Another note on Posada
Spurred on by Buster Olney’s mention of this same topic in his blog posting today (I shan’t link; Olney is, shall we say, persnickety about who he links to, so I shall be the same). Olney writes: “If [Jorge Posada] can’t catch, he will have to get the bulk of his at-bats as a designated hitter, compelling the Yankees to press for a trade of one or two veteran hitters, among Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui.”
Seems like they’re working on the latter anyway, as well they should given the declining value of two of the three. As for the designated hitter part of the story, let’s examine that. Last year, the aggregate rates for the DH position were .256/.339/.435, with a home run hit every 24.4 at-bats. The previous season they were .268/.355/.447 with a home run every 25 at-bats.
Parenthetically, the DH numbers always seem to be less than you would expect. The American League as a whole hit .268/.336/.420 in 2008. As a group, the players whose sole job it was to provide offense weren’t a whole lot better. It’s tempting to conclude that AL managers aren’t doing a very good job of designating good hitters, but it that wouldn’t be completely fair; the family of designated hitters had a rough year. Aubrey Huff and Milton Bradley were great, and David Ortiz was good when he wasn’t hurt.
Then there were some rude surprises. Jim Thome struggled early, pulled it together for three months, then slumped again. Matsui was off to a great start when his knees began affecting his production, and his post-injury hitting was even worse. Billy Butler and Jonny Gomes didn’t hit up to their abilities (Butler turned it on in the second half, but it was too late to save his overall numbers). Frank Thomas and Jose Vidro hit the end of the road, and Gary Sheffield hit the Last Rest Stop Before the End of the Road.
The previous year had Ortiz having a monster year, as well as productive seasons from Thome and Jack Cust. There were also some real disasters. I had blocked Shea Hillenbrand out of my memories of the 2007 Angels. He hit .238/.258/.320 as a designated hitter. Whichever team executive thought of Hillenbrand and let him putter on for a quarter of the season should have been cashiered. As planning goes, handing your team a Hillenbrand for its DH is not too dissimilar from those Civil War supply officers who sent their soldiers into battle wearing shoes with soles made out of old cupcake wrappers held together by cat spit.
In the Olney scenario, the Yankees wouldn’t be going with Hillenbrand, or Monty Meigs at DH, but Posada. The question is, if Posada is restricted to DH, can he give the Yankees average or better DH production, something along the lines of the league rates we’ve seen — let’s say a .270 average, .350 on-base percentage, and .440 slugging percentage?
If we go by Posada’s career rates, the answer should be an easy yes. He is, after all, a career .277/.380/.477 hitter. Yet, we’re talking about a Posada that is now 37 years old and is coming off of an injury which affected his swing. As such, Posada’s future is something of a black box. We can look at projections like those at compiled at Fangraphs — Bill James’ system figures .277/.378/.455, CHONE forecasts .266/.363/.434. Posada will hit .285/.374/.466 in Marcel’s prognostication. We should also add PECOTA to that. I can’t tell you exactly what it says just yet, but I will say that it’s a good deal more pessimistic than the rest. It’s also the most conservative on playing time. The projection systems, in the order that I listed them, see something like full-time play, almost full-time play, something like 60 percent play, and, last, PECOTA with something like half a season of playing time.
In Sabermetric circles there is often debate about the relative accuracy of these systems; as a BPer and the co-author and editor of a book which bills itself (tongue in cheek) as the home of the “deadly accurate” PECOTA forecast, I have to dance with the forecaster that brought me. Yet, in this case, I would be prepared to throw it all away, because everything Posada does depends on how he comes back from the surgery. None of these systems know that, although PECOTA has taken last year’s reduction of playing time into account. Posada could do it all, or nothing at all. And suddenly we’re invoking old Frank Sinatra tunes, so it’s probably time to move on.