Results tagged ‘ Jorge Posada ’

That Cervelli kid

cervelli_275_091809.jpgI want to respond to one commenter on yesterday’s entry — I tend to assume that even one opinion fronts for an army of like-thinking fellow travelers, though in this case it’s something we’ve heard before: Let Frankie Cervelli catch next year.

We’ve been over this ground before, but since this thought is still harbored out there like some kind of hidden infestation of bedbugs, I want to go back to it. Cervelli is an athletic, mobile catcher and he’s going to have a decent career just on the quality of his defense. This is not in dispute. Cervelli’s active presence behind the plate catches the eye; there’s nothing subtle about his work, no “inside baseball” aspect that requires you to be told what he’s doing. He’s a lot of fun to watch back there, especially compared to Jorge Posada’s no-frills brand of backstopping, with his trademark “pick it up when it stops rolling” approach to pitches in the dirt. Posada was never the most artful of catchers, and now that his ballplaying life can be numbered in dog-years, he’s starting to be a bit reminiscent of Rodin’s “Thinker”

You already know where we’re going with this: Posada is a crazy good hitter for a catcher. The average MLB receiver is batting .254/.320/.397. There’s a reason the Tigers have tried to shift their catching responsibilities from veteran Gerald Laird to Alex Avila, a rookie out of Double-A while in the midst of a pennant race, which is that Posada-ism is seen as a desirable thing to pursue. There’s always a team or two that goes with a Brad Ausmus-style catcher and sees that as an advantage, but the offensive pace of today’s game is simply too demanding to embrace purely defensive players on more than a limited basis.  

Make no mistake that Cervelli is a purely defensive player at this time. While 89 Major League plate appearances is a small sample, Cervelli’s .268/.282/.341 is consistent with his production during his short Minor League career, during which he hit .273/.367/.380 in 828 plate appearances. Although Cervelli showed decent selectivity at the lower levels, his complete lack of power mean pitchers won’t respect him enough to let him utilize that patience — they’re going to come right after him. One key takeaway here is that .273/.367/.380 in the Minors, primarily the low Minors, does not suggest the foundations of a Major League hitter. It suggests an out machine. It might suggest Jose Molina, and Molina, also a very talented catcher, isn’t good enough to play every day.

The Angels, for all of Mike Scioscia’s love of good defense at catcher (he being an excellent defender himself, and a brick wall when blocking the plate), kept him firmly behind Bengie Molina. The team to give Molina the most playing time, last year’s Yankees, was also the first Yankees team to miss the playoffs in 100 years. It was not a coincidence — despite the fact that Molina allowed only two passed balls, despite the fact that he caught 44 percent of basestealers. An offense can’t overcome that many outs, and a bad hitter makes more of them on offense than he can possibly save on defense.

Period. No debate. This is reality. It’s not a stathead thing. It’s not a calculator thing. It’s just very basic truth. A catcher might get 600 chances on offense a year. The number of great, run-saving plays that a strong defensive catcher will make over a mediocre one doesn’t add up to the extra outs. It can’t when we’re talking about plays that save perhaps a base a game, if that.

If Posada’s defense frustrates you, that’s understandable. However, the kind of exchange being proposed suggest that winning is also frustrating. Posada, when he’s not elbowing opposing pitchers in the ribs, is a huge contributor. You want to get mad at the Yankees for being tolerant of players who don’t contribute, you can always remember how many games they lost with Cody Ransom subbing for Alex Rodriguez, or think on how long Angel Berroa stuck on the roster, or rent your garments every time Sergio Mitre pitches — I’m about out of good shirts at this point, although the cats enjoy chasing the flying buttons.

Otherwise, you’re really biting the hand that feeds the Yankees, or one of them. As it says in the New Testament, a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. It turns out the same thing is true of Jorge Posada. An offensive-minded catcher is not without honor, save to team’s fans.

STILL WAITING ON ACTION JACKSON
Scranton lost their playoff series on Thursday, which frees as many Pennsylvania Yankees as the club would like to come on up to the big city. Juan Miranda was recalled today. Austin Jackson is not on the 40-man roster, so a move would have to be made to get him to the bigs. Perhaps Christian “Out For the Year” Garcia could be shifted over to the 60-day disabled list to create a spot. Or Sergio Mitre could be released…

…Miranda, who is either 16 or 29, had a solid year at Scranton, batting .290/.369/.498 with 19 home runs in 122 games, handling left-handed and right-handed pitchers with equal aplomb. This performance translates to .273/.351/.491, which is not without its uses, though it’s not particularly useful to the Yankees because they’ve gotten fine left-handed production at DH and Mark Teixeira is a full-service first baseman. Thus, the Yankees have another power-hitting pinch-hitter to go with Shelley Duncan, which is okay.

Unfortunately, every team except, apparently, the Rays, has their own Duncan or Miranda, so there’s not much market for these guys. Every once in awhile one will surface in the Majors and do well, like Randy Ruiz with the Blue Jays or Garrett Jones with the Pirates, and everyone will act surprised, but they shouldn’t, because the thing that held them back wasn’t that they couldn’t hit, but that over the long term they weren’t expected to hit well enough to sustain first base or right field given lousy-to-non-existent defense. Kevin Millar is the rare example of this brand of player who actually went on to have a sustained career as a starter.

Whatever his age, Miranda has hit well enough in the minors to deserve at least a small chance from some team looking for a low-cost lefty for a DH or first base rotation. The production likely wouldn’t be great, but say your team is in the position of the Rays, having to play 35-year-old Chris Richard — at that point, you’ll take whatever Miranda can give you.

