Molina-Gate: A.J. defends PosadaBy
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.