The Yankees finished this season with the fourth best record in the American League, but a strong September wouldn’t be enough to catapult them into the playoffs. Dealing with both the demands of high expectations and the need to focus on the farm system, 2008 was a quasi-rebuilding year in which the Yanks were expected to compete. But somewhere along the way, things went wrong, and the Yankees will be home on Wednesday while four other AL teams begin their quests for the World Series title.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve into what went wrong with the Yankees. From injuries to unmet expectations, this season had its fare share of problems. Today, the catchers take center stage.
In 2007, the Yankee catchers, led by a career year from Jorge Posada, were the league’s best. In 689 plate appearances, Yankee catchers hit .323/.396/.502 with 19 home runs and 100 RBIs. While Wil Nieves had little to contribute, Posada was an MVP candidate and midseason back-up replacement Jose Molina hit .323/.338/.446 in limited playing time.
From the start, though, 2008 would prove to be a far cry from 2007 for Yankee backstops. Jorge Posada injured his throwing arm on a throw on Opening Day, and he wouldn’t be able to shoulder the catching duties this year. While he attempted a mid-June comeback, Posada wasn’t up to the task. In July, he opted for season-ending surgery.
His replacements, while adequate as backups, were abysmal as starters. On the season, Yankee catchers hit .230/.290/.335 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs. In 2007, Yankee catchers were tops in the AL in OPS; in 2008, they were ranked 14th out of 14 teams, dead last in the Junior Circuit. None of the five other catchers the Yanks used this year could do much of anything, and it cost the team dearly.
From a statistical perspective, the Yanks’ playoff hopes were severely damaged by Jorge’s shoulder. He nailed down 26 win shares in 2007 and just five in 2008. Overall, Yankee catchers contributed 13 win shares in 2008 after putting up 29 in 2007. At three win shares per victory, that swing of 16 nearly accounts for the Yanks’ missing the playoffs by itself.
To drive the point home, none of the replacements for Jorge Posada put up a positive VORP this year. Of course, this begs the question of replacement level because the Yanks were, in effect, using replacement level players all year with little to no success.
Of course, we can’t expect a healthy Posada to have enjoyed yet another career year in 2008. He probably wasn’t going to duplicate that .338/.426/.543 line, but had Posada produced in line with his career .277/.380/.477 line, the Yanks still would have had the top-producing backstop in the AL. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been enough by itself to bring the Yanks to October, but it would have gone a long way toward closing that six-game gap.
In the end, we all love Jorge Posada, and in 2008, we saw firsthand what would happen if Posada were to miss a part of the season. Derek might be the leader of the team and A-Rod, for better or worse, its offensive heart, but when Jorge Posada went down with a season-ending injury, the Yanks’ October dreams went down with him.