Oct
08

Molina-Gate: A.J. defends Posada

By

After six months of baseball day after day after day, this drawn-out schedule for the post-season seems interminable. The Yanks played last night for the first time since Sunday and do not play again for another 27 hours. The waiting, as Tom Petty said, is the hardest part.

With all of the off-days, we have plenty of time to discuss Joe Girardi‘s peculiar decision to start Jose Molina in the ALDS when A.J. Burnett takes the mound. Molina will be behind the dish tomorrow night for Game 2 and unless Girardi’s plan is highly illogical, should be back there again for a potential Game 5. Most assumed this decision was inspired by A.J. Burnett who seemed to be more comfortable on the mound with Jose Molina catching. Based on Burnett’s demonstrative attitude during a terrible Fenway outing in August, this wasn’t an unfounded conclusion.

Burnett, though, threw a wrench into this thinking. Prior to Game 1, he told reporters that he did not ask for Molina to catch. Although Burnett appears to be criticizing Girardi, he continually stressed his support for Posada and did so again this afternoon. “It’s a ‘me’ thing,” Burnett said today when asked about his rhythm with Molina. The pitcher, after all, mostly is in control of his own performance.

Burnett’s responses today followed questions concerning Molina and Posada yesterday. The Game 2 starter tried to distance himself from having a preferred catcher. “It was the manager’s decision,” he said yesterday. “I had no part in it. I’ve thrown good to both. My good games, I’m right. My bad games, it’s not the catcher, it’s me. When I’m good, it doesn’t matter which one is behind the plate.”

During that press conference, he spoke about that Aug. 22 outing. Although Burnett was clearly yelling “Why did you throw that?” on the mound, that frustration, the right-hander said, was directed at himself and not his catcher. “It’s making me out to be a bad guy again,” Burnett said, “and it comes down to Boston when I said, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ Over my career, I’ve done that a handful of times. But if you ask people that I played with, I don’t show guys up. I even went to Joe in the past and said, ‘Hey, give me either one.’ It’s his decision.

Burnett, an 11-year veteran, will be making his post-season debut tomorrow night. Although he was a member of the 2003 Marlins, he missed the playoffs — and much of the season, in fact — with an arm injury. He is looking forward to this start, he says, but the Yankees could do without the circus. “I’m just looking forward to getting out there and getting that first pitch out of the way,” he said.

This afternoon, Girardi again spoke about this decision. “I don’t want to get ahead,” he said when asked if Burnett would pitch to Molina through the playoffs. “We talk about Molina catching him tomorrow. He’s been catching him his last four or five starts. I’m not going to get too far ahead.”

This line of thinking makes nearly as little sense as Girardi’s initial decision. If the Yanks aren’t committing to pairing up Burnett and Molina, why would he do it for the second game of a five-game set? “We’re taking things one day at a time,” he said. Girardi also refused to rule out DHing Posada over Hideki Matsui tomorrow.

Meanwhile, on the other side of this debate is Jorge Posada. The embattled catcher did not have his best game early on last night. He and CC couldn’t get on the same page, and one of the two passed balls Jorge allowed resulted in the Twins’ second and final run of the game. Chris at iYankees though makes a very good point: While CC did not have his best fastball, Jorge still coaxed a very good game out of him. Early-inning defensive struggles aside, Posada had a fine night.

But still we discuss, and everyone has theories. Jonah Keri calls Joe Girardi a sentimentalist in so many words. The Yanks’ skipper was a “good-field, little-hit” catcher and earned his fair share of Yankee playoff ABs. Girardi sees himself in Jose Molina and will give the Yanks’ all-field, no-hit catcher a chance. Even in Girardi’s worst offensive season with the Yanks, his 60 OPS+ was still decidedly better than Molina’s 49 mark this year.

Perhaps though it doesn’t matter at all. Tangotiger ran the simulations and found little difference: “With Posada (batting 7th), Yankees score 6.17, allow 4.18 rpg and win 72.15% of the time, in 100,000 games. With Molina (batting 9th), they score 5.85, allow 4.05 rpg and win 71.33% of the time.”

And still we wait for the game to start tomorrow evening.

Categories : Playoffs
  • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

    Totally agree on the “Jorge coaxed a good game out of him.” I just wrote a post on this, and the numbers show that Jorge identified the lack of fastball command, and had him throw fewer FB than usual, started hitters off with breaking stuff, and used the changeup and slider as the out pitches rather than the FB.

  • Salty Buggah

    Those simulations are good but not too much for the postseason. Yes, over time the Yanks have only a slight edge with Posada. In the postseason, you never know what will happen in such a short sample You never know how one hit could be the difference between a win and a loss so you want to maximize your chance to win in each game. Posada maximizes that chance.

