When the Yankees take the field tonight against the Twins for game two of the American League Division Series, a backup catcher will be behind the plate.
Everyone has said the right thing: this isn’t about individuals, it’s about the team. If you have watched Jorge Posada play for the last 12 years, you know that the mind and heart are not in sync.
Posada was obviously annoyed at the news, saying “You know what? I just hope we win that game. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
He’s since lightened his stance. “I’m not jumping with joy here, but I accept it. A.J. and Jose are going well. I haven’t caught A.J. in a while.”
The bigger question has been whether this is the right move by Girardi.
It’s not an easy question to answer because there are a few variables here, most notably the inconsistency of AJ Burnett. Burnett is a notoriously streaky pitcher, able to rattle off periods of dominance and then completely fall off the cliff for weeks at a time. It’s almost entirely due to Burnett’s control, which can fluctuate wildly not only from start to start but within an inning as well.
Before we try and dissect what’s happening specifically with Burnett, let’s get a look at Posada and Molina’s overall performance over the last four years:
Obviously these are not very good trends for Posada. 2008 is a bit of a wash for Jorge as he spent the few innings he played that year with a bad shoulder injury. Still, the steadily rising catcher’s ERA and runs per game ERA are not encouraging.
Molina, on the other hand, seems to be improving with age. 2008 was a particularly rough season for Molina as he started 100 games for the first time in his career, his previous high being 78 in 2006 for the Angels. Molina has performed well behind the plate when it comes to receiving and has obviously posted better numbers than Posada.
So let’s assume that Molina is a bit better than Posada when it comes to calling games. Let’s get a look at their performances with Burnett:
Obviously, Posada has fared the worst of the three catchers Burnett has thrown to this season. Cervelli seems to have been very good with Burnett and is probably equal the bat to Molina at this stage, but he’s probably a bit too inexperienced to start a postseason game considering he began the 2009 season in AA. What we saw in Molina’s and Posada’s catcher’s ERAs over the last four seasons seems to play out here as well.
Has that translated to AJ Burnett?
Let’s take a look at one of Burnett’s better streaks from this past summer and the catchers that caught him:
Over the course of six starts with Jorge Posada catching, Burnett threw 39.2 innings, allowing 8 earned runs for a 1.80 ERA. His walk rate per nine innings was a little above his season average (4.5 versus 4.2) and his strikeouts per nine innings were a little lower than his season average (7.3 versus 8.5). Those variances are not insignificant, but neither is the 3 home runs given up over that span, which is a pretty small number.
This again raises the question: how do we judge the effectiveness during this eight game span in which Posada caught six of those games? Did Burnett pitch well in spite of Jorge Posada catching him?
It’s difficult to wrap my head around exactly why Burnett could have gone on such a good streak with Posada catching and yet, the public consensus is that he can’t throw to him. Not appearing on this chart is the 7.2 shutout innings Burnett threw against the Red Sox August 7th with, yes, Jorge Posada behind the plate. By most accounts, Jorge and Burnett had a pretty good summer together that was spoiled by a few bad starts in late August and early September.
And about those bad starts with Posada… Take a look at Burnett’s two starts against Baltimore in September:
The line for Posada is a little bit worse than Molina’s because of the hits and 1.2 innings less, but neither catcher was very helpful against Baltimore.
The verdict? It seems that pulling Posada from Burnett for the last month of the season was a rash decision on Girardi’s part, assuming no clubhouse issues that we are not aware of. Burnett was probably working through another of his rough patches and the decision was made to pull Posada away, giving Molina a chance to catch Burnett during a good phase. A backup catcher needs to start at some point and most teams will assign the backup to the pitcher that is most comfortable with him. That may be the case here.
Still, Girardi may have done the Yankees and Posada a disservice by not getting Posada a few starts behind the plate for the Yankees number two starter, a situation that significantly weakens their lineup during the playoffs when Burnett starts. It’s probably too late to right that wrong now.