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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.