Unfortunately for him, barring a catastrophic series of injuries, that team will never be the Yankees. Here’s hoping he pops a few home runs during his Big League cameo and ups his trade value. Given his age, which is closer to 30 than not, he’s not going to be getting any better, so he’s not doing much at Scranton other than providing a “Break Glass in Case of” option.

Down with Mitre, brawling, rivers in Thailand

mitre02.jpgWHAT CASEY SAID
Forgive me if I’ve used this quote before in talking about Sergio Mitre. When the Yankees lost a miserable home game, ten-time pennant-winning Yankees manager Casey Stengel had a saying: “The attendance was robbed,” by which he meant, “We didn’t give the fans fair value tonight.

Each time the Yankees start Mitre, the attendance gets robbed. After Mitre’s last start, Joe Girardi claimed that the defense had undermined what was otherwise a good start. This time, Mitre allowed four home runs in five innings of work. With all respect to Girardi, who has largely done a fine job this season, if he says that Mitre pitched well but the stadium was too small to contain his genius, I’m going to be sick.

The Yankees don’t need these wins, or at least they don’t right now, though if they somehow lose home field advantage in the playoffs, you can start pointing fingers at whoever has authorized Mitre to make start after miserable start. Still, even if they end up with pole position in the postseason, simple professionalism should dictate that Mitre doesn’t get any more games.

Even if these starts rank as throwaways for the 2009 season, surely there is some deserving young hurler — perhaps Trenton’s Zach McAllister? — who deserves a chance to show what he can do so the Yankees are more informed about their options for next year. The more the Yankees know about what they have on hand for 2010, the less they have to sweat subsidizing Chen-Ming Wang’s decline or making any other needlessly expensive moves. At this point, all Mitre is telling them is that he’s currently not a Major League pitcher. What he’s telling the fans, or what the Yankees are telling them by pitching him, is a very different matter.

OVERHEARD
I was drinking coffee in a bookstore recently when I heard a fellow at the table next to me say, “Denial is a river in Thailand.” I’m still not sure what he thought he was saying.

THE BRAWL
It seems like just about every observer of last night’s fracas has come to the same very reasonable conclusion, which is that whatever the offense Jorge Posada thought he had suffered — and having someone throw behind you is worse than having someone throw at you, because you can duck the latter, whereas you’re more likely to duck into the former — the fight was not something the Yankees needed. The risk of serious injury to a key player is too great, and with the team needing to protect both the division title and home-field advantage, even a small suspension can be ruinous.

This is particularly true in the case of Posada, who is sure to be seen as the primary instigator of last night’s action. The drop-off in offense from Hip-Hip Jorge to Hic-Hic Jose Molina or the non-alliterative Francisco Cervelli is so huge that an ICBM couldn’t carry the distance – although let’s give all due credit to Molina for his .320 on-base percentage, which is easily a career high; Molina has never cleared a .300 OBP in any season of more than 81 plate appearances. Sadly, his newfound selectivity does not erase his other offensive deficiencies, so he’s literally about half the hitter that Posada has been this year.

Jesse Carlson is a busher, a 28-year-old sophomore spot reliever on a nowhere team. He was wrong to throw behind Posada, even to deliver a message, and he was out of place on the play at the plate during which Posada (needlessly) elbowed him. We talk about players like this playing spoiler, but usually they do that by beating a contender, not taking a beating so that the contender loses its best players to disciplinary action. Tempers can flare, people will fight — that’s all understandable and human. The Yankees have to be smarter than base instinct if they want to win a pennant and eventually a championship. Girardi was right to tell them so after the game. There’s more at stake than masculine pride.

Posada improving on the road

THEME SONG FOR TODAY
I’m diggin’ one of the great lost rockabilly classics, “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache”. Somehow Sam Phillips of Sun Records never got this late ’50s track on a single, even as a B side; he was apparently too busy promoting guys like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. You try to figure out a guy’s priorities, I tell ya.  

posada300_090409.jpgJUST A CRUMB ON POSADA
A few days ago, I said that it was good to see Jorge have some big games on the road, because his production largely favored All-Embracing Yankee Stadium the Deuce. This is still the case (.335/.403/.658 in the Bronx — funny how that doesn’t change with the team on the road), but the road production is now respectable, particularly for an elderly catcher, at .244/.327/.435. His overall rates of .288/.363/.543 are verging on the special. Catchers his age who have carried those kinds of numbers through a full season or anything like it number exactly one: In one of the great fluke seasons, the platoon catcher Greg Myers, a career .255/.313/.395 hitter, had a huge year at 37 for the 2003 Blue Jays, batting .307/.374/.502 with 15 home runs in 121 games. That’s the list. At 37, Johnny Bench was on the golf course. Bill Dickey was with the Great Lakes Navy team after a few years as a part timer. Yogi Berra was a reserve who hit .224. Gary Carter was just hanging on. Ted Simmons stopped hitting that way at 31. Ivan Rodriguez stopped hitting five years ago.

Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Gabby Hartnett, they all had some good years on the aged side of things, but not quite at that level (though Fisk’s 1988, .277/.377/.542 is close when you adjust for context; unfortunately, he only played in 76 games). Ernie Lombardi hit .307/.387/.486 at 37, but against diluted wartime competition. Regardless of whether the new ballpark has given him a push, the fact is that he’s having a season that is a rarity in the annals of extreme veteran backstops.

It seems like only yesterday we were watching Jose Molina and Kevin Cash split the catching chores. What a reversal.

