This morning, Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger published a piece on yet another Yankee rookie, Austin Romine. He discusses a little bit about his early offensive struggles, the Yankees hopes for his bat, but more importantly, his ability to catch. The relationship between a pitcher and catcher can be a huge factor in a baseball game, and it's one that's often overlooked. Romine has been dealt a difficult task, catching a number of veteran pitchers, as well as young and inexperienced pitchers, and doing so on the biggest stage in baseball.
“You’ve just got to get in their heads, try to know the pitcher and what his strengths are,” Romine said. “That’s mainly what I try to do.”
For the most part, the pitchers seem to be extremely happy with Romine. Adam Warren applauded the catcher, saying it only took one start in the minors for him to understand his repertoire and thought process. Warren even added that Romine could read his mind.
Outside of his relationship with his pitchers, it seems that the backstop is also taking a strong interest in video analysis. Following his first major league start of the year, a dud by Andy Pettitte, Romine jumped to the video to see what worked and what didn't.
“I watched the whole game,” Romine said earlier this month. “I’m trying to figure out what went wrong, and what can we do to fix that, so it never happens again.”
As we all wait for his bat to break through, it's interesting to see how in-depth his preparation is for a single game. I wondered, has going back to the video improved the pitching staff? So I crunched the numbers.
In comparison to the other Yankee catchers, Romine actually looks like a vast improvement. Keep in mind the small sample size of just 87.0 innings caught, but he's sporting an ERA nearly one whole point below the rest of the catching staff. The Yankees' pitching in recent weeks has certainly looked improved, and I suppose the catcher could make a big difference. Without a big enough sample size, it's hard to tell how much Romine is contributing to this, as the staff's success could also be attributed to the warmer weather, weaker opponents, or pitchers building arm strength. Outside of earned runs, Romine has actually allowed more hits, but that's come with fewer walks, stabilizing his WHIP at right around what Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli allowed. He's also drawing fewer strike outs, and this has been the main culprit for his high FIP. (in comparison to his ERA)
We won't know what difference Romine adds to the pitching staff until we get more data, but if he can keep up anything close to his 2.90 ERA, we won't have to talk much about his offense. Of course, it's hard to base anything off catcher's ERA, which has largely been proven as a poor indicator of a catcher's success over the long term. Still, catchers do make a difference in what pitcher's do and how well they perform, they call different games and frame pitches with different success rates. Romine has succeeded in keeping the runs down, but it's hard to gauge how much he's contributed to that. As I mentioned, pitchers tend to improve in May due to the warmer weather and additional arm strength, on top of that, ERA is based on how well the other fielders perform. Romine's FIP, on the other hand, takes the other fielders out of the equation, and is just slightly lower than what the other catchers saw. In theory, this is a better indicator of future outcome, but only time will tell.