Poor Jorge. He certainly is getting a bum rap these days, and it’s a largely undeserved one.
Over the weekend, Yankee fans watched as Jorge and his starting pitchers struggled to be on the same page. Joba Chamberlain and Posada were clearly out of sync, and that was but one anecdote of trouble between the Yanks’ All Star catcher and the team’s pitching staff. The Yanks’ hurlers have struggled to throw strikes and avoid the base-on-balls, and A.J. Burnett no longer pitches to Posada.
Today, the debate seemingly exploded into the open. As I noted late last night, Tyler Kepner questioned Posada’s game-calling skills through a look at Catcher’s ERA, and Dan Amore used CERA as well as anecdotal evidence to critique Jorge.
To me, though, this is all just finger-pointing and scapegoating for a problem that rests with the pitchers. As more Yankee fans begin to question Posada’s game-calling ability, let’s take a look at his historical CERA. The chart below tracks four elements: Posada’s CERA; the total percentage of Yankee innings he caught; the team’s overall season ERA; and Posada’s CERA+, a normalized look at how his numbers stack up with the team’s overall performance. As with ERA+, 100 is average or identical while anything higher is above-average and anything lower indicates below-average performance.
As you can see, Posada has, by and large, been right there with the team. Never much worse and never much better, his CERA has tracked the team ERA. Of course, the obvious problem is that Posada has been the Yanks’ primary starting catcher since 1999. The team ERA weighs heavily toward his CERA, and I didn’t weight the CERA+ numbers.
The other problem is that, as Keith Woolner explained in 1999, CERA is not a very rigorous stat. It’s prone to wide swings due to sample size issues; it’s not correlative on a year-to-year basis; and it’s not a predictive measure of future success or failure. It’s greatly impacted by the pitchers as well.
In the end, then, we’re not really left anywhere. Jorge Posada has been a fine, if unspectacular, defensive catcher for much of his career. He’s throwing out 32 percent of would-be base-stealers this year, a mark higher than his career average. His awful CERA could just be a matter of sample size or it could be a matter of something else.
I’ll end then with some speculation on that “something else.” While Amore’s anecdotal story doesn’t provide us with statistical answers, it gives us the sports psychology point of view. Amore notes that scouts believe his pitchers — especially Joba Chamberlain — should listen to Jorge, but he also explains how some pitchers don’t seem comfortable with Posada. Therein lies the rub. If the guys on the hill aren’t comfortable with the catcher behind the plate, no amount of statistical finessing will fix that issue.
I don’t believe Posada’s game-calling is the real issue with the Yankees’ staff relative ineffectiveness. But if some of the starters feel better throwing to someone else, the team might have to consider obliging.