JOBA CHAMBERLAIN, TANDEM STARTER
In the recent past, some teams have experimented with keeping the innings of their pitching prospects under control in the low Minors by designating tandem starters — every fifth day, John pitches four innings and Bob pitches four innings. This was scoffed at by many, and it was unthinkable that such a program would be undertaken in the Majors, and yet, here we are.

At this point, it is safe to say that no pitcher in history has been treated in quite the same way Joba has. Credit where credit is due to the Yankees for trying something different, something preventative, but wow — there are famous works of art that have been treated more harshly (I’m thinking Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” vs. Napoleon’s troops — final score Troops 1, Painting 0). I know I’ve been asking this question in different ways since the All-Star break, but the mystery goes on: What if saving Joba means destroying his effectiveness? What if you get what you wanted but lost what you have?
 
MORE FROM ME
A bit on the dangers of a speed-based offense at Baseball Prospectus, and no subscription required to view. 

The wins keep coming … and coming

THE PACE

Posada-9-1-250.jpgThe Yankees are currently on a pace for 103 wins, and given their remaining schedule, they could win more than that. Should they hold up, the 2009 Yankees would become the 18th team in club history to win 100 or more games. Note that this is no proof of destiny–the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees won over 100 games and only one of them got to a World Series. Still, winning 100 games is the traditional mark of a club that is dominant in a historically significant way, so at some point we will have to figure out where this Yankees edition ranks among the great teams, both in comparison to Yankees predecessors and the 75 other 100-game teams from 1901 onwards.

Should this year’s team exceed 103 wins, they would join a most elite list of Yankees teams that have exceeded that mark — 1998 (114 wins), 1927 (110), 1961 (109), 1932 (107), 1939 (106), and 1963 (104). While dispensing with the normal allowances made for modern conditioning, relievers, the slider, night baseball, integration, and other factors that make comparing teams and players across eras an exercise in futility, it’s hard to see this team competing too strongly with the six listed above, except perhaps for 1932, a very similar outfit that was all about the offense (the only consistent pitchers were Red Ruffing and the fiery Johnny Allen), and the overrated 1961 team. The 1961 team had better starting pitching and a couple of Hall of Fame-level offensive seasons from Mantle and Maris, but the rest was unremarkable.

If you want to go by winning percentage, then the bar gets a little higher, with the 2009 team’s current .636 tied with five other clubs for 18th-best in club history, some non-100-game teams like the 1938 and 1953 Yankees sneaking in ahead of them. No one ever talks about the champion 1953 team as one of the best in club history, but it was a very good offensive unit (Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer all had big years in the outfield, and the only starter not to have at least a league-average season was second baseman Billy Martin) with a deep, versatile pitching staff.

We have another month to figure out where the 2009 team fits, or if they fit at all, so this is premature, but it’s more fun talking about this than the stuff we were talking about at this time last year.

POSADA AND THE PARK EFFECTS…
…That would be a swell name for a band, particularly if your name was Posada. It was good to see him swat a couple of home runs on the road, as he has largely confined his hitting to Yankee Stadium II this year, and we wouldn’t want folks to conclude he was merely banging ’em over the Blue Enabler (see, the Red Sox have the Green Monster and the Yankees have, heh, the Blue… oh, forget it). He still has some distance to go to overcome the possibility of being labeled the anti-Swisher, with .227/.314/.399 rates on the road versus a Piazza-like .335/.403/.658 at home. Despite the imbalance, his current 883 OPS ranks 15th among Yankees catchers (single-season, 300 PAs and up), mostly exceeded by Bill Dickey, Mike Stanley, and Yogi Berra, plus about three seasons from Posada himself. It has been a fine year, though slightly subpar by Posada’s own high standards as his walk rate has hit the lowest level of his career. Given that Posada is a 37-year-old catcher having one of the top 20 seasons at his position in team history, it probably would be ungrateful to kick about a detail like that.

Amending the Joba Rules

joba250.jpgONE GAME DOESN’T PROVE ANYTHING…
It’s more than one game, though. Since we’ve been arguing about Jorge Posada all week, I thought I would point out that his detractors got his wish, with the old man taking a ball off the finger and going out of the lineup for a few days. With Thursday’s loss, the team record in Molina’s starts dropped to 13-14. Having fun yet? Maybe the next time Bob Geren brings the A’s by, he can suit up and spend the series putting up a .280 on-base percentage for the folks who miss the quiet Yankees games of the early 1990s. You know–the pro-Molina guys.

JOBA RULES AMENDED AGAIN
Peter Abraham reports that Joba Chamberlain will now pitch every five games. There is something to be said for not making things up as you go along, especially when dealing with a kid pitcher who probably lacks the perspective that the Yankees have about injuries. He just wants to win some ballgames, get established, make some millions. Maybe he should care more about innings limits, but it’s hard to when you have a strong desire to do something, the way you might linger of a project, a book, or a TV show when you should really quit and go to bed; the way some have trouble turning down a slab of chocolate cake when they know they really shouldn’t eat it (yes, the previous two examples describe me). Consequences or always for another day. If the Yankees have gotten bad results from putting Joba on an innings diet, it is because they failed to make it clear to him at the outset what he’d be doing and when, and by “outset” what is meant is “spring training.” It is clear that the erratic nature of the Rules left Chamberlain confused and under pressure as well as disrupted him mechanically. He appeared to pitch as if he knew this would be his only chance for the next seven to ten days.

