The Yankees had a surprisingly magical 2017 season with numerous high quality and breakout performances; however, there were a few players whose production the club hopes is not duplicated in 2018.
Betances has never been the model of command on the mound. His inability to control his large frame forced the Yankees to convert him to a reliever in the minors as a last-ditch effort to squeeze value out of a highly touted prospect.
Betances found his niche, and coming off his third All-Star season, he was off to a solid all-around start in 2017. However, the walks were a problem -- a much bigger one compared to years' past, even when the end results were positive.
He had been able to offset the walks with tons of strikeouts, and he generated those at an exceptional pace in 2017, striking out 15.1 batters per nine innings (second-best of his four big league seasons). However, Betances' walk rate was an astronomical 6.6 batters per nine innings, something that is simply unacceptable as a setup man and difficult to overcome.
Betances was reduced to a non-factor in September and into the postseason because he simply couldn't sync his mechanics. Betances reportedly lost 16 pounds in the offseason in an effort to aid mechanical issues, which creep up for extended periods at least once per season. Betances and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild have to make a concerted effort to fine tune Betances' mechanics on a daily basis before he goes off the rails, not afterward.
The argument could be made that the Yankees have enough depth in the bullpen to sustain Betances' meltdowns and the potential he fails to regain his form for an extended period. However, with a rotation that does not work deep into games as a rule outside of Luis Severino, the health and strength of the bullpen is a major key to the club's success. If one of the relievers is unable to hold up his end, it will place undue pressure on the rest of the crew.
After the Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract last winter, the last thing they or he expected was the worst season since he was a 23-year-old rookie set-up man.
Chapman jumped out to a fine start and then suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of action for over one month. He was effective when he returned, but was not as dominant as in year's past. Once August came around, Chapman was downright awful.
In eight innings across eight August appearances, Chapman allowed eight earned runs, while allowing a .961 OPS. Chapman produced just a 9.0 K/9 strikeout rate and a dismal 6.8 walk rate, prompting his removal from the closer's role for a period of time.
After working with Rothschild on his fastball grip, Chapman was able to regain his form and sailed through September. Chapman was as dominant as he had been at any point in pinstripes, striking out 17 batters and walking just two in 12 scoreless innings (11 appearances).
It seems consistency was at the heart of the problem for Chapman. In my opinion, Chapman's inconsistencies were linked to hesitation to mix his off-speed pitches in with his high-octane fastball. Chapman was also a victim of a flat fastball, one that was grabbing too much of the strike zone, making it very hittable despite high velocity.
As with Betances, the Yankees could turn to the deep bullpen if Chapman's inconsistencies resurface. David Robertson certainly has the ability to fill in for Chapman should the closer become ineffective.
That said, Chapman is being paid closer money and expected to handle the role. If Chapman is on his game, he is still among the most dominant relievers in the game, and his pitching the ninth inning fits the mold of the entire relief crew. The Yankees would prefer to allow Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green to navigate lengthier appearances as fireman types while handing clean ninth innings over to Chapman -- something he thrives on -- as often as possible.
Sure, Greg Bird could have also fit in this space, but I feel that much of his issues in the first month of the 2017 season had to do with the ankle injury that ended up costing him most of the season.
Instead, I turn to Romine, whom the Yankees regard as a fine backup catcher. Unfortunately, it should be difficult for anyone to claim Romine was a positive contributor in 2017.
No one expects Romine to be an offensive stalwart (he owns a career 54 OPS+ and generated a 49 OPS+ in 252 plate appearances last season), meaning he needs to be that much more productive behind the plate. In 2017, Romine's defense was as detrimental to the club as his empty offensive line.
Romine turned in a minus-3 mark in defensive runs saved in 517 2/3 innings (67 games, 58 starts) behind the plate. Romine threw out just three base runners in 29 stolen base chances, which equates to a 10 percent rate with the league average being 27 percent. Finally, according to StatCorner, Romine was not a good pitch framer costing minus-2.4 runs in 2017. A backup catcher has to be strong on one side of the ball or the other. Romine has never been a strong hitter, so he'll have to turn in a much better defensive job in 2018.
Why is Romine so important?
The Yankees need starting catcher Gary Sanchez to be healthy and strong for the entire season. Sanchez will require his normal days off and there is always the chance the young star will get banged up and spend time on the shelf whether that's for a few days or a 10-day stint on the disabled list. When Sanchez is not behind the plate, the Yankees can handle the offensive side. However, Romine has to provide some sort of value to the team and it's on defense that he has the best chance to do so.