy John surgery today as scheduled. Everything went well, the Yankees say. The long rehab road begins now.

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 SB — had been in a little 3-for-15 (.200) rut
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — first dinger of the season
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS — 4-for-8 in his last two games, so he’s starting to come around
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R, 2 K, 1 HBP
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 2-5, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 2 K
  • RHP Brady Lail: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3/6 GB/FB — 54 of 87 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 30 pitches, 20 strikes
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — nine of 15 pitches were strikes … he comes down here and dominates

[Read more…]

Game 14: Severino’s turn to keep the winning streak alive

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The winning streak sits at eight games, and tonight the Yankees will turn to the youngest player on their 25-man roster to try to extend it to nine. It’s easy to forget Luis Severino is still so young, isn’t it? He turned only 23 in February. The second youngest player on the 25-man roster is Jonathan Holder. He’s eight and a half months older than Severino. Crazy.

Anyway, Severino has looked pretty good in his first two starts this season. Certainly better than he looked at any point last year. It’s hard to overstate his importance to the Yankees going forward. They have little in the way of established pitching under contractual control beyond this season, and Severino has by far the highest upside among their healthy pitchers. Hopefully he continues to make strides tonight. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    RHP Luis Severino

It is on the chilly side in New York this evening, but at least the sky is clear. Typical April baseball weather. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Didi Gregorius (shoulder) took simulated at-bats today and he is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Friday … Gary Sanchez (biceps) is swinging a bat using his left hand only. He is expected to begin throwing this week, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

Warren’s versatility adds necessary element to Yankees’ pen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After Monday’s win, the Yankees’ top two relievers — Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman — are each on pace to throw 66.5 innings this season.

That total is still pretty high (47 pitchers threw more innings last year without making a start). However, it would hardly be a career-high for either and would mark a fourth straight season with a decrease in innings for Betances.

A big reason why neither pitcher should end up breaking a career-high in total innings is the presence of Adam Warren. The versatile right-hander has the best numbers of any Yankee reliever so far this year despite giving up his first three hits and a run on Monday. In nine innings, he’s allowed just the single run, walked only one batter and struck out nine. And he’s absorbed those nine innings in just five appearances.

This is hardly a revelation for Warren. He’s been giving the Yankees multiple-inning relief appearances since 2013, minus a four-month stint with the Cubs last summer and a little time in the Yankees rotation. Beyond the multi-inning appearances, he also has experience in taking high-leverage innings. At certain points in the last three seasons, he’s fulfilled late-inning roles for the Yankees, even taking the 8th inning of close games at times.

But this season, he’s entered in a complete hodgepodge of situations.

Apr. 2: 4th inning, two outs, two men on, Yankees down five
Apr. 5: 5th inning, two outs, one man on, down three
Apr. 8: 6th inning, no outs, up one
Apr. 15: 8th inning, one out, up two
Apr. 17: 7th inning, no outs, up four

If anyone can find a trend or consistent part in any of that, let me know. To me, the point is that Warren can take on literally anything for Joe Girardi. Yankees need someone to soak up 2-3 innings and keep the game within striking distance? Warren time. The starter only goes five and someone needs to get the ball to the top three relievers? Warren time.

Despite being clearly fourth in the bullpen pecking order behind Chapman, Betances and Tyler Clippard, Warren’s role is highly synergistic with those guys and the rest of the bullpen. He can take on enough innings to keep their innings down for late in the season. After Warren threw 2 1/3 solid innings on Monday, Girardi discussed everything Warren brings to the table.

“He’s a bridge. He’s a fill-in, in a sense, in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning, whatever I need,” Girardi said. “He just gives me a lot of versatility to our bullpen. And I think that piece is really important to have a really good bullpen, a guy that can do that and handle a number of different roles.”

A lot of relievers have trouble not knowing their role. It’s incredibly tough for a pitcher to be ready to go every inning from the 5th through the 9th, especially when they may warm up multiple times in that span. It can be exhausting and it’s the main reason why we don’t see pitchers in the regular season do what Andrew Miller did last postseason. That’s not to say it’s easy to do what Chapman or Betances do — not all innings are created equal and they pitch almost exclusively in high leverage spots — but they do have the added luxury of knowing the basic parameters of their appearances.

Warren doesn’t have that, but has done fine. Looking back to 2014, his last full season in the Yankees’ bullpen, he entered in the 6th inning 12 times, the 7th 25 times, the 8th 23 times and the 9th or later nine times. While that often meant soaking up innings with the Yankees behind, it more closely resembles the way Miller was used by the Indians last postseason than how Betances or Chapman are used right now.

Warren’s background as a starter and having recently thrown 100 innings (131 1/3 in 2015) shows that he can do this without completely breaking down. He did decline a bit towards the end of 2014, but he still had a 3.26 ERA after the break, which is nothing to sneeze at. The 29-year-old pitcher did come into the spring as a starter, yet even he realizes where he provides the most value right now.