As I have pointed out in the past, the worst thing about this second iteration of the Rules is that they were counterproductive. Preventing pitcher injuries is in no way a science. There’s a lot of guesswork, and in the end, it is likely that the only thing that can prevent pitching injuries is not pitching. The best teams can do is avoid the obviously dangerous stuff. That’s what the Yankees are trying to achieve by controlling Chamberlain’s innings. Yet, another danger, and perhaps a more important one than innings, is that of long, high-pitch innings. The more time off Joba had, the wilder he got. The wilder he got, the more pitches he threw. The total for the entire game might be the same, but one or two innings would suffer from a balloon effect. It is those innings, where pitch after pitch after pitch is thrown, that carry the highest risk of injury.

The latest change would seem to carry the best chances of good results for everyone except Yankees relievers. Chamberlain will start in his rotation spot, but will have his pitches limited and his appearances truncated. Given a fairly solid lock on a postseason berth, team goals shouldn’t be compromised too badly, certainly not any more than they have been by putting Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

COKE: THE PAUSE THAT … UM…
The Yankees’ primary bullpen lefty has now allowed six home runs to left-handed hitters this year. Though left-handers are hitting only .209 against him with a .235 OBP, they’re also averaging a home run every 18 at-bats, which is a 33-homer pace over 600 at-bats. Coke might seem too dangerous to use in a key situation, but should we discount some of the home runs by left-handed hitters because they get to take aim at Yankee Stadium’s short right field? It’s hard to say. Three of the six homers have been shots to right field at home. Would they have gone out of the old park? We can’t know for sure. The one thing we can say is that Coke gets very few groundballs. In his brief but effective debut last year, he was much better at keeping the ball down. This year, he’s deep in negative territory when it comes to groundball/flyball ratio. If he’s going to succeed in a late-inning role, be it at Yankee Stadium II or anywhere else (but especially there), a change in style is going to be necessary.

20-GAME WATCH: WHITE SOX VS. YANKEES
                  W-L  RS/G  RA/G  AVG   OBP   SLG  AB/HR  SB  CS  HR/9 BB/9  K/9
White Sox  8-12 4.6    4.9    .251   .337  .412  28       14  2    1.4    3.0    7.2
Yankees    14-6  6.1    4.6    .296   .362  .506  20        9   3    1.2    3.7    9.0

The Red Sox took three of four, and given that the Yankees lost three of four in Chicago, they owe the Pale House some of the same treatment… The Yankees’ runs/game numbers are distorted by the 20 they put up in Boston. Discount that game, replace it with a 21st game, August 5 at Toronto, and they have averaged 5.5 runs per game, still very good… Since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has gone 0-4 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts. That includes eight shutout innings against Seattle (a 1-0 loss for the White Sox), so you can see how miserable he’s been in the other five games… That Alex Rios pickup hasn’t really worked out so far, with the outfielder hitting only .200 in 12 games. White Sox center fielders have batted .223/.276/.307 on the season, which is a lot like not having a center fielder at all… Gordon Beckham, a Rookie of the Year candidate, has been ice cold, with only eight hits in his last 12 games (.170)… An overly right-handed ballclub, with over 60% of plate appearances going to northpaws, the Sox shouldn’t be able to take too great an advantage of Yankee Stadium II.

BLESSED
I’m very happy my friend and colleague Jonah Keri is still alive.

The most annoying game of the year

joba_250_082609.jpgThe fact that the game probably won’t mean much to the outcome of the season notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s ballgame had to be one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the Yankees. They got out to a big lead, but Joba Chamberlain was unable to shut down an enemy offense that has had a hard time getting on base at a .300 rate on the road. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if Chamberlain is just lost or the Yankees have lost him, playing so many games with his schedule in the interest of protecting him that they’ve actually played head games with their own pitcher, sabotaging him mentally.

Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Ron Washington decided to finish up with Jason Grilli, never a good idea against a top offense. Predictably, the Yankees started putting runners on base with a Johnny Damon single and a Mark Teixeira walk. Washington then reached for closer Frank Francisco, the Santa Domingo Treat, who couldn’t throw a strike, or at least not a good one. A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui singled. The much-maligned Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano singled. What had been a 10-5 game was unexpectedly 10-9, men on first and second with none out and Nick Swisher at the plate.

Joe Girardi called for a bunt. You can first-guess the play, and I did, but it’s not a clear-cut decision. After last night, Swisher is a .200/.376/.313 hitter at home, and although there isn’t any particular reason that Yankee Stadium II should be such an impediment to him, it isn’t unreasonable at this point for Girardi to assume that Swisher isn’t likely to get a big hit in that spot. That said, Girardi could also have tried to give Swisher a mental boost by showing confidence in him — there’s nothing stopping Swisher from hitting at home except Swisher. Alternatively, Girardi could have also looked at the situation — pitcher falling apart, a batter at the plate who, even if he fails to hit, is still taking a ton of walks, and let Swisher try to walk to reload the bases. The double-play threat was relatively weak — the league double play rate is about 11 percent. Swisher, with all his fly balls and strikeouts, is a little better than average in this regard, hitting into a double play in only 10 percent of his chances.

An additional negative to calling for the bunt derives from goals: are the Yankees trying to tie the game or win it? Conventional wisdom says the former, but with two runners on, none out, and a pitcher in mid-meltdown, they had a good chance to do both. Even if Swisher had succeeded in getting his bunt down, Girardi was falling into the trap that Earl Weaver warned against: if you play for only one run, you’ll only get one run. The Yankees were in a position to win, not tie, the game. There was a very good chance that Swisher would have walked, and although Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter are double play threats, even a double play has a good chance of scoring the tying run with the bases loaded and none out. In addition, as bad as Swisher has been, the Yankees would have still had to get through Cabrera to survive the inning, and unlike Swisher, Cabrera doesn’t have the redeeming virtue of selectivity.

