Monday, August 17, 2009

Feliz Cumpleaños, Jorge

Jorge Posada turns 38 today. Having watched Jorge throughout his entire career might prevent that number from resonating the way it should. We saw him come up through the system and insert himself first as a back up in 1997 and then as the primary catcher during the Championship seasons of 1998 and 1999 with Joe Girardi making 50-60 starts behind him. He shouldn't be that old yet, though, should he?

Perhaps it makes us feel old as Yankee fans to think about the fact that Jorge is damn near 40, but it should make you appreciate what he is doing at his age when you take a look at the rest of the league.

There are only three other active catchers in the Majors right now older than Jorge: Brad Ausmus, Mike Redmond and Gregg Zaun. Of those three, Redmond has the fewest innings behind the plate with 5,146 mostly because he's never played 88 or more games in a single season. He's got a .347 career OBP but only a 89 OPS+, dragged down by a .362 slugging percentage.

Ausmus was actually drafted by the Yankees in the 48th round of the 1987 draft but didn't make his debut until six years later, after being picked up by the Rockies in the expansion draft and and traded to San Diego shortly thereafter. He hasn't been an above average hitter, even for a catcher, over the course of a season since 1995. He's logged 15,606 innings behind the plate in his 17 years in the Majors, the only player other than Pudge Rodriguez with more than the 11,993 that Jorge has compiled.

The illustrious Zaun is now playing for his third team in two years and ninth in his career.
He's played more than 110 games in exactly one season, 2005, and has only been league average while making more than 300 plate appearances twice (1996 & 97).

Amazingly, Jorge has only been below average at the plate in one year of his career, in stark contrast to the three above whose very best season between three of them is still well short of Jorge's career averages.

Historically, there have only been 43 seasons with more than 200 plate appearances in the history of baseball turned in by catchers over the age of 38. Seven of those were played by Carlton Fisk with the White Sox and twenty others took place before 1947. The only Yankees to appear on the list are Elston Howard for a season he split with the Red Sox in 1967 and Deacon McGuire in 1904 & 05.

Of the 43 seasons, only 12 included above average offensive production, with Fisk accounting for one-third of those.

Although this year won't qualify as his age 38 season, Posada is hitting .273/.346./.495 with 15 home runs, good for a 118 OPS+. When the Yanks signed Jorge to his 4 year $52M extension they likely knew that they weren't going to get anything close to the .338/.426/.543 line he was coming off, and understood the uncertainly involved with signing a 36 year old catcher to a deal that long. But if they didn't give him that fourth year, someone else (the Mets) was certainly going to. Before that deal, he hadn't spent a day on the disabled list in his career. Since then, he missed more than two thirds of the '08 season and spend time on the DL earlier this year, but has still been able to produce at the plate and defend competently behind it when healthy.

The last time a catcher finished a season with an OPS+ over 100 at the age of 38 was when Fisk did it in 1990. He did it in 1989, '88 & '87 as well, and the last guy to do it before that was Ernie Lombardi in 1946.

Will Jorge be able to accomplish this rare feat in the next two years? Is he a physical freak like Pudge who can continue to simultaneously squat and rake well into his 40's? It's commonly stated that Jorge has less wear and tear on his body because he was signed as a second baseman, but he's been a catcher almost exclusively since he was 20 years old. 18 years behind the plate has to take its toll.

As much as we love Jose Molina's skills behind the plate and Frankie Cervelli's youthful spunk, Posada brings a combination of skills to the table surpassed perhaps only by Joe Mauer at the current moment. As evidenced by last year, the Yanks need Posada badly.

Happy birthday, Jorgie. Keep it rolling.


  1. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that Yankees fans are really getting to witness something amazing. Three guys. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. All three have been with the Yankees for 13 plus seasons. All three are either as close to as good now, as good, or possibly even better than they have ever been. The more I think about that fact, the more unbelievable it is to me. It is something that all fans should really appreciate because it is hard to imagine many organizations finding three guys like that to do what they have done together for so long.

  2. Agreed, Gripp. Although Pettitte has his Houston hiatus, he belongs in that group as well. A terrific shortstop, catcher, left handed starter and a dominant relief pitcher is a hell of a core to build around. A couple of years ago you could add CF to that mix with Bernie.

  3. Having a 35 year old SS, a 39 year old closer, and a 38 year old C doing what they are doing this season is mind boggling.