Posada’s Catching Called Into Question

Columns — By on June 16, 2009 4:16 pm

Tyler Kepner takes a look at the Yankees’ rotation woes and finds a theme:

Through Sunday, Yankees pitchers were tied for 17th in the majors in walks on the road. But in home games, they ranked second. Cashman said the pitchers might be less aggressive at home, fearing that their fastballs will land in the seats.

“We’re better than this,” he said. “It’s a concern. We definitely have a brush fire of control going through this staff. It’s a problem, no doubt. We’ve got a strikeout staff that should trust their stuff more than they do.”

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.

Posada, 37, has handled many exceptional pitchers in his career. Although some, like Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, have preferred other catchers, Posada does not have to apologize for his résumé. Posada takes his job seriously and is an emotional engine of the team.

Yet Burnett, in particular, seems to struggle with him. In Burnett’s four starts pitching to Posada, opponents have batted .330. In nine starts with the other catchers, the average is .223.

It’s funny, when the Yankees went on their nine game winning streak, allowing roughly 3.22 runs per game, I was intrigued by the fact that Francisco Cervelli had started seven of those games.  In the thirty-two games before the streak, the Yankees had given up roughly 6.18 runs per game.

Coincidence?

Kepner’s right: Posada has caught many great pitchers and had a lot of success with them.  He’s also had some pitchers that want nothing to do with him and, for awhile, neither did Pettitte.  Remember that Jim Leyritz was Pettitte’s personal catcher before Posada took over the full time reigns.  Once Posada became the full time backstop in 1998, Pettitte’s ERA rose significantly, from 2.88 in 1997 to 4.24 in 1998, then 4.70 in 1999.  So high was the concern that when Leyritz was reacquired in the middle of the 1999 season, some speculated he might start catching for Pettitte again despite Joe Girardi still being on the roster.

It’s difficult to compare Posada’s Catchers ERA to his backstops over the last few years because the playing time has been so scattered.  Posada missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and Jose Molina has been out most of this season with a strained quad.  The Yankees of previous seasons have had a revolving door of backups, from Todd Greene to John Flaherty.  Flaherty managed to log three years with the Yankees and had a lower Catchers ERA than Posada in two of those three years.

It’s probably not enough of a sample to make a comparison, but something from Flaherty is rather enlightening.  Flaherty is an announcer for the YES Network and was recently on with Mike Francesa on 660 WFAN in New York before the Red Sox series.  The subject of pitch calling came up and Flaherty remarked that one of Posada’s pitch calling techniques was to think what pitch he would be expecting in each situation and call a different pitch.

It seems like sound logic unless you’ve watched Posada hit for the last ten years.  Posada is a good hitter, but he’s not a very good guesser.  Oftentimes, his strike outs are caught looking as he’s expecting one pitch and doesn’t have the plate coverage to foul off a wrong guess.  His OBP hasn’t suffered for it so I could be overstating my case, but to the eye, it’s something I’ve noticed on many occasions, much more so than any other player.

All of this doesn’t mean the Yankees should take Posada out from behind the plate and stick him at DH, but it could be on the horizon.  Jorge is 37 this year which is old for a catcher and probably isn’t long for the position at this point.  Plus, assuming the Twins don’t lock up Joe Mauer after the 2010 season, the Yankees and Red Sox will conspire to make him a very rich man.

In the meantime, Posada’s bat will makeup for whatever woes, perceived or otherwise, he may be causing behind the plate.

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