Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Pitchers And Posada

As Joba Chamberlain has a way of doing, his disagreements with Jorge Posada during their last outing sparked a lot of debate as to whether he should be listening to the veteran backstop. This in turn caused some writers to question whether pitchers in general like throwing to Posada and look into how the staff as a whole performs with him behind the plate.

Here's what some local scribes have to say:

Now, I have long been a huge supporter of Posada the catcher, including defending him in his own clubhouse. Over the years, I have heard plenty of off-the-record snipes from pitchers who did not particularly like Posada's game-calling intellect or the lack of soft hands and finesse that enables a catcher to frame pitches well and steal strikes.


The theory on Posada always has been that he so often had such a huge offensive edge over his catching counterpart that whatever he gave away on defense was more than offset by his bat. But I sense that separation is narrowing. Besides, the Yanks have other bats now to honor better defense behind the plate, especially because the Yankees invested so heavily in their rotation to try to become more of a pitching/defense team.

When you also factor in that preserving Posada's body and bat are most critical now, I think it becomes obvious that, overall, the team is better with him DHing more and catching less.
Enough of this nonsense. The Yankees won three World Series championships with Jorge Posada as their regular catcher and made the playoffs every year with him catching. Then what happened last season? Posada barely played and the Yankees went home in October.

Was that why? I can’t prove that. No more so than anybody can prove that Posada is the reason A.J. Burnett can’t throw strikes.

The idea that a catcher can regularly steal strikes by framing a pitch is largely a myth according to Molina. “Maybe once or twice a game,” he said. “Depends on the umpire.”

According to Molina, the umpires are judging where the ball crosses the plate, not where the catcher’s glove is.
One unsettling fact for the Yankees is the difference when Jorge Posada catches. With Posada behind the plate, the Yankees’ pitchers have a 6.31 E.R.A. The combined E.R.A. with Francisco Cervelli, Jose Molina and Kevin Cash is 3.81.

Posada has caught four starts by Chien-Ming Wang, whose job status is now evaluated on a game-by-game basis. Even removing those starts, the staff’s E.R.A. with Posada is still high, at 5.47.

When he lost a six-run lead in Boston in April, Burnett questioned the pitch selection, though he blamed himself, not Posada. Asked Sunday about the difference in pitching to the rookie Cervelli, Burnett gave a careful but revealing answer.

“I think it’s just a matter of — I don’t know if it’s the catcher — but we threw curveballs in fastball counts, we had them looking for something and they had no idea what was coming, I don’t think,” Burnett said. “That’s huge.”
The difference between a 5.47 and 3.81 ERA is also huge. Bigger than Posada could hope to make up when he's in the batter's box over the long run. Catcher's ERA isn't a perfect measure and when most of CC Sabathia's and Joba Chamberlain's starts are caught by guys other than Jorge, that starts to explain the difference. We don't deal in alternate realities, so it's impossible to compare how a pitcher would have waded through identical line-ups on the same day with different catchers. But 1.66 runs is a wide margin.

My sense watching the Yanks is that Molina especially, is a much better game caller than Posada. He seems to get shaken off less often and the Yankees' pitchers have a 2.80 K/BB ratio when he is behind the plate this year as opposed to Posada's 1.42. tOPS for the staff is 82 for Molina, 91 for Cervelli and 114 for Posada, meaning that hitters are producing well below their averages when the first two are catching and significantly above when Posada is back there.

I agree with Sherman in that the advantage created by Jorge's offense is narrowing. Is he still a better option than the other two catchers to take behind the plate? If he makes the staff's ERA even one full run higher, you'd have a hard time making that case.

This isn't to say that Jorge isn't still far better than most catchers in the league. Even with Molina on the DL and the risk that Cervelli could turn into a pumpkin at any second, the Yankees are lucky to have three above average catchers with very diverse skill sets.

Pete Abe, wrap it up for us, would you?
I will say this: When Molina comes off the DL, the Yankees should seriously consider keeping Cervelli around as a third catcher. That would enable Posada to DH more often. Cervelli is also fast enough to be used a pinch runner on occasion. I can’t imagine how Cervelli would not be more useful than Angel Berroa.


  1. Good stuff. I tend to think that Jorge's catching ERA is an important statistic, but I'm not willing to jettison Jorge as a catcher yet. He's done a very good job throwing out runners this year (15 of 47). I think there is something to Jorge maybe not calling as good a game as Molina and Cervelli. Yet I also put the primary onus on the pitchers for this. To a degree, I think we as fans and media writers are trying to solve an issue that, to some degree, might be an anomaly thus far this year. Jorge has a very comparable catching ERA in 2007 to Molina. To what degree Jorge MAKES the staff ERA higher is still in question, for despite the close relationship built on trust between pitchers and catchers, the pitchers ultimately decide what to throw and need to execute the pitches. Do I think Cervelli and Molina call a better game? On the whole, yes. 1.66 runs per game better? I strongly suspect that gap will shrink over the course of the year.

    If you would like to exchange links, I'd be happy to add yours to my blog.

  2. This post can be summarized in one sentence: "I wish we had signed Jason Varitek."