    • Salty Buggah

      Hmmm, re-reading this and I see that I only kinda got my point across. But hopefully, everyone gets what I’m trying to say.

      • ROBTEN

        I think so…

        Jorge Posada is good at baseball. Putting him in the game increases your chances of winning.

        Jose Molina is not as good at baseball as Jorge Posada. Putting him in the game over Posada decreases your chances of winning.

        • Chris

          Unless AJ truly does pitch better with Molina catching. The splits are pretty stark: .658 OPS with Molina catching and .775 OPS with Posada catching.

          I don’t believe those are based on the catchers performance (as opposed to just luck), but I would think that Girardi has a better feel for the team and AJ in particular than I do.

  • ROBTEN

    It is interesting that almost no one agrees with Girardi’s decision.

    Even Steve Phillips, a man who has never allowed rational thought to get in his way, said during the ESPN radio broadcast that Girardi was “over thinking” the decision to bench Posada in favor of Molina and that it unnecessarily weakens the Yankee lineup.

    Of course, I think much of the response in the media is not based upon serious analysis of why it is a bad idea, but simply a knee-jerk reaction to any decision that the Yankees will make, and in the case of Phillips even a broken clock is right twice a day…

    While two to four at-bats, depending upon how many games Molina actually starts, will not make or break the series, it is still difficult to grasp why Girardi would want to send out a NL lineup when they don’t have to.

    Maybe he just feels bad for the twins…

    • Mike bk

      Buster Olney agreed with the move at least in the sportscenter this was reported on a couple hours ago.

    • andrew

      Olney agreed with the call this afternoon on Sportscenter. Or he may not have agreed, but he presented the reasons for Girardi’s decision and never said a negative word about it.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    I kind of expect Molina to hit a grannie tomorrow, just for pure shits and giggles.

    • pat

      When the bat flies out of his hands and into the stands after he strikes out with the bases loaded.

      • handtius

        wow. i liked that.

      • Steve H.

        pat is always hitting grannies

        • jsbrendog

          tcwa

      • Amy

        IETC

  • Chris

    The link about the simulation isn’t working for me, but I’m curious how he identified a 0.13 reduction in runs allowed with Molina behind the plate. That sounds like it’s based off the assumption that Molina is (mostly) not responsible for the better splits that AJ has with him catching. I don’t necessarily disagree with that assumption, but once you start with that assumption the end result becomes obvious.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Try clicking here. Although that’s the same link as the one in the post.

      • Chris

        Thanks. Although after reading the post, it still doesn’t answer the question.

        • toad

          I agree. The simulation can only reflect the assumptions put in about Molina vs. Posada defensively. The outputs themselves don’t help much without a more detailed explanation.

          Looking at the splits, the difference in actual game results seems driven mostly, maybe almost entirely, by the difference in strikeouts. WIth Molina, Burnett got 77 K’s in 288 PA’s. With Posada it was 79/434. Without understanding that difference – and I don’t – I think it’s very hard to make any solid statements about relative defensive value.

          • whozat

            I’m assuming that the simulation doesn’t make any assumptions beyond what the numbers indicate. There’s some randomness built in, but the numbers vary from the averages seen in reality.

  • Nady Nation

    Always a smart move to go with Costanza’s “It’s not you, it’s me” routine. Good job, AJ.

  • steve s

    It just wasn’t the passed balls but also the way Posada went after them; he seemed dazed, confused and lacked hustle. His throws to second were lollipops. Even though his numbers were pretty good this year I remember too many at bats when he looked at pitches right down the middle for strike 3 as if he didn’t even see the pitch. Ever since the fight and neck injury I haven’t seen the fire on the field. Jorge, wake up or fess if something is still physically wrong with you!

    • Mister Delaware

      He might not read that post. Maybe call the clubhouse tomorrow before the game?

    • Salty Buggah

      Blind Jorge>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Every other catcher offensively in the Majors (besides Mauer) and especially Molina.

  • YankeeScribe

    AJ moves at a fast pace and relies on his curve ball. Posada likes to slow the pace of his pitchers and throughout his career has had a lot of passed balls. Hence, AJ and Posada aren’t the best pitcher-catcher matchup.

    I would have gone with Cervelli over Molina as AJ’s personal catcher but maybe Girardi wants to get Molina some playing time in the playoffs since he may not get re-signed after this season?

    Either way, the the offensive lineup is still above average with Molina batting 9th. It’s not as big of a deal as you guys are making it out to be.