You know how it worked out. It easily could have gone the other way; if Swisher executed on the bunt, perhaps the game would have gone to extra innings, and the Yankees, with Phil Hughes, Mo Rivera, and the rest, not to mention the last turn at bat, still would have had a very good chance of winning. Still, with Chamberlain’s erratic performance, perhaps provoked by the Yankees’ erratic handling of him, the Rangers trying to give the game away twice, the bunt call by Girardi, and Swisher’s failure to execute, this easily qualifies as the most annoying loss the Yankees have suffered in a long time. As I said above, the good news is that in the long run it shouldn’t mean very much at all.

cameron_250_082609.jpgLAST-MINUTE TRADES
Five shopping days remain until rosters are frozen for the postseason, which means Brian Cashman can still get his trading shoes on and make a deal. I realize I’ve had a Magellanic range of opinions on Cabrera, but given his current slump (.236/.306/.380 from June 1 on, .198/.239/.326 in August) as well as Brett Gardner’s limitations and his uncertain status as he returns from a thumb injury, and the Yankees might benefit from revisiting an offseason trade target, Mike Cameron of the Brewers.

There are four factors which should combine to make Cameron a relatively cheap acquisition should Doug Melvin be willing to deal: the Brewers have next to no chance of getting to the postseason; Cameron is 36; Cameron is making $10 million; Cameron’s contract is up. The old man has had a relatively good season at .259/.362/.456, and his defensive work is still strong. He’s also played on four postseason teams (though his October work has been miserable). Offense isn’t the Yankees’ problem, but every little bit helps when your goal is to win a World Series, and it’s difficult to image the Brewers would hold out for a top prospect…

…Unless they somehow have delusions that getting nothing is better than getting something, which Melvin suggests is the case, saying, “I’ve gotten calls, but they don’t want to give much up at this time of year … They’ll give you cash, but they don’t want to give me a player … I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury. I don’t anticipate anything.”

Cameron would likely be a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Brewers offered him arbitration (a big if) and he signed elsewhere, they would receive a sandwich pick after the first round. You’d think a functional Minor League arm would be more valuable than the 40-somethingth pick of the draft, but there’s no way of knowing. And, of course, if the Brewers offer arbitration and Cameron takes it, they’re in big trouble — it’s a weak year for center fielders, and Cameron’s numbers are going to look pretty good come negotiation time.

TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
THE POSADA DISCONTENTS III

Thanks Steven, but you fail to mention besides Jorge’s injury last year that the Yankees did not have CC, A.J., and others on the pitching staff. Furthermore, you also fail to mention that Jorge was not the reason the Yankees were World Champions in the ’90s…it was their pitching staff! Pitching is the name of the game! Yogi Berra, and a host of other top notch catchers will tell you the same thing.

Let’s try this: For all their weaknesses last year, the Yankees finished six games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Depending on whose definition of replacement level you use, in 2006-2007, Posada was worth between six and eight wins above replacement. Last year, Jose Molina was worth somewhere between a fraction of a win and two wins above replacement, almost all of the value in defense, as Molina was among the 20 worst hitters in baseball to have any kind of playing time last year.

The Yankees got less than one win out of Posada last year. Pretend Posada had been in the lineup having his typical season. The Yankees pick up four to six wins, which means that anywhere between 75 and 100 percent of their deficit disappears. Once you get down to a gap of one or two games. The Yankees had too many problems to overcome the Rays, but Posada’s inj
ury was the one thing that kept them for qualifying for the postseason in spite of everything else that went wrong.

Ever see the old baseball musical “Damn Yankees”? It has a song about denigrating Posada in it. It’s called, “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Until He Loses It.” Then again, the Yankees lost Posada last year and some people still don’t know.

The Posada debate continues

TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS, MORE POSADA DISCONTENTS
If you check out the comments on yesterday’s entry, you will see a lot of frustration with Jorge Posada’s defense. A few lines:

Mr. Goldman, you know as well as I do that we should have let the Mets sign Jorge, instead of the Yanks giving a mediocre catcher the amount of money he received. He grounds into many, many rally-killing DPs and he is a big “K” way too often. Molina is twice the catcher that Jorge is.

Molina knows more about catching than Posada could ever dream about. I believe Cervelli should be brought up to work closely with Jose to refine his game. He’s already proven that he is a better defender than Posada, and hits the ball pretty effectively.

It’s time for the front office to stop turning a blind eye when they see Posada catch. Girardi should know this by now, Posada is not going to learn and doesn’t want to hear it.

molina250_082509.jpgI’m going to agree on one thing. Jose Molina is a much superior defensive catcher to Posada, and Frankie Cervelli looks pretty good, too. I will further agree that Posada hits into a lot of double plays, although show me a catcher who comes up with as many runners on base as Posada does and I’ll show you a double-play machine. I will not agree that he’s “a big K way too often,” as he’s a career .282/.400/.493 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .292/.405/.474 hitter late and close. Finally, I will strongly, violently disagree that the Yankees would be helped in any way by giving more playing time to Molina and Cervelli.

You don’t have to look too far to see what the Yankees would be like without Posada. It happened in a little season called 2008, which was still slowly bleeding to death at this time a year ago. Posada was on the shelf, Molina was playing, and the Yankees were losing games. There were other things wrong with the ballclub, but the Posada-Molina exchange was one of them.

