Friday, March 22, 2019

Gio Gonzalez Should Head North With Yankees

Luis Severino and CC Sabathia will begin the season on the shelf for the Yankees when they head north to begin the season. Since Severino went down, the speculation would be that the fourth and fifth starters of the Yankee rotation would be two of a possible three consisting of Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga. Cessa has seemed to have cemented his place as one of the two. His lack of options and his spring success seems to guarantee as much. Recently signed "insurance policy," Gio Gonzalez should jump both German and Loaisiga as the fifth option.

I know, I know. I have been the one screaming to keep away from Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to let the kids play. But pitching is different. A team needs starters that give the team the best chance to win. I think Loaisiga should be out anyway since his command has not been there this spring and he is still walking too many batters. But with a choice of German (who throws strikes) and Gonzalez, I still have to go with Gonzalez.

For those thinking that Gonzalez has not built himself up enough yet with a full Spring Training, Aaron Boone has said that Gonzalez had his own throwing program and had recently pitched as many as eight pitches in those sessions. Gonzalez has been through the wars and knows what he needs to do. He is durable and reliable and, though he is not flashy, he has more than a decade of getting Major League batters out. All you need is a decent five innings from the guy.

This way, German can take the place of Dellin Betances as a strike-throwing, bat-missing arm out of the pen. Sure, if you need German as a starter later in the season (let's hope not), you can stretch him back out if needed.

There are times when Domingo German looks better than Luis Severino. Unfortunately, there are other times when he looks like the 2016 version of Severino. He has a maddening tendency for giving up crooked numbers in a hurry interspersed with innings of brilliance. It makes you wonder if he too is tipping pitches.

The Yankees' offense is great. And that offense will win the team a lot of games. But the team still needs good starting pitching. Right now, that is my biggest worry about this team. Gio Gonzalez would be one less worry. The biggest thing I like about him is that he has a 0.8 homers per nine rate for his career. That is important when pitching for the Yankees.

Yes, I am a youth movement guy. Part of the excitement of this current team is the thrill of watching young and potential superstars take shape. Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga can be two of those potential stars. But Loaisiga is not ready (IMHO) and German needs to show he can be consistently effective. Gonzalez will never be a superstar. But he is more comforting in the rotation right now.

P.S. I completely want to puke thinking the Yankees are even considering using an "Opener." Such a thing is the scourge of the world. DO NOT DO IT, Yankees!! Don't go to the dark side!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Austin Romine And The Sorry State of Backup Catching

Austin Romine seems like a good guy, a good team player and a capable catcher. Romine had some timely hits last year and added ten homers--a new career high--to finish the 2018 season with a .417 slugging percentage. While a part of me appreciates his contribution, the fan side of me yawns with boredom. Romine is not the player you would ever associate with exciting. Basically, he is a backup catcher and that means a limited skill set.

I have long held that backup catchers are fungible. Really good ones are hard to find. To see if I could back up my long-held feelings, I used's season finder, I attempted to construct a search that would pinpoint what are truly backup catchers and how much value they brought to their teams. For my criteria, I limited my search to players that caught at least 80% of their games and had 300 plate appearances or less. My search also looked for such players that brought at least one Win Above Replacement (WAR, version).

Out of thirty teams last year, there were only four players that fit the search. Austin Romine was one of them. Since the year 2000 there have only been 81 such seasons or about 4.3 per season. There were only two in 2017! Of those 81, only two have been Yankee players--Romine (last year) and Francisco Cervelli in 2014.

The search was pretty successful since only a few of those seasons included starting catchers who happened to be injured that particular season. The search showed me how few backup catchers actually provided at least a win in value for their given teams. Only a handful reached two wins. None reached three.

I should state that such a search really only works for catchers. Starting catchers simply cannot start every day and the best ones are limited to 120 to 130 games. There are exceptions, but that is the norm. If I did a similar search for say a first baseman, I would only come up with 24 such seasons because there really isn't such a thing as a backup first baseman. Maybe I will do a similar search for multi-position players tomorrow.

If I took that search back to 1990, the 4.3 per season held up and between 1990 and 1999, only one Yankee reached that 1 WAR season: Mike Stanley. To show how rare these seasons are and how little value backup catchers have brought to their teams, since 1990, only five backup catchers have reached one win in a season more than twice. The leaders during that time period have to be considered the best backup catchers of their eras:

  1. David Ross - 7
  2. Mike Redmond - 4
  3. Rick Wilkins, Don Slaught - 3

Only thirteen of the 96 total such catching seasons had two. 78 catchers during that period only did it once. And let me reiterate that since 1990, 124 catchers have had seasons with 1 WAR or more for a season out of 870 such team seasons. That is 14%. Backup catchers are truly fungible...or have been 86% of the time. Apparently, it all works out because they usually become managers and broadcasters.

By the way, David Ross is tied for the all time lead in such seasons since 1900 with a guy named Hank Gowdy. Does that make Ross one of the all time greats as a backup catcher? I think you would have to go there.

It seems that the one thing a backup catcher needs to do is have some defensive skills. If we go back to our original search from 2000 to 2018, there were 570 possible seasons for backup catchers (we will go with that even though some teams rarely have three catchers on a squad). Of those 570 seasons, 193 of those were by catchers who had at least 0.5 Defensive Wins Above Replacement. That 34% is certainly higher than the 14% with 1 WAR or more.

If we take that down to 0.1 Defensive Wins Above Replacement, then we have all but 76 seasons. Clearly, roster makers are looking for catchers who can display decent catching skills. That's why a pathetic hitter like Jeff Mathis (with his career 52 OPS+) can play fourteen seasons in the big leagues when he topped 0.5 Defensive Wins nine times during that span.

Tying this all back to Austin Romine, when considering all that we have talked about here, what he produced last season was terrific in light of the fact that only 14% of backup catchers have had such seasons since 1990. There is absolutely no reason for anyone else to replace him as the Yankees' backup catcher. But man, that still feels like getting a box of socks for Christmas.