    If the biggest issue facing the Yanks this post-season is whether or not the backup catcher should get some at-bats, I’d say the team is in great shape overall…

  • Sleepy Carl

    I agree he didn’t go full throttle after the passed balls (he probably was confused because they where crossups), but I am not concerned with his throws to second. He threw out 28% this year and the steal yesterday was on CC. All the proof I needed that his arm is still good was when he threw out Willits (sp?) in 9th of the Angels game. That was a perfect throw.

  • AndrewYF

    It’s amazing how Posada’s shoulder problems are a complete non-factor. The guy is 38 and coming off major shoulder surgery, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. How lucky are the Yankees to have 4 players of at least near-HoF quality that remain more or less healthy and productive well into their late 30s?

  • Cam

    I really don’t think this is as big a deal as it’s being made out to be. It’s only big cause it’s the Yanks long time catcher we’re talking about. If AJ throws better and feels more comfortable with a certain catcher, by all means let him pitch to him. Girardi knows his players better than any of us. The pitching is the key in the game, and AJ could be the key to the series now that he’s slated to start 2 games if it goes to 5. And seriously, the Yanks lineup is stacked, just like we all know. Every team in the majors has something of a Molina in their lineup, but we’re spoiled cause the Yanks don’t. And hey, since they have Cervelli, if AJ bombs and only goes 4 or 5 innings, you just pinch hit Posada in the middle of the game, get Molina out of there, and you still have half a game with Posada in the lineup and a back up catcher on the bench. Really, not a huge deal in my book.

    • YankeeScribe

      I think Yankee fans are spoiled. Every team has a “can’t hit-great defense” guy. Sometimes those guys get big hits in the post-season.

      The Yanks won the WS in 2000 despite having Scott Brosius starting 3B(.299 OBP in 2000)

      • Tom Zig

        Every team has a “can’t hit-great defense” guy Jason Varitek.

        • Salty Buggah

          NO ONE matches supercaptain’s leadership and grit!

          Seriously though, Varitek = Can’t hit, bad defense. At least almost every other team has a great defending no-hit catcher.

          • Tom Zig

            meh he just can’t throw anyone out, i assume he is pretty good at blocking balls (non-knuckleball) still.

            • Cam

              That’s exactly what I’m saying. Whoever thought Loius Vizcaino, would ever get a hit in the WS? It really isn’t this giant molina/posada-gate thing that everyone is making it out to be. People just need to chiiilllllll

              • ansky

                you mean Jose Vizcaino. Luiz Vizcaino is the pitcher who had his armed blown up by Joe T’s bullpen management.

                • Cam

                  That’s the guy. I got my role players mixed up for a second there.

  • danny

    this is stupid, unecessary drama that the media keeps harping on.

  • Ben

    After how bad posada was last night who cares? If Burnett wants it so be it

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      I take it you didn’t make it to the end of the post. Other than the two passed balls, Posada generally had a good game, and he worked with CC to get there. Those passed balls didn’t help his case, but it’s not so black and white.

      • Doug

        this and burnett never said this is how he wants it

    • http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0awG8jw7Ax5xR/610x.jpg Drew

      +1.

      No need to have a HOF catcher in the game. If he couldn’t do it last night, no way he knocks in runs tomorrow.

      • TheLastClown

        If you manage to go back & read this, do you think ol’ Hip-Hip is a HOF?

  • emills

    I think that it all comes down to the simple fact that Burnett has more confidence that if he snaps off a wicked curve, Molina has a better chance of blocking it. Given that, and the fact that his game is what 90% mental? he said, that is the difference b/t him pitching to Molina and Posada. Regardless, I believe AJ can shut down any lineup at anytime with either behind the plate and that is just what he is going to do each and every start of the playoffs.

    • Salty Buggah

      “the fact that his game is what 90% mental?”

      Yep, and the other half is physical.

      • emills

        he said something like that.

      • thurdonpaul

        wheres Yogi ??

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Except Burnett hasn’t said that and you’re extrapolating based on Joe Girardi’s Molina bias.

      • emills

        I know he didn’t, it’s just my opinion. I look forward to the game tomorrow regardless of who’s catching and hope that Burnett dominates

  • http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0awG8jw7Ax5xR/610x.jpg Drew

    Eh I don’t buy it. Sure maybe he didn’t “choose” or “voice” that he wanted to pitch to Molina but give me a break. If AJ saw no difference between JoMo and Po he’d go up to Girardi and say “Skip, you gotta get Posada in there.”

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      He basically has. That’s what these comments are saying.

      • http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0awG8jw7Ax5xR/610x.jpg Drew

        I don’t know man, I read the quotes you have in your post and I’ve heard some others. He is basically answering questions to the media saying, “I didn’t ask for Molina.” I believe that.