As I tried to indicate in yesterday’s entry, everything in baseball is relative. Posada’s defensive flaws don’t make him a zero as compared to Molina’s 100, it makes him a 70 compared to Molina’s 100. Molina’s pitchers have actually thrown fractionally more wild pitches per nine innings than have Posada’s. Molina has thrown out 41 percent of attempted basestealers in his career, Posada only 29, but that’s a difference of 12 outs per 100 attempts, which sounds like a lot but only works out to a few runs on the season. We could talk about catcher-specific ERA, but that’s a flawed statistic, as it is open to sample size and other distortions, such as who caught who. The point is that you can’t judge players in isolation, but only in comparison. Compared to our idealized vision of a good defense catcher, Posada is terrible. Compared to actual catchers, he’s just a bit below average overall.

Take that knowledge, set it aside, and then consider Posada’s offensive game, which is much easier to evaluate. For most of his career he has not only been an above-average hitter for a catcher, he’s been an above-average hitter period. In 2000, when Posada hit .287/.417/.527, the average AL player hit .276/.349/.443. The average catcher hit only .261/.331/.425. The advantage conferred upon the Yankees was huge. Posada is no longer in his 2000 prime, but he still towers above his catching brethren. Even with Joe Mauer’s huge season in the mix, even counting Posada himself, the average Major League catcher is hitting only .254/.320/.397. To the extent that winning each baseball game is a battle of potential offenses, of being able to say, “My first baseman is better than your first baseman; my catcher is better than your catcher,” the Yankees win still win that battle with almost anyone but the Twins and perhaps the Braves (Brian McCann).

Molina is a career .238/.278/.338 hitter. He’s a below-average hitter compared to the general population. He’s a below-average hitter compared to catchers, shortstops, bat boys, and Snuffleupagus from “Sesame Street.” The offensive loss from such a transaction would outweigh the defensive gains. The Yankees would be net losers, a few runs up on defense, 50 or more runs down on offense. Going by Molina’s performance last year and Posada’s this year, the Yankees would gain a win on defensive runs saved and lose six on offense. As Posada ages, they will eventually have to make a change, but not this one, and hopefully not any time soon.

And before you say, “Yes, Molina, but Cervelli — !” Cervelli is far closer to Molina with the bat than Posada. He’s now 23 and has hit .270/.367/.379 in the Minors, most of that at the lower levels. He hasn’t even had 300 at-bats above A-Ball as yet and it shows in his offensive approach. He needs more time in the bus leagues if he is ever going to improve, and that’s a big if either way. Neither Molina nor Cervelli is going to be the next great Yankees catcher. It could be Jesus Montero, but right now I’d bet on Austin Romine. He’s at least two years away and has some real work to do on his hitting game, as the 20-year-old has power but lacks in selectivity.

In short, keep yelling at the TV if you want to. Perhaps it’s therapeutic. It’s also a bit misguided, because, as I said yesterday, passed balls advance a runner one base. Home runs advance them four. Unless you enjoyed 2008, with its great defensive catching and poor results, root against Posada at your own peril.
 

W-L
RS/G
RA/G
AVG
OBP
SLG
AB/HR
SB
CS
HR/9
BB/9
K/9
Rangers 10-10  4.9  4.1 .281 .342 .458    28 24  5  1.2  3.3 7.9
Yankees 16-4  6.2  5.8 .301 .357 .519    20 6  1  1.1  3.4 8.8


Of the 20 Rangers games surveyed here, 13 were at home, which puts a friendlier tinge on their numbers than is deserved. On the road they have hit .240/.295/.417 as a ballclub. To continue our discussion from above, those are close to Jose Molina numbers.  On the whole this is not a great hitting club. They do run the bases a lot, especially rookie Julio Borbon, one of those outfielders that I mentioned in last week’s draft review (which I’ll return to tomorrow). One player to note is Chris Davis, the slugging but strikeout-prone first baseman who returns to the lineup Tuesday night after a long stint in the Minors. A left-handed hitter, he’ll be taking his shots at Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch.

The rookie the Yankees really don’t want to see in this series is Neftali Feliz, a Minor League starter who is doing the Joba Chamberlain ’07 thing for the Rangers’ bullpen. He’s been close to untouchable so far, slinging the ball up to the plate at 100 mph. The Rangers haven’t been great at closing games, but they’ve become very good at the holy eighth inning. In the starting department, the Yankees will face the veteran Kevin Millwood, whose low strikeout rate should work against him in this ballpark — though note that for the last few years he has been much more successful against left-handed hitters than right-handers. Hard-throwing rookie lefty Derek Holland has pitched very well of late, with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts, and has had a lot of success away from Arlington, so Andy Pettitte has drawn a tough matchup. Journemyman Dustin Nippert takes what would have been Vicente Padilla’s spot, and no doubt everyone involved except Padilla is happier about that. Nippert is a giant at 6’7″, with a good fastball and a power curve but has never pitched with anything approaching consistency. That shouldn’t change in this series.

Responsibility must be with Burnett

ONE AND ONE
Friday was a sort of good Yankees day (great hitting, no pitching) and Saturday was a very bad Yankees day, which sounds like some kind of weird children’s story: “Jorge Posada and the Rumpy Grumpy Starting Pitcher.”

It does seem like Posada has had more than his share of disagreements with his starters this year, but in many ways there is a culture clash at work with the Yankees in a minor key way. The team has a new pitching staff. Few of the current pitchers — CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, Damaso Marte, and Sergio Mitre (that is, just about everyone except Andy Pettitte and Brian Bruney) — have much experience being Yankees and throwing to Posada. The veterans among them have their own way of doing things. The rookies may be headstrong or timid. Posada, one senses (at least from trying to talk with him in the clubhouse), may not be the most diplomatic guy in the world. You can see how this could lead to conflict on those days when defeat wants to be an orphan. Suddenly it’s not what the pitcher threw, but what the catcher called.

