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The call to move Gary Sanchez to DH grows louder

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Last night the Yankees lost and lost big. The biggest culprit in the loss was Sonny Gray and the bullpen imploding to allow seven runs in the fifth inning. Two of those runs, however, scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball, respectively.

You know what that means, right? Yep, the call to move Gary Sanchez from behind the plate and the DH slot for the playoffs grows louder. From John Harper at the Daily News:

Suddenly a thorny problem that won’t go away is once again complicating matters for Joe Girardi, perhaps forcing him to choose between his heart and his head next week when it comes to his catcher . . . Joe Girardi shouldn’t take that chance. Not when he can keep [Gary] Sanchez’s bat in the lineup as the DH and have Austin Romine, a more skilled defensive catcher, behind the plate.

No, Sanchez did not cover himself with glory last night, as even the wild pitch was one which I presume most catchers would’ve blocked better. But with the acknowledgement that Sanchez has defensive issues when it comes to blocking pitches — he leads the league in passed balls — it’d be madness to put Romine behind the plate — and let him take a bat to the plate — in a one-and-done game as Harper suggests.

Austin Romine may be a fine young man, but he’s not a major league hitter. On the year he’s batting .220/.276/.295. And that’s actually deceptive. Since Sanchez came off the DL in May and resumed his starting position, Romine has hit a execrable.187/.249/.241. He’s a complete and utter offensive liability.

He’s no more a complete defensive catcher than Sanchez is either, by the way. Yes, he’s a better pitch blocker, but he’s only caught three of 28 base stealers this season, which is a 10.7% rate. Sanchez, in contrast, has a cannon for an arm and has nailed 38% of potential base stealers. If Twins pitchers would love to see Austin Romine take up one of the lineup slots for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, Byron Buxton would be positively over the moon to see him behind the dish if he reaches first base.

While I would strongly consider putting Romine in as a defensive replacement in the event a playoff game was close, there were runners on and, say, Dellin Betances was coming on to get a tough out, you do not give him three or four at bats at the expense of whoever the Yankees would otherwise use as a DH (Matt Holliday? Chase Headley? Aaron Hicks in the outfield with Aaron Judge DHing?). Yes, it would be bad for a run to score or a runner to advance due to a Gary Sanchez mistake. But it’s far more likely that a Yankees run won’t score or a Yankees runner won’t advance if it’s left up to Austin Romine with a bat in his hand.

 

This Day in Transaction History: Phillies acquire John Kruk from Padres

John Kruk
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John Kruk is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history. Kruk, who is currently a broadcaster for the Phillies, had a 10-year career during which he hit exactly 100 homers, batted exactly .300, and posted an excellent .397 on-base percentage. In baseball history, there are only 32 members of the admittedly arbitrary 100/.300/.395+ club. Kruk is one of only 10 members of the club that played after 1963. The others: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramírez, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Wade Boggs. Of them, five are Hall of Famers. Trout and Votto will be, and Helton and Ramírez should be.

On this day in 1989, the Phillies made a franchise-altering trade, acquiring Kruk along with infielder Randy Ready from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Chris James. The Padres had just swept the Phillies at home and were hoping to jump into the playoff race. They immediately went into a losing skid, but caught fire at the end of the season, finishing 89-73. However, that wasn’t good enough as the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record. James was solid for the Padres, posting a .743 OPS with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 87 games.

Kruk had an interesting but brief major league career with the Padres. His roommate, Roy Plummer, was an armed robber. Kruk was completely unaware of this. In spring training of 1988, the FBI informed Kruk of his roommates’ activities. Kruk feared retribution from Plummer and said that the anxiety affected his baseball performance. In 1988, Kruk batted what was for him a poor .241/.369/.362 with nine homers and 44 RBI over 466 plate appearances.

The Phillies didn’t enjoy immediate success upon Kruk’s arrival in 1989. The club finished the season with a losing record and would do the same in the ensuing three seasons. None of it was Kruk’s fault, though: in aggregate, from 1990-92, he hit .303/.393/.459, earning two All-Star nominations. In this span of time, the only other first basemen to hit above .300 were Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Hal Morris, and Rafael Palmeiro. The Padres had used Kruk both in the corner outfield and at first base, but the Phillies made him a full-time first baseman, which turned out to be a good move.

In 1993, everything came together for the Phillies and Kruk had what was arguably the greatest season of his career. He hit .316, which was actually seven points below his average the previous year, but he drew 111 walks to push his on-base percentage up to .430. Kruk hit third in the lineup, creating plenty of RBI opportunities for Dave Hollins in the clean-up spot, Darren Daulton at No. 5, and the trio of Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Wes Chamberlain in the No. 6 spot. The Phillies shocked the world in ’93, winning the NL East by three games over the Expos with a 97-65 record. They then dispatched the Braves in six games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series against the Blue Jays.

Kruk was productive in the NLCS, contributing six hits including a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, four walks, five RBI, and four runs scored. But he turned things up a notch in the World Series, registering multi-hit performances in the first three games. He would finish the World Series with eight hits in 23 at-bats along with seven walks, four RBI, and four runs scored. The World Series was winnable for the Phillies as they lost a barnburner Game 4 15-14, and of course, dropped the deciding Game 6 on a World Series-clinching walk-off three-run home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

1994 was tough on Kruk in many ways. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in spring training. Knee issues continued to bother him, and then Major League Baseball had a work stoppage. In an abbreviated season, Kruk hit a still-productive .823 OPS. He became a free agent and, when baseball came back, he signed with the White Sox. In the first inning of a July 30 game against the Orioles in ’95, Kruk singled to left field off of Scott Erickson. He reached first base, bowed to the fans, and walked off the field into retirement. Kruk told the media, “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”

Kruk has spent his post-playing days working in sports media as both a broadcaster (Phillies, ESPN nationally) and as a commentator (The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Baseball Tonight). The Phillies inducted him into their Wall of Fame in August 2011. One wonders if Kruk hadn’t been bit by the injury bug, and if there hadn’t been a work stoppage, if he might have been able to accrue some more numbers to have a borderline Hall of Fame case. Regardless, he’ll go down as one of the games’ quietly great hitters.