Austin Romine deserves to be the starting catcher for the New York Yankees. Not only has the rookie been hitting the ball hard as of late, but his youth brings the promise of potential improvement.
The Yankees are trying to keep their payroll under $189 million in order to reset the luxury tax next year. As a result, they could not afford to re-sign Russell Martin nor could they pursue free agents such as Mike Napoli or AJ Pierzynski. After Francisco Cervelli was implicated in the Biogenesis fiasco, it seemed the Yankees’ only option behind the plate was Chris Stewart.
Lately, however, Austin Romine has shown the Yankees some solid offensive production – the type of hitting the team has lacked behind the dish all year – and he has earned the starting job.
Romine batted .303 in the month of August. Stewart is zero for his last 20.
But it is more than just statistics. If you watch the swings each of them takes there’s really no comparison. Like all hitters who are in a slump, Stewart is trying to hit the ball to the opposite field. But he’s just waving at the pitch. He’s making contact, but he’s not using his legs to drive the ball the other way. If the Yankees had to pay me a nickel for every time Stewart hit a weak pop-up to right, it seems like that alone would put them over $189 million threshold.
Romine is a much more promising hitter. He is taking good, aggressive swings at the plate – swinging a baseball bat should be an explosive motion. When Romine makes contact he hits the ball hard and actually gives himself a chance at driving in runs and getting on base.
The highlight of Chris Stewart’s season came against the Boston Red Sox when he made a great catch on a Dustin Pedroia pop up in foul ground behind home plate. He leaned into the stands to catch the ball, and when Daniel Nava tried to tag up from first, Stewart nailed him at second to end the inning. It was a pivotal moment in the game – potentially game saving – but one great play against the Red Sox does not excuse an entire season of mediocrity.
I have also never seen a catcher have so many cross-ups on fastballs. Every couple of games it seems a Yankees pitcher will throw a heater, and Stewart is either not ready for it or not on the same page and the ball goes to the backstop. In a later series against the Red Sox, Stewart completely missed one fastball and it hit home plate umpire Brian O’Nora right in the throat. Play needed to stop to make sure he was okay.
Playing Romine gives the team the better chance at winning, and playing him in big games could give him high pressure experience that will help him in the future. Neither Romine nor Stewart is having a spectacular season, but Romine has been improving of late while Stewart is only getting worse.
Joe Girardi had Romine pinch hit for Stewart in last night’s win over the Chicago White Sox. Hopefully the replacement is permanent.