Yankees: Austin Romine is the best backup catcher in baseball
The Yankees have one of the best catchers in baseball in All-Star Gary Sanchez, but it’s his backup Austin Romine who has stolen the spotlight of late and is in the midst of a breakout season.
Did anybody see this kind of offensive production coming from Romine? After he extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a three-run home run in Monday’s 7-4 win over the Tigers the Yankees backup catcher is now hitting a career-high .374. He’s slugging an even more impressive .661 in only 59 at-bats with four home runs and 19 RBI.
Coming into this season he was a .220 hitter for his career and was known more for his defense behind the plate and his ability to handle a pitching staff. He’s still great with the pitchers but over the last couple weeks, he has been a force offensively every time Aaron Boone has penciled him into the lineup.
Before the season the new Yankees skipper challenged Romine to be a better hitter because he thought from afar that it was in him to do so. Romine has clearly responded well to Boone’s challenge and has credited him for his breakout season up to this point.
Here’s Romine on Boone per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:
"“I loved it,” Romine said, of Boone’s challenge. “It wasn’t negative, like, ‘You’re not doing well and we expect you to do more.’ It was, ‘We know you can hit more than that,’ and it was positive. All that stuff has come, and it’s all been positive. They’ve been behind all of us. They’re pushing us to be better and to better ourselves every day.”"
It’s quotes like these that show why Brian Cashman decided to hire Boone during the offseason because he knew he would be a great communicator with the players. He can challenge them in a positive way without criticizing them to a point that it might offend them.
Is Romine the best backup in the game?
Right now Romine is arguably the best backup catcher in the game and could probably start on a good percentage of major league teams not named the Yankees. That won’t change anytime soon as long as Sanchez is healthy even though he is struggling as much as we’ve ever seen with the bat.
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His average is down to .205 but the power numbers are solid and if you ask Boone he’ll say Sanchez’s struggles at the plate are the least of his worries. With Romine on fire of late, he’s had more off-days than we’re used to seeing but he’s still the best offensive catcher in baseball when he’s going good and probably the best we’ve seen since Mike Piazza.
With Romine, the thing that’s impressed the most during his hot start has been his ability to pick up big hits with runners in scoring position. In 17 at-bats he’s been unbelievable with 9 hits and 14 RBI.
A lot of that has to do with a simplified approach that has him focused on hitting the ball up the middle or to right field. That’s where most of his clutch hits have gone and they’ve come in some big spots.
It has to be nice for Boone and the Yankees to know that they don’t lose much with Sanchez’s bat out of the lineup while also getting Romine’s usual good work behind the plate. Yankee pitchers love throwing to him, especially Sonny Gray. Romine has essentially become Gray’s personal catcher since he arrived because the numbers are glaringly better when he catches him instead of Sanchez.
With Gray: 3.36 ERA in 22 starts
With Sanchez: 6.07 ERA in 11 starts
That’s not a knock against Sanchez but it works out because Boone can usually schedule his days off when Gray is on the mound. Sanchez isn’t going to catch every day of the week so as long as Romine keeps hitting and Gray keeps pitching like he did on Friday night (6 IP, 1 ER) we can expect them to continue to be battery mates.
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We can also expect to see more of Romine in the lineup now that he has proven he is more than capable of producing with the bat. When a player is on this kind of run you have to find a way to get his bat in the lineup and the Yanks can do that by giving Sanchez more days at DH.
That will leave one of the usual starters on the sideline, but it’s another one of the many good problems the Yankees have.