        My issue is, if he really saw no difference, he could’ve gone to Joe immediately after he heard and told Joe he wants Posada.
        I’m not trying to get on Burnett I’m just saying, he probably could have privately influenced who his catcher was if he really wanted to.

    • Salty Buggah

      Hmmm, I guess you could be right. If I was OK with both, I’d tell the manager that I want the elite bat instead of the extremely weak one to help me get some run support.

      Maybe AJ did tell him but Girardi insisted he stick with Molina. I think this is probably more likely.

      • http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0awG8jw7Ax5xR/610x.jpg Drew

        Yeah it’s possible, Joe has said he doesn’t want to mess with their rhythm.
        At this point I’m almost indifferent, we’re not facing Verlander, we should be able to beat Blackburn even with JoPo on the bench.

        • Salty Buggah

          Yea, like Jorge said, we better win.

  • BBFan

    This is all much ado about nothing.
    Though AJ specifically did not ask for Molina, the fact is that he is mroe comfortable with him. Joe is doing the right thing by his decision to keep him comfortable. Posada needs to grow up a little bit and think team first. People need to leave their ego at the door during the playoffs. Joe has been very respectable to these veterans thoroughout the season.

    Also, why should Girardi tell today what he will do in game 5 or in ALCS? It is silly to criticise his answer.

    • Tom Zig

      Posada wasn’t exactly pissed off though. All he said was he wasn’t surprised, nor was he pleased. Hardly incendiary.

      • Doug

        although he did say they better win. he’s pissed

    • Salty Buggah

      Ummm no, if you know you are a vastly superior player being replaced by a back-up player because of some silly narrative, you have a right to be pissed. But that’s just how I feel (and I’m one of those that think Molina does not make AJ better, at least not significantly).

      • YankeeScribe

        Posada is a superior hitter but Molina has superior defense behind the plate. This might be a major issue if our lineup didn’t include Jeter, A-Rod, Tex, Matsui, Cano, etc.. The offense doesn’t revolve around JoPo’s bat. He’s a great addition on offense but collectively, it’s a great lineup even with Molina batting 9th.

    • westcoastyanks

      I couldn’t agree more. Do we expect that Girardi is going to make a decision about what to do in Game 5 without taking into account what happens in Games 1-4? He made a decision about Game 2 based on what happened over the course of 30+ regular season starts. If it works, great. If not, he has the opportunity to go a different direction. Claiming that he has to make this decision before the first playoff game is played and then refuse to deviate from it regardless of the outcome is a bit much.

  • pete

    we’re facing nick blackburn. it’s not that big of a deal. if burnett blows up and we need all the offense we can get, you can sup jorge in for jose, probably before you even waste an at-bat for jose (if jose bats in the 1st then the offense is presumably doing fine anyway, and by the 2nd well have had two innings worth of AJ to gauge how well he’s doing. If he’s sucking, throw in Jorge for the O, if he’s cruising, trust that the other 8 guys will scrape a couple of runs across against nick fucking blackburn.

    If this was Verlander, it’d be a more precarious scenario, since offense and pitching would both be at a premium, and in that scenario i would definitely go with Jorge, since the offensive difference between the two is much more concrete than AJ’s pitching difference.

  • crapulent aka I said good day sir

    I can’t believe this is getting this much ink or attention. Arod please do something to put something else on the sports pages.

  • nathan

    Edited by RAB: Please e-mail news tips to us. Off-topic comments will be deleted as per the commenting guidelines.

  • heather – oklahoma city

    IF posada were injured in some way, i would be on board to start molina, but that’s it. has everyone forgotten how awful last october was for yankees fans? a huge reason for that was jorge posada’s injury. you just don’t sit a potential hall of fame catcher for the third best molina brother, who has an anemic batting average at best. this isn’t the marathon part of the season anymore, now it’s the sprint and he’s running out the “b” lineup! and the new york media called joe torre, “clueless joe”????

  • bern baby bern

    This was my comment over at the Banter as well:
    June 27 (v. Mets): 7 IP 1 H 0 R 10 K.

    July 27 (v Rays): 7 IP 2 H 1 R 0 ER 5 K.
    August 7 (Red Sox): 7.2 IP 1 H 0 R 6 K.

    Posada was the catcher for each of those games. In no other game this year did Burnett pitch as many as 7 innings while allowing 2 or fewer hits. Posada was also the catcher for a number of other games from June to August in which Burnett pitched well: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 7 IP, 2 R, 8 IP, 3 R.

