The Catching Competition

562px-9TH_Austin_Romine
Could Romine Steal the Job?

As Spring Training gets into full swing, Chris and I will examine the bouts for each roster spot up for grabs. We’ll be discussing the battles for 5th starter, utility infielder, right-hand outfielder/DH, and today: the starting catcher.

Unfortunately, the options to replace Russell Martin aren’t very attractive. On the 40-man roster, Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli are the favorites, although Austin Romine still has an outside chance. Additionally, non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson will be under consideration, but is probably the biggest underdog.

Let’s take an unbiased look at this group using ZiPS.

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Based on this projection, the Yankees have quite a predicament in their hands. And I’m not talking about the competition – I’m talking about the atrocious anticipated production. Nobody here is really a good option as a hitter, while defensively, everyone is predicted to be mediocre or slightly below average.

If ZiPS was perfect, Romine would probably be the best choice for the starting role. While his wOBA and WAR are bad, just take a look at who he’s up against. Plus, he may even have gotten slightly shortchanged defensively, considering Baseball America has ranked him the Yankees’ best defensive catcher for three years running.

However, considering Romine missed most of 2012 with back issues, it may be best for him to start the year in Triple-A. He only has 106 plate appearances above Double-A in his career, so he could use the extra developmental time in Scranton after 2012 essentially being a lost season. If he hits well and stays healthy through the beginning of the minor league season, perhaps he forces his way to the big leagues. For now though, he needs at-bats, so he’ll either start in New York or Scranton.

Taking Romine out of the equation, who is the best fit? It’s essentially neck and neck between Stewart and Wilson. Being on the 40-man and already having experience with the pitching staff certainly gives Stewart the advantage over Wilson this Spring. Furthermore, Joe Giradi was recently said the pitchers enjoy throwing the Stewart.

The runt of the group is Cervelli, whose reputation defensively is poor at best. While his career wOBA is .311, ZiPS is most pessimistic offensively about Cervelli than anyone else in the competition. Personally, I think Cervelli would probably hit best out of anyone in this group, but it probably doesn’t matter considering the fact that he’ll still be well below average. Cervelli was linked to Biogenesis this month, but the news shouldn’t have any effect on his standing with the team this Spring.

Ultimately, I’d expect to see Stewart and Cervelli make the club, with Romine heading to Scranton for more reps and Wilson being the odd man out. Since nobody stands out as a hitter, Stewart should start, considering his defensive prowess and rapport with the pitchers.¬†We can only hope that Stewart’s defense is somewhat akin to Martin’s, which would make up for his shortcomings in the batter’s box.

Photo by MissChatter on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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