One of the most notable and certainly most annoying storylines from last season was Jorge Posada‘s apparent inability to do anything right behind the plate. He’s slow, can’t frame pitches, can’t block a ball in the dirt, he goes out to the mound too many times, can’t do anything right, especially call a game. Just look at the stats:
Yankee pitchers with Posada catching: .264-.347-.426 against, 18.4 K%
Yankee pitchers with anyone else catching: .234-.298-.385 against, 22.5 K%
See? That right there tells you everything you need to know about Posada’s game calling ability. [/sarcasm]
Actually, yeah there’s definitely a difference between how certain catchers call games, but you can’t tell that based on just simple observation, or Joe Girardi‘s idiotic decision to let Jose Molina catch certain pitchers (he sure helped A.J. Burnett in Game 5 of both the ALCS and World Series, right?). We now have the tools to dig deeper into this phenomenon, and Max Marchi at THT did just that.
Using PitchFX, Marchi broke down the how Posada and Molina called games for CC Sabathia last season, noting that the biggest difference is that Posada tended to rely on the big guy’s four-seam fastball while Molina favored the sinking two-seam variety. Here’s the breakdown so you can see for yourself:
That’s the percentage of total pitches, so Posada called for 49% fastballs, 33% sliders, and 18% sinkers against lefty batters. Of course, there are many more factors in play here than just what the catcher calls for. Sabathia could shake them off, and certainly players evolve during the course of the season and may change up their patterns. Posada also caught CC’s first four outings, which were part of his customary slow start, and that probably skewed the results.
In general, a catcher’s ability to work with pitchers is over-stated. Saying a guy handles pitchers well is usually something reserved for catchers who can’t do anything else even decently, like Molina. What makes Posada so great is his bat at the most premium of positions, and moving him to designated hitter to let someone like Molina catch full time makes the team worse. A league average DH with Posada catching is greater than Posada at DH and a defensive specialist like Molina catching. It takes an awful lot of defense to make up for the complete lack of offense.
At 38-years-old, Posada’s not getting any better defensively, and chances are his offense will take a hit next season. However, the best team the Yankees can field features him starting behind the dish, even if it means sacrificing an extra 90 OPS points to the opposition. The difference in offense – 325 OPS pt advantage over Molina, for example – makes up for it.