    Then on August 22 against Boston, Burnett allowed 9 R in 5 IP. This was somehow determined to be Posada’s fault. And the conclusion is he “doesn’t know how to call a game” or something else detached from reality.

    This isn’t even a case of correlation being mistaken for causation. This is simply nonsense.

    Of course it seems like the pitcher and catcher are “working well together” when a pitcher has a good game. How could it feel otherwise. And of course it seems that they’re “out of sync” when the pitcher has a bad game. The fact of the matter is that it’s all about the pitcher. That’s why good pitchers are good pitchers from year to year and team to team, regardless of the guy behind the plate, and the not so good pitchers are not so good.

    As Jonah Keri reasonably states, taking Posada’s bat out of the lineup is a bad decision made by a manager who was a poor hitting catcher and overvalues his own contribution. Of course it worked out really well the one other time since 2000 this decision was made, with Randy Johnson pitching to Flaherty in 2005 in game 3 against LAA.

  • westcoastyanks

    How is Jonah Keri at all “reasonable”? Girardi is possibly managing for his job during this series — do we really think that he is going to jeopardize that because of some deep seeded jealousy over Jorge’s offensive statistics? That’s just ridiculous. I understand that some have doubts about this decision, but it is definitely grounded in both statistical evidence and observing that AJ has an obvious comfort level with Molina.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    AJ no hits them tomorrow, and from now on Molina-san carries AJ’s gym bag…

  • toad

    Then on August 22 against Boston, Burnett allowed 9 R in 5 IP. This was somehow determined to be Posada’s fault. And the conclusion is he “doesn’t know how to call a game” or something else detached from reality.

    I think the case is a little stronger than that. Burnett had five games where he allowed 6+ ER. Posada caught four of those, out of 16 times he caught Burnett total. Molina was 1/11.

    They came out even in well-pitched games – 7 IP, 2 or fewer ER. 6/16 for Posada, 4/11 for Molina. Cervelli was 2/2, Cash 2/4.

  • bern baby bern

    “They came out even in well-pitched games – 7 IP, 2 or fewer ER. 6/16 for Posada, 4/11 for Molina. Cervelli was 2/2, Cash 2/4.”

    Toad, that’s basically the point. The pitcher – in this case Burnett – pitches well or doesn’t based on his own ability, performance and execution. Therefore, the immeasurably better hitter – Posada – should play.

    “Do we really think that he is going to jeopardize that because of some deep seeded jealousy over Jorge’s offensive statistics?”

    westcoastyanks, I’m certainly not, and I don’t believe Keri is either, suggesting anything having to do with deep seeded jealousy. What we’re both saying is that Girardi is overvaluing the ability of the catcher to influence pitching performance. As a person who was regarded as a cerebral player, this is something for which Girardi was overvalued.

    • westcoastyanks

      But this ignores the very situation that we are hoping to avoid — the “bad AJ” start when he has a total meltdown and gives up 5+ runs in a blink of an eye. In all but one case this season “bad AJ” shows up when Jorge is catching. Maybe this really is just a fluke coincidence, but the Yankees can eliminate this potential variable while only sacrificing a couple AB’s before bringing in Posada off the bench. To ignore this seems like inviting great risk for very limited reward.

      I understand and agree that, in an ideal world, it should not matter who is catching. The pitcher has the final say on what pitches are thrown, is the one responsible for executing the pitch and, as a highly paid professional, should be able to do this throwing to Posada, Molina or some dude pulled out of the bleachers. Unfortunately there is ample evidence indicating that this is not the case (at least in the case of AJ).

  • adeel

    Molina is much better at framing pitches than posada is. Aj’s pitches have the most movement of any pitcher in the mlb(per a post on rab about a month ago).

    The K/9 and K/bb ratio support this.

  • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

    I think too much is made of this – if Molina bats 9th his second at bat comes up in the bottom of the 4th inning. In that scenario you could sub in Posada and have him catch AJ’s last 2 innings (assuming AJ goes 6 innings and Joba-Hughes-Mo do their thing)
    So in effect the only thing Girardi has committed to so far is one at bat for Molina

    After 4 innings we know:

    - If we need the offense of Posada or not

    - If AJ’s got his stuff or not. If he’s on I assume he won’t lose it with Posada behind the plate

    _ Finally we know the situation: if Molina comes up in the 4th inning with bases loaded and a tied game I’m pretty sure you’ll see Posada rather than Molina come to the plate. If Molina comes up with 2 out and no one on i’m pretty sure he’ll stay in until his next at bat

    I guess as much as 90% of the benefit of having Molina rather than Posada catching AJ comes before Molina’s second at bat (4 out of 6 innings but also AJ finding his rhythm – and no i have no formula, it’s a guess)

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