First Half Review: Catchers


At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, and corner infielders, so now it’s time to take a look at the catchers.

The expectations

The catching situation in 2008 was a mess once Jorge Posada went down with a major shoulder injury. Jose Molina was terrific defensively but was exposed offensively when playing every day, and a midseason trade for Ivan Rodriguez proved fruitless. As a result of the dismal showing last year, it was hard to expect anything but an upgrade this year. Sure, there were concerns about Jorge Posada’s ability to control the running game with this surgically repaired shoulder, but his bat was never in question. With Molina set to return to his usual backup duty, there was cause for optimism coming into this year.

The results

Yankee catchers have put up a .280-.335-.444 batting line, good for the fourth best OPS in the league even with Jorge Posada missing just about four weeks with a hamstring issue. When Jose Molina went down with a similar injury, straight outta Double-A Frankie Cervelli performed better that anyone could have ever expected on both sides of the ball.

Considering the team lost its top two backstops to injury at the same time, it’s impressive that the catching in the Bronx still ranks among the best in the league. Let’s talk about some of the individual pieces now.

Jorge Posada

If anything, last year’s injury reminded all of us just how important Jorge Posada is to the Yankees. He’s proven that his shoulder is fully healed by throwing out 20 of 67 potential basestealers, or 29.1%. That percentage is basically the same as the 29.5% gun-down rate Posada posted in his career before the shoulder started giving him trouble last year.

Offensively, Posada is producing at pretty much the same pace as always. While no one was expecting him to repeat his monster .338-.426-.543 season in 2007, Posada has again been an above-average producer behind the plate with a .285-.369-.508 line. As he goes the Yankees go.

Jose Molina

The best backup catcher the Yankees have had in some time, Molina’s defense seems to have taken a slight step back this year (just 25% of basestealers have been thrown out, well below his 41.4% career mark coming into ’09) and you wonder if playing just about everyday last year is taking its toll on him now. Molina missed two months with a strained hamstring, but has quietly hit .271-.340-.375 when he has played. As always, Molina’s still at his best when he plays once every four days.

Frankie Cervelli

The new golden boy, Cervelli arrived from Double-A Trenton with dreamy eyes and a .190 AVG when Posada and Molina went down, and exceeded every possible expectation. He’s thrown out 10 of 21 potential basestealers (47.6%) and moved around behind the plate exceptionally well. Even though he hit just .269-.284-.346, Cervelli always seemed to put together quality at-bats and never failed to hustle down the line. A fan favorite, Cervelli was sent down to Triple-A to play every day once Posada and Molina returned to the full strength. His play over his two-month cameo all but earned him the backup catcher job for next year.

Expectations for the second half

I guess you could say the biggest expectation for the second half sn’t really an expectation at all, just hope that Jorge Posada remains healthy. He’s such an important part of the team both in the lineup and in the clubhouse. If he stays on the field, the Yankees will have arguably the most productive catcher in the majors (non-Mauer division), always a significant advantage. Molina and third stringer Cervelli provide adequate backup, but are a significant drop-off if pressed into everyday duty.

The Yankees have enviable catching depth at the moment, but just like pitching depth it can vanish in an instant. As an ex-catcher, I’m sure manager Joe Girardi will pay special attention to the workload Posada endures the rest of the season. Just stay healthy, that’s all we want. The rest will take care of itself.

Categories : Offense


  1. “…When Jose Molina went down with a similar injury, straight outta Double-A Frankie Cervelli performed better that anyone could have ever expected on both sides of the ball….”


  2. “The new golden boy, Cervelli arrived from Double-A Trenton with dreamy eyes and a .190 AVG ”


  3. JRVJ says:

    I’ve been wondering about Cervelli and whether he will indeed be the back-up catcher next year.

    My conclusion is that the Yanks will probably try to keep Molina around for 2010.

    If Johnny Damon is back, I don’t see the Yanks going after Bay, Holliday or any other slugger who would also see time at DH, and it’s likely that Posada will get a good amount of ABs at DH (ditto for Damon and even A-Rod). In this scenario, the Yanks would probably carry 3 catchers, that is, Pasada, Molina and Cervelli.