“Being in the bullpen, you get a chance to pitch every day,” Warren told Bryan Hoch. “The way our starters are throwing right now, for sure, I feel my value is in the bullpen. I do enjoy being that flexible guy that you can throw around everywhere. For me, that’s where a lot of my value comes from.”

So Girardi’s right. It is really important to have that guy in your pen. You look around the league and a lot of teams don’t have a similar arm who can both go multiple quality innings yet also has high leverage experience. Houston seems to have the prototype for this player in Chris Devenski, but there are few beyond him. A pitcher like Warren or Devenski can really complete a team’s bullpen.

Even though his ERA will be much higher than 1.00 for the full season, a healthy Warren gives Girardi a chance to rest his top three relievers without biting his nails or worry that a lead will implode. Or it gives him a chance to use just 1-2 relievers after only getting five innings out of a starter. Or whatever conceivable need comes up. While coming in with a four-run lead in the 7th inning as he did on Monday isn’t glamorous, it gives us a sneak peek at how Warren can be used optimally in 2017.

Austin Romine is taking advantage of the opportunity created by Gary Sanchez’s injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ten days ago the Yankees suffered what could have very easily been a devastating injury. Starting catcher and offensive cornerstone Gary Sanchez hurt his biceps taking a swing and was later diagnosed with a strained brachialis muscle. It’ll sideline him at least four weeks. Sanchez started the season slowly, going 3-for-20 (.150) with a homer before the injury, but still. Losing your catcher and No. 2 hitter is rough.

Rather than collapse without Sanchez, the Yankees have won all eight games since the injury, including six of six with Austin Romine behind the plate. Romine has gone 7-for-21 (.333) with two doubles, a homer, four walks, and three strikeouts in the super early going this season. “The team is playing well, period. I’m not going to take credit. I’m trying to stay out of the way the best I can. We have a lot of people doing things right. I can’t sit here and take credit for anything,” he said to George King over the weekend.

Last season the 28-year-old Romine hit .242/.269/.382 (68 wRC+) with four homers in 176 plate appearances while backing up Brian McCann and later Sanchez, and geez, I don’t even remember the four homers. Did he really hit that many? Romine came into this season with 21 doubles and five home runs in 359 career big league plate appearances. Here is his 2013-16 spray chart, via FanGraphs:


Source: FanGraphs
Like most players — particularly bench players who don’t play a whole lot because they don’t offer much at the plate — the right-handed hitting Romine did most of his damage to the pull side from 2013-16. All five home runs were pulled to left field as were most doubles. That cluster of blue dots along the right field line are bloop doubles that fell in just fair. I distinctly remember a few of those.

This year, either intentionally or accidentally, Romine has taken an extreme opposite field approach and peppered right field. It’s happened so often that I have to think it’s intentional. He’s put 19 total balls in play so far this season and only three — three! — have been pulled to the left side of the field. Almost everything else has gone to right field. Not even back up the middle. To right field. Here is Romine’s spray chart thus far this season, via Baseball Savant:

austin-romine-2017-spray-chart

I wasn’t kidding when I said an extreme opposite field approach. Romine has hit nearly everything to the opposite field, and hey, when you’re a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, it makes sense to go the other way. Romine has already been rewarded with one opposite field home run this year. He never came particularly close to hitting a short porch homer in previous years.

Clearly Romine is hitting the ball to right field more often this year than he has in the past, so now the question becomes: so what? I’m not sure, honestly. This could all be small sample size noise — again, Romine has put only 19 balls in play this year — or it could be an honest-to-goodness adjustment in an effort to help him be more productive at the plate. Trying to pull the ball all the time only worked so much. Now he’s incorporating the opposite field more often. Maybe? Possibly?

Romine said himself last season he knows he needs to hit not only to stick with the Yankees, but stick in the big leagues in general. Even defense-first catchers have to hit a little bit, you know? There was basically nothing Romine could do to stop Sanchez from taking over as the starting catcher, but now Kyle Higashioka, who is coming off a 21-homer season between Double-A and Triple-A, is breathing down his neck for the backup job. His roster spot is far from safe.

I should also note Romine has been behind the plate for this recent run of strong starts from the rotation. So far this year pitchers have a 3.00 ERA (2.92 FIP) in 57 innings with Romine compared to a 4.14 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 37 innings with Sanchez. How much credit does Romine deserve for that? Tough to say. I’ve always been a catcher impact skeptic, dating back to the days of Jose Molina being A.J. Burnett‘s personal catcher. Ultimately it’s up to the pitcher to execute, so the catcher can call the best game in the world and it might not matter. Either way, the pitching staff as performed well of late and the always reflects well on the catcher.

For now, Romine’s new opposite field approach is a #thingtowatch. He’s going to play a lot while Sanchez is on the disabled list — Joe Girardi made it clear Romine will be the starter and Higashioka the backup, so playing time won’t be split evenly — so we’ll get a chance to see whether this is real. For Romine, this is a huge opportunity. It’s his first time playing everyday at the MLB level, so this is his chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around and other teams he’s worth acquiring and giving an expanded role.