What’s going on with Austin Romine?

Austin Romine, recently ranked the #2 prospect in the Yankee system by yours truly, is having a nightmarish 2nd half of the season.  After starting strong in April and May (OPS’ing .917 and .858), Romine has struggled mightily over the summer, with his August OPS a paltry .509.  Romine’s stats for the season are mediocre but not horrendous (.261/.320/.390 with 9 home runs, 36 walks, and 91 strikeouts).  I’m going to take a closer look at Romine’s stats for the season, to see if his hot start was a fluke, and his recent performance is closer to what can be expected in the future, or vice versa.  I’m also curious if there has been a real decline in Romine’s performance, or if he has suffered from bad luck.  Here are some of his more important stats in chart form, by month.

Month K:BB ratio BABIP LD% OPS
April 1.5 0.434 20.8 0.917
May 3.33 0.362 25 0.858
June 1.25 0.284 15.9 0.667
July 4.25 0.279 14.1 0.663
August 11 0.254 7.7 0.509

(stats courtesy of Minor League Splits)

By looking at these numbers, it is possible to observe some trends in Romine’s performance.

Plate Discipline: Strikeout to walk ratio is often a good measure of plate discipline and selectivity.  Romine’s plate discipline has worsened over the course of the season, but it is worthy of note that his best k:bb ratio occurred in June, when his OPS was .667 (below his season average).  The 4.25:1 ratio in July and the 11:1 ratio in August are truly troubling (especially the August figure), which indicates that Romine’s discipline has gone backward in these months, and it is not surprising that he has been horrendous in August with that ratio.

Line Drive Percentage and BABIP: These 2 figures often go hand-in-hand, as a high BABIP is often correlated with a high LD% (because a line drive is the most likely of any batted ball type to end up a hit).  A high BABIP with a low LD% could indicate that a player is getting exceptionally lucky on balls in play.  On the other hand, a decline in LD% could indicate a real change in performance.  I should mention that minor league batted ball numbers are notoriously unreliable, so take them with a grain of salt.  Based on BABIP and LD% numbers, Romine’s April looks like a fluke, as a .434 BABIP is unsustainable for a player of Romine’s speed, especially with a LD % of 20.8.  Romine’s .858 OPS May looks more legitimate, however.  While his .362 BABIP in May was high (his highest BABIP over a full season was .327 in 2008), it was also accompanied by a robust LD% of 25, which indicates that he was a lot of good contact, and may not have been getting lucky.  Romine’s declining OPS’s in June, July and August are accompanied by decreases in LD%, so it is hard to attribute his recent struggles to bad luck.

From these two factors, it appears that Romine is experiencing a real regression over the last few months.  His declining walk and line drive rates are likely responsible for his decreased OPS over the summer, and unless those trends reverse, Romine could be in for a rough September as well.

These trends look pretty discouraging, but is there reason to be optimistic for Romine?  In a word, definitely.  A look at Romine’s extreme home-road splits indicate that the tough hitting environment of Trenton may have had some impact on his overall numbers (.588 OPS at home, .828 on the road), though the splits probably don’t explain the negative trends of the summer (unless he was playing significantly more home games in June, July, and August).  In a better hitting environment, it could be reasonable to expect Romine to be posting better stats than he is currently.  Another potential explanation for his struggles could lie in the physical toll a long season of catching has taken on him.  Since he usually split time with Jesus Montero at catcher in recent seasons, Romine may be experiencing some fatigue in the summer months.  If this is the case, the organization’s  decision to send him to the Arizona Fall League could be questioned.

Romine’s prospect stock may have dropped a bit with his recent struggles (and I’m wondering whether I should drop a little lower in my top 10, or if that would be too reactionary).  However, on the bright side, even with his struggles, his walk total in 2010 represents a career high, and the fact that he has held his own in a tough hitting environment at 21 as a full-time catcher is also impressive.  Obviously, you would like to see him do better, but I still think is a good bet to be a solid major league catcher.  The negative trend in k:bb ratio likely reflects a deteriorating approach (or possibly, pitchers are pitching him differently), and Romine will need to work on this to avoid struggling in 2011, when he will likely be in AAA.

Anyone have additional thoughts on Romine?  Other stats I need to look at?  Let me know in the comment section.

5 thoughts on “What’s going on with Austin Romine?

  1. First year he started off as a full time catcher, he was splitting time with Jesus last year up until Montero’s promotion to Trenton. He never started a season off as the everyday catcher so fatigue has started to settle in. What he does next year, is going to be a better indicator of his talents when he will be the full time catcher for his second straight year. His splits are also something to look at as he hits much better on the road than at home.

    • I agree the kid is only 21 years old and I think it’s pretty obvious fatigue has at least some part in these numbers, I would wait to move him down on any boards and see what he is doing this time next year.

  2. Da Rosa is exactly right. Your post is exhibit A on why statistics should confirm what we see with our eyes, not the other way around, and why there is no substitute for actually watching the players play.

  3. Just going on interviewing him for a story recently, he mentioned mechanics and getting down on himself as factors in why he struggled. He’s been working with Frank Menechino on the mechanics and his comfort level at the plate.