How is it that a designated hitter can affect the role of the catchers on a club? Plate appearances.
While the Yankees may not regret trading for OF Giancarlo Stanton, there has been an unforeseen development among the club's catchers that has manager Aaron Boone searching for a balance of duties behind the dish. Stanton's role with the club may be making that difficult.
I have a belief about backup catchers: They have to be excellent at one phase of their game or the other. If they cannot hit, they better be excellent with the gear on or vice versa. If a team has one or the other, they have a viable option to rest their starter as often as possible.
The Yankees may not have expected to have anything more at backup catcher than a good clubhouse guy and a familiar warm body in Austin Romine, who was coming off a poor season on both sides of the ball. As such, the Yankees may have believed that trading for Stanton to be their designated hitter on most days would not interfere with plate appearances for starting catcher Gary Sanchez.
Stanton's presence may be doing just that.
In 68 plate appearances this season, Romine owns a shocking .373/.456/.661 slash line with four home runs and 19 RBIs. That's a far cry from the 49wRC+ and a -0.6 WAR he sputtered to in 252 plate appearances in 2017. Romine has had some clutch hits this season as well, and while he'll never profile to be the same kind of hitter as Sanchez, he is no longer a drain on the lineup.
One warning item would be Romine's .419 batting average with balls in play (BABIP), which portends to a regression at some point.
Meanwhile, Sanchez is in the midst of yet another slump in what has to be considered a disappointing season thus far. His season line stands at .201/.308/.464 (108 wRC+) with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs. So, while Sanchez's run production has been better than average, his batting average is well below what we're used to seeing due in part to an extremely low .202 BABIP.
Behind the plate, despite Sanchez's best efforts, he leads the league in passed balls with nine. He is better than Romine at framing this season (2.4 RAA to 0.0 RAA according to Stat Corner), and has thrown out potential base stealers at an uncharacteristically low 19.0 percent clip against Romine's 22.2 percent.
Romine is perceived to be the better catcher, but the difference is not as clear cut as made out to be at times.
We can suggest that Romine receive playing time as often as possible in an effort to give Sanchez an extra day off, or half day in which he'd be the designated hitter. The Yankees would love to ride Romine's momentum while he is contributing, especially on offense where this level of production has never been seen in his professional career.
A regression is coming for Romine, so any extra time the Yankees give Sanchez helps toward keeping him strong in the dog days of summer and into a potential postseason run.
At issue is the Yankees want Sanchez and Stanton in the lineup virtually everyday. They surely believe Sanchez will turn things around, knowing his bat is one the Yankees can ride during a hot stretch. Similarly, keeping Stanton on the bench is senseless when he too can carry a club on his back for an extended period.
For Boone, its about finding the right amount of time for all parties while Romine's surge continues. As the campaign wears on, if Romine's bat begins to slip, the Yanks can curtail any timeshare they may be able to develop, thus eliminating any dilemma.
Depth is a good thing to have, but when it comes from an unexpected area, it can disrupt the original game plan. It is up to the Yankees and Boone to figure out the best course of action now while they've been graced with an ability to do so.