When it comes to an established veteran like Burnett, the final responsibility must be with him. He certainly has the standing on the Yankees to call his own game. It’s not important that he disagrees with Posada, only that he either shake Posada off until they come to an agreement (that is, doing it Burnett’s way) or Burnett throws Posada’s selection with confidence. An in-between approach — resignedly throwing Posada’s pitch — can lead to disaster, apparently what happened yesterday.

Perhaps, though, we need not delve that far to find the source of Saturday’s discord. Burnett has rarely been a consistent pitcher. There are days his control just doesn’t show up for work, one of the reasons he currently leads the American League in walks issued. This has been a career-long problem for Burnett, and blaming his catcher would be unfair given just how many catchers have received his pitches on days like Saturday. Note that Burnett did not blame Posada. We shouldn’t either.

SWISHER’S WEIRD SPLITS
If you average Nick Swisher’s 2008 road stats with his 2009 home stats, you get .198/.343/.309. Miserable. If you put last year’s home stats with this year’s road stats, you get .263/.363/.552. Brilliant. I have no further comment, except to say that if the fellow could just get his concentration down in both places, he could have a 40-homer season. Of course, that he hasn’t is why he was available to the Yankees for Wilson Betamax. As with Burnett’s occasional wild days, Swisher’s oddly bifurcated production represent the invisible hand of human psychology at work on the game. 

Gaudin to the rescue?

Here’s the upside to acquiring Chad Gaudin: He’s been a somewhat reliable starting pitcher in his career. Though as a starter his ERA is just 4.85 in 378.2 innings, he’s kept the ball in the park and pitched well enough, often enough, to post a quality start in 42 percent of his attempts. That’s a below-average figure, but as compared to the work of the other pitchers the Yankees have tried in the fifth starter’s slot it is the work of a Cy Young. This year, Gaudin has made nine quality starts in 19 attempts, or 47 percent, which is actually about average. Add up Phil Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves and you get two quality starts in 21 tries. Look at it this way:

GS W-L IP H BB SO HR ERA
Wang, Mitre, Hughes 21 5-8 90 125 38 64 15 8.20
Gaudin 19 4-10 103 104 55 102 7 5.23

Gaudin has a low 90s fastball and a very good slider, hence the high strikeout rate. The walks have been a career-long problem, which is why he’s ill-suited for the bullpen. Yet, that’s where Brian Cashman said he’s headed for now — Mitre will get another chance.

In the bullpen, though, Gaudin is just another Brett Tomko. He lacks good control, walking 4.3 batters per nine innings in his career and 4.8 per nine this year. Those walks are de-emphasized in an extended appearance, but bring a pitcher with poor control into the seventh inning of a one-run game and the free passes can kill you.

One other worry: Gaudin somehow put up an 8.10 RA in San Diego’s PETCO Park, the friendliest park for pitchers in the biz. That number has all the marks of a fluke occurrence — he had a more reasonable 4.55 RA on the road — but it’s something to be aware of. If a pitcher can get bombed in PETCO, he’s not safe anywhere, especially your friendly neighborhood Yankee Stadium II, where left-handed hitters get to take cheap shots at the right field wall. Lefties have hit .292/.388/.431against Gaudin in his career.

Despite this, the value of players is relative, and on paper Gaudin is an upgrade on what the Yankees have been trying. Why send him to the bullpen when there’s a more urgent an obvious need? One wonders if Mitre gets a break because Joe Girardi is vouching for him based on the good old days with the Marlins — which weren’t that good.

POSADA WEARS NO. 15/THURMAN THROWS
Posada wearing a No. 15 decal on his mask in honor of Thurman Munson was a classy gesture from one great Yankees catcher to another. Posada was not quite eight years old when Munson died, so the act was based as much or more on their mutual standing in that lineage than any real memory of Munson the player. It’s a more profound statement than any based on personal association, as it requires an appreciation and respect for history, and says that Munson remains a powerful enough figure in even death that he was able to touch Posada without Posada having had direct contact with him.

Something about Posada’s tribute reminded me of an aspect of Munson’s career that doesn’t get a lot of comment given the focus on his hitting, his leadership, and his gruff personality: He was great at throwing out runners. Consider:

YEAR
MUNSON CS%
LEAGUE CS%
1970 52 39
1971 61(!) 39
1972 48 39
1973 48 38
1974 35 38
1975 50 38
1976 35 34
1977 40 39
1978 45 38
1979 46 36

Munson won only three Gold Gloves, those coming in 1973-1975. In his first three seasons the award went to Ray Fosse (1970-1971) and Carlton Fisk (the only one Fisk ever got); from 1976 on the award was dominated by Jim Sundberg, who took six straight awards. Sundberg was also very good at controlling the running game. The Gold Gloves don’t prove much — one of Munson’s awards came in 1974, a year in which a sore arm cut his success rate and led to 22 errors; he made 23 the next season and somehow won again. The errors probably caused the voters to discard Munson for Sundberg so quickly as much as Sundberg’s own defensive excellence; the latter was only in the league for two years when he picked up his first award.