    If Damon is not back, then the Yanks may end up signing two players (one to replace Damon, another one to sort of replace Matsui), in which case Posada has to catch a lot, and the Yanks will probably re-sign Molina (with Cervelli in AAA should anything happen).

    AFTER 2010, with Cervelli, Romine and Montero in the wings, I don’t think Molina makes sense on the Yanks, but right now, I think he’ll probably be around for 2010.

    • RAB poster says:

      The future for catching looks bright for the Yanks. If Montero stays at catcher, we’ll have someone who will most likely be one of the best bats in all of baseball. If not we have Romine and Sanchez who can both play pretty well themselves.

    • Mattingly's Love Child says:

      Only way I see the Yanks carrying 3 catchers is if they get Cervelli some experience playing other positions this year so that he could help them in a pinch. Granted, his hitting isn’t his strength, so IMO him playing another position isn’t all that valuable. But better than someone who just catches.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me if they use Frankie in a trade either.

      • Jefe says:

        You don’t carry 3 catchers in the AL.

        • jsbrendog says:

          if the 3rd one is your full time dh/emergency catcher then you do. take matsui out and replace him with jorge. having a full time dh who can emergency catch is a huge plus. only problem is that you’d like an above replacement level starter…which jomo is most assuredly not and cervelli might not be

  4. Mattingly's Love Child says:

    The current catching situation looks good, and the future looks pretty strong as well (thanks to the efforts this year of Frankie, Mon(s)tero, and Romine). It is a tough position to fill with both defensive and offensive production. I’m not sure either the current or future looked as good this time last year. Jorge’s ability to stay healthy really is the only wild card to worry about.

    • I just wonder if the reinforcements are gonna arrive a year too late.

      Figure Montero finishes out the year at AA and goes to Scranton for all of 2010. He’s in the Bronx in 2011 at the ABSOLUTE earliest, and he’s probably going to be pretty well overmatched at first, since he’d be 21 years old for all of two and a half months when pitchers and catchers report in mid February of 2011.

      So, ideally, Jorge remains the primary catcher for all of 2010 and Montero gets a May callup in 2011, Jorge’s last year under contract and they timeshare it, so that Montero can become the primary catcher in 2012 when Jorge comes off the books (hopefully into retirement) and by then, Romine may be able to come be Montero’s caddy.

      If it works like that, beautiful. The two things that may not go according to plan is if Montero takes longer and needs to repeat either Trenton or Scranton, or if Jorge’s body breaks down and we need to preemptively move him to DH.

      • RAB poster says:

        If Montero keeps up this production w/the bat and keeps improving his defense, we may see him next year as a backup catcher only because the minors can’t contain his bat.

        He really does have an incredible bat.

        • True, but… he’ll be 20 years old for ALL of 2010. That’s really, really young. Even if he keeps mashing all year long in Trenton, I wouldn’t be shocked if he opened the year there again, just to give him another level to “earn” during the year.

          We’ll try to keep him in the minors for the whole of 2010 if it’s possible. There is such thing as promoting guys too quick. He’d probably need to be hitting like .400/.500/.800 in Scranton to force the team’s hand.

      • Mattingly's Love Child says:

        That is a good point.

        But if Cervelli is an adequate backup for 2010-2011, that could give them a little more time. If Jorge shits the bed in 2011, maybe Cervelli can handle more of the catching duties if Montero isn’t ready. But that depends on how much of a hitter Cervelli becomes….if he is the same guy as he was this year, well, it could be rough in 2011. If he produces .270/.340/.360 that could be enough out of a catcher to survive. Of course if everyone in the offense is old and not producing at high levels, then even those numbers may not be enough.

        • RAB poster says:

          If everyone in the offense is not producing at high levels we have problems not related to catcher.

          • Mattingly's Love Child says:

            Exactly. IMO part of the Yankees’ success over their recent history has been their above average production at skill positions, C/SS/CF (I know after things went downhill with Bernie–most feared hitter of 20th and 21st centuries, the Yanks haven’t had that above average production). In past years having a strong offensive catcher has made up for having lesser outfielders or 1st basemen. In 2011 if Jorge ain’t Jorge anymore, and Montero ain’t ready yet or can’t catch, it could get ugly here in the Universe.

