By the Decade: Yankee catchersBy
With the baseball portion of the ’00s behind us, it’s time to reflect upon the Yankees by decade. On the whole, it was a very successful decade by the Yanks. The team won two World Series and four AL titles. They finished in first all but two years and bookended the 2000s with thrilling championship runs. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring how the team looked by position, and today we start with the catchers.
On the whole, as the above table shows, the 2000s were the decade of Jorge. The borderline Hall of Famer caught two-thirds1 of the Yankees’ games, and he did so with spectacular results. Say what you will about Posada’s current defense, but the man can hit. As a catcher, he put up a .286/.387/.500 and fell just one dinger shy of 200 home runs. The only knock against Jorge are the double plays. He hit into 128 of them over ten years.
After Jorge though, the Yankees see a precipitous drop in backstop production. On the whole, Yankee catchers hit .268/.354/.450, and everyone not named Jorge were pretty bad as a group. Yankee back-up backstops managed just 27 home runs and a combined offensive line of .224/.263/.326 in 1648 at bats.
It’s amazing to look through that list and try to remember some of the names. Chris Stewart made one forgettable appearance for the Yanks when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina were injured. I do not remember Michel Hernandez’s five games in pinstripes. Wil Nieves was spectacularly awful, and even Ivan Rodriguez was but a shell of his former self in 2008.
For the Yankees, Posada’s success atop this list underscores the importance of having a solid catcher. For two reasons, the team hasn’t been able to find a decent back-up. First, no one wants to play behind someone as good as Jorge. Second, good catchers are very, very hard to find. That’s the driving reason behind my belief that the Yankees shouldn’t move Jesus Montero from behind the plate quite yet, and it’s a driving reason why Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankee prospects list features four catchers. In this day and age, developing a defensively solid catcher who can hit guarantees some modicum of success.
In August of the first year of the decade of the 2010s, Jorge Posada will turn 39. He may stick it out behind the plate, seeing reduced playing time of course, for the next few seasons, but when the next decade ends, he likely won’t be the team’s leader behind the plate. From our vantage point at the end of the decade, we can truly appreciate just how good Posada has been, and when we compare him to everyone else, well, it’s not even close.
Looking at his numbers, I can unequivocally say that Posada is the league’s catcher of the ’00s too. Perhaps Mike Piazza turned in some better offense numbers early on and perhaps Joe Mauer beats him these days. But no one else has sustained this level of play for as long as Jorge did. For the Yankees, behind the plate, it truly has been the decade of Posada.
1 Due to availability of the data and some late-inning replacement situations, the total numbers of games played by position will not add up to the 1620 games the Yankees played from 2000-2009. Numbers are from both Baseball Reference and the Baseball Musings Day-by-Day Database. (Return)