QUICK NOTES ON THURSDAY’S ACTION AND OTHER STUFF
? I’m grieved by John Hughes’ passing. His movies were often skin deep, but at their best there was something touching about them, something wistful about youth and its passing in films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”  — which is not to forget that these were basically teen comedies and often very funny. Of the films that took place outside of his suburban Illinois universe, there are bits of “Vacation” (the first one, not the countless sequels) that can still make me laugh, and I have a soft spot for “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” one of the few films that used John Candy to truly good effect. Hughes’ peak was long ago and far away, the 1980s (and by this I mean to exclude the huge 1990 hit “Home Alone” from the canon), but if you were a teenager then, his work was inescapable, alternatively patronizing and uplifting, and for many people, defining. Seeing him go is a bit like waving goodbye to a piece of the landscape of my youth. It’s saddening, even if the sadness isn’t really about him. I will now spin the Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” from “The Breakfast Club” in his honor.

? I really nailed that analysis of John Smoltz yesterday, didn’t I? Some days you’d be better off staying in bed. As important a win as it was for the Yankees, it was still painful watching a great pitcher brought low. Lefties are now hitting .440 off of Smoltz as he struggles to get his fastball by them on the inside. Righties have had a harder time of it, so perhaps Smoltz might still have some value out of the bullpen if he’s willing to go that route to stay in the game.

? Yesterday did nothing to dissuade me from the idea that the Yankees’ Joba Conservation Plan might cost him his command at a time when he and the team need and most, when he was about to turn the corner and show consistency for the first time all year.

? The Twins acquired Carl Pavano today from a player to be named. Good luck with that, Twinkies.

? Nick Johnson gets traded from the Nats, who can’t win a game, to the Marlins, who then get swept by the Nats. Life can be comically unfair.

? The A’s seem to have done a Soviet-style redaction off Jason Giambi’s place on the team. “No, nothing today,” Geren said. “I haven’t seen him today.”

Turns out the A’s released Giambi on Friday.

MORE TO COME
Since this is the <b>Series of the Year</b> I’ll be posting updates throughout the weekend. Hope you check in. 

The loss of Montero, the evolution of Melky

montero_300.jpgCRUSHED
Jesus Montero is out for the rest of the year, having broken the middle finger of his left hand on Saturday. If he’s out even the minimum expected, four weeks, that takes him right through the end of the Minor League season.

Before we mourn, let’s review: 48 games at Tampa, batting .356/.406/.583 with 15 doubles and eight home runs in 180 at-bats. Moving up to Trenton, Montero played in 44 games, batting .317/.370/.539 with 10 doubles and nine home runs in 167 at-bats, this despite being utterly fluxed by the big, cold, riverfront Thunder ballpark (try the crab fries!), where he hit just .232/.376/.354 vs. .400/.457/.718 on the road.

Total: .337/.389/.562. Age: 19. Moreno will turn 20 just after Thanksgiving.

The good news is this: Montero didn’t suffer a knee injury. He didn’t fracture a wrist, which could have affected his swing. He’s not out for six months, just six weeks, tops. The Yankees would have some options at that point, including a quick cup of coffee once rosters expand, and could still send the lad out to the Arizona Fall League or for other winter action with an eye towards prepping him for an extended look in next year’s Spring Training camp. Naturally, this assumes an uncomplicated recovery from the injury.

Montero may not be ready to be a big-league catcher, but if his bat is judged to play the Yankees would be mistaken to send him on an indefinite tour of the upper Minor Leagues waiting for his glove to mature. First, it may never be ready. Second, with Jorge Posada signed through 2011 and still playing well, there isn’t any urgency for him to catch. However, there may be a need for a solid bat of his ability by next spring. There should be room on the club for a young player to take some time at designated hitter while perhaps catching the odd game against less speedy opponents. This could not only get Montero’s bat in the lineup, but serve to lower the team payroll in the short term. Montero’s injury is disappointing, but it need not be a disaster.

MELKY’S CYCLE
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: the lad’s got good timing. If you could just go back and erase that injury at Texas on May 26, he might have had a perfect year. For more than a month after that he struggled to hit .200, and didn’t get hot again until Brett Gardner got hurt. Through July 22 he was hitting just .220/.278/.320 for the month. He hit a double in his sole at-bat on the 23rd and since then he’s been rolling, going 15-for-35 in 11 games overall, with five doubles, a triple, and two home runs. He’s also thrown in six walks and turndown service, including a mint placed just so on top of your pillow.

This is truly a stunning, heartwarming turn of events. Though only 24 (he’ll turn 25 on the 11th of this month), Cabrera had spent 2006 and 2007 playing every day but failing to show much with the bat. He’d hit a few balls in the gap, knock one out of the park every now and again, but not so often that you could say he had real power. He was only moderately patient, so even hitting .280 he didn’t get on base that much. He was a switch-hitter, but he couldn’t touch a lefty. Then it got worse, as he followed a torrid April, 2008 with a 100-game cold streak that got him sent to the Minors.

Coming into the season, there was no reason to view Cabrera as much more than a versatile outfield reserve, and given his 2008 performance, perhaps not even that. Even after another hot April and a solid May, it seemed likely that a cold snap would ensue. When it did, it was impossible to tell if it was due to the Texas injury or just Cabrera returning to form. It now appears that the injury was at least partially to blame, and whatever Cabrera does for the rest of the season, he’s not heading back to the dark depths of post-April 2008. He’s even hitting left-handers, something he’d never done with any consistency or authority before. That, more than anything else, suggests real change.

If Cabrera maintains his current .292/.355/.463 level of production, the Yankees have a very solid center fielder on their hands. The average Major League center fielder is batting .268/.337/.422. For once, the Yankees were patient with a young player (far more patient than your host, for once) and it seems to have paid off — and they had far less reason to be patient with Cabrera than with a host of predecessors who quickly headed out of town, Drabek, Buhner, et al. Let us hope the lesson sinks in — for everyone.