        • I still wonder if we should take advantage of the impending departure of Hideki Matsui to just make a preeemptive move.

          Put Jorge at DH and find a new starting catcher to serve as a 2-3 year bridge to Montero. Should keep him healthier.

          Problem is, who’s the replacement? I called for Bengie Molina and Miguel Olivo earlier, and they both promptly stopped hitting and now look like offensive black holes. Who else?

          Josh Bard is a free agent, his production varies wildly (probably due to wild swings in BABIP) but when he’s lucky, he’s a solid producer…Gregg Zaun’s got six straight years in the AL East with an OBP north of .350 in all of them. If the Orioles don’t pick up his option (since Wieters is ready), he may be worthwhile.

          Also, if the Diamondbacks are ready to go with Miguel Montero, maybe they move Chris Synder (although he’d probably be cost-prohibitive).

          • RAB poster says:

            IDK, we have so much minor league talent at catcher I’d probably look toward the OF more for that production

          • Mattingly's Love Child says:

            Doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to me.

            Zaun is not really an option, he’s 38 and OPSing .711, and we all know that isn’t likely to improve.

            Bengie Molina is 35 in a week and OPSing .708, which is much worse than anything he’s done in 5 years. I would have looked at him, but maybe not so much.

            My vote would be Snyder (28, OPSing .734, which is lower than 06, 07 or 08). But how much would he cost in talent/trade?

            • The reason I don’t rule out Zaun is because while he has no pop, he does have decent OBP skills. So, that .711 OPS is a little better than it seems at first blush, IMO.

              From ’04 to ’09, he’s got a .253/.353/.396 line (96 OPS+), all in the AL East. That’s nothing special, but it’s not a black hole.

              • Mattingly's Love Child says:

                I understand that .711 OPS isn’t terrible for a placeholder. My worry is at his age he wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of production. I think I could sign up for 1 year, but beyond that not so much.

            • Mattingly's Love Child says:

              How about Ryan Doumit? The Pirates are the Yankees AAAA team, I know he’s been hurt much of the year this year, but he’ll be 29 next year, and has been consistently improving over the past several years.

          • Paul says:

            I think the catching situation will work out but something has to be done with defensive outfield. Damon & Matusi are done and Hinski and Swisher are just average.

            • Mattingly's Love Child says:

              I hope to Mo that Hinske isn’t in the OF very much this year, and that he isn’t a part of the team’s plans going forward to next year. I think if he is out there regularly, it’s going to get ugly quick. CC may kill someone.

  5. V says:

    Everyone said that Posada was done and was going to have a horrible season and that that contract was horrible, except I, who believed in him and knew he’d put it all together and have a great offensive season.

    /Little Bill’d.

  6. Jackson says:

    What, no love for Cash?

  7. Little Bill says:

    I am glad to see Molina back and Cervelli back in the minors. Thank goodness we have gotten over this “Posada can’t call games” fiasco we had in May and June. Posada is one of the most valuable members of this team because of the offensive production dropoff that would occur if he went down for a long period of time.

    Molina and Cervelli are basically the same player. Cervelli should be in the minors though because he still needs to develop. Molina is just as solid behind the plate, but I guess I’ll wait for somebody to argue that Cervelli is better because of “hustle” “grit” and “energy.”

    • UWS says:

      Don’t forget the dreamy eyes.

    • V says:

      How long are you going to wait?

    • A.D. says:

      I mean Cervelli is better because assuming they are the same player, he costs less. But that’s only if you could get someone to take on Molina’s salary, which isn’t exactly prohibitive to begin with.

      • Little Bill says:

        True. Keeping Molina in the majors means you keep both of them. If they kept Cervelli in the majors they would have to DFA Molina so why not just keep both. Like you said, Molina’s salary is peanuts to the Yankees so sending Cervelli down to play everyday makes more sense.

  8. GG says:

    Which three teams have a higher catcher OPS? Minnesota….

  9. [...] for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, and catchers, so now it’s time to take a look at the middle [...]

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