Pitching to Posada

In this morning’s blog entry, Buster Olney discusses the Blue Jay’s signing of Jose Molina.  Molina spent the past 2 seasons in pinstripes and Olney gives some pretty interesting numbers, as far as the how Yankee pitchers did with Molina behind the plate (compared to Jorge Posada, Kevin Cash, and Francisco Cervelli):

Check out the ERAs for Yankees catchers in 2009. The number in parentheses is innings caught:

Jose Molina: 3.31 (356 2/3)
Francisco Cervelli: 3.43 (241 1/3)
Kevin Cash: 3.49 (67)
Jorge Posada: 5.02 (785)

By these numbers, there is reason to believe Yankee pitchers simply pitch better when Posada is not behind the plate (or, at least they did in 2009).  Those numbers can be a bit deceiving, however.

First, there are obviously the same flaws with Catcher ERA as there are with ERA in general.  Namely, it allows things that the pitcher can’t control (and certainly the catcher can’t control), like infield and outfield defense, to impact the statistic.

Second, if you refer back to Posada’s career Catcher ERA, as shown here in a post back in June by Ben of River Ave Blues, you’ll see that 2009 is really an outlier.  Despite Posada’s advancing age, it’s hard to imagine that he simply can no longer call a game.  Age certainly will impact Posada’s arm strength and his flexibility behind the plate, which could lead to a decrease in thrown out runners and an increase in passed balls, but those things only have a very small impact on a pitcher’s ERA.  And both of those skills have remained fairly consistent for Jorge (he’s remained average at throwing out runners and he’s always allowed a lot of passed balls).  I think you could make the case that Molina frames pitches better than Posada, but again, that really could maybe lead to a few extra strike calls, if that.  Not to mention, if that really does make an impact, then it just further supports my case for robot umpires – a strike is a strike, no matter how it’s caught.

Third, if you remember back to the spring last year, Posada caught a couple of games – one by Chien-Ming Wang in particular – where the Yankees absolutely got shelled.  I think it’s pretty tough to argue that the pitching incompetence in those contests is entirely to blame on Posada.

Lastly, in general you would expect that the Catcher ERA be better for the defensive-minded backup catchers, since they are often assigned to catch the better pitchers, when presumably not as much offense is needed.  In 2009, there was a stretch of time in May when Cervelli pretty much became Sabathia’s personal catcher.  Very rarely will you ever see a backup catcher get used primarily with a 5th starter type, however.

Obviously Posada is not a great defensive catcher, but he is a great offensive catcher and it behooves the Yankees to keep him behind the plate as long as his defense is passable.  Personally, I think that Catcher ERA doesn’t really tell us anything about a catcher’s ability, but it will, of course, still warrant paying attention to – at least until someone better develops a statistic to help measure a catcher’s defense and game-calling ability.

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7 Responses to Pitching to Posada

  1. VLM says:

    I think the name of the site is River Ave. Blues, not Rivera Ave. Blues. Yankee Stadium doesn't site on Rivera Ave.

    • Brian Burkhart says:

      I think that Yankee Stadium doesn’t site on River Ave either – it sits. But thanks for your observation.

  2. Strong post, Brian. You lay out many good points, especially about framing pitches and Posada’s historic performances defensively.

    A couple things worth mentioning. One is that Posada was the catcher for Wang’s first three starts, in which he sported a combined ERA of 34.50 which, I believe, was the worst ERA for a Yankee starter beginning the season EVER. Literally, in the history of pinstripes and quite possibly baseball, has someone never been battered like Wang was last year. This says a lot, for I sat laboriously through Kevin Brown’s woeful, painful 2005 stints when runs were a given. Wang was way worse. No doubt this adversely affected Jorge’s catcher ERA.

    Also, Cervelli arrived and filled in for the Yankees as Jorge, then Molina, were hurt in May, so Cervelli had to be the guy, especially since he hit .286 in May and Kevin Cash, filling in for Molina, couldn’t hit the broad side of his own back side with a tennis racket (.059 in May before going 5-9 in two games against Texas). Cervelli had to be the guy, but most certainly was.

    I think too that people overlook Jorge’s defense, and last year he threw out 27.9% of runners. Molina gunned down 28.1%. Posada did a good job, and got a lot of unfortunate flak from the Burnett-caddy issue. Plus, the guy turned 38 last year. He’s been solid or better, and has improved with age.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I second your post with a ringing defense of Jorge on several grounds–especially statistical and historical.

  3. smurfy says:

    I love Jorge, his all-out enthusiasm. If you mean, Rob, those repeated trips to the mound, yeah, that was too much.

    I fear all the barking about poor catching skills, AJ insisting on Molina, Molina's prowess and swagger, I fear that got in Jorge's head. The guy's on a hair trigger all game, and I don't see how he could catch and release any quicker, and his throws are right there.

    So, so, lighten up!

  4. Ouch, a pair of burns.

    You made some good points about Posada, especially catchers ERA. And while those points are very valid, I do feel like his defense is not even up to his standard lately. Especially in the playoffs, there were a couple of times when it was just painful to watch him.

    I’d be willing to bet that 2010 is probably his last season catching 100 games.

  5. No I wasn’t talking about repeated trips to the mound, especially since Molina was as bad or worse. I was more talking about him not pouncing on bunts and looking generally stiff back there.

    Also, for the record I don’t think AJ ever asked for Molina. I’m pretty sure that was all Girardi.