Mar
04

2010 Season Preview: Will Posada continue to defy age?

By

Catching is hell on the knees. For over 120 pitches in most games the catcher squats behind the plate, receiving pitches with varying speed and break and coming in at all different locations. That’s over an hour a game in the squat position. Life then becomes harder with runners on base, when the catcher has to put himself in a position to throw out a would-be base stealer and block a potential ball in the dirt. It’s no wonder that many catchers see their production decline by their early- to mid-thirties, and that most are out of the game by the time they’re Jorge Posada‘s age. Yet the 38-year-old catcher posted one of his finest seasons in 2009, though he did catch only 100 games. Can he hold up again in 2010?


Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Since 1901, only 11 catchers reach 400 plate appearances at age 37. Only 16 got into 100 or more games. At age 38 that dropped off even more, with only three reaching the 400 PA plateau, and eight getting into 100 or more games. Even worse, the catchers who did survive over 100 games in their age-38 season did not play because of their offensive contributions. Of the 21 age-38 catchers with more than 200 PA, only seven posted an OPS over .700 — and five of those did it before 1950. None posted an OPS of .800.

At age-37, however, some catchers still played often and hit big. Of the 11 with more than 400 plate appearances, four posted an OPS over .800 and another two were above .750. Only Ernie Lombardi played his age-38 season before 1950. The rest played in 1985 or later. None of the .800 OPS catchers came to bat even 300 times the following season (though Posada is one of the four), and among the .750 OPS players only Benito Santiago continued playing and hitting in his age-38 season. The odds, then, seem to be against Posada posting a repeat of his 2009 campaign.

Both Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza hit well in their age-37 seasons. Fisk came to bat 620 times that year, 1985, and hit .238/.320/.488, which translates to a .345 wOBA and a 115 OPS+. Of the 153 games he played, 130 were at catcher. Yet in his age-38 season he saw start drop-offs in production and catching time. He did play in 125 games that year, but only 71 as a catcher. Even if he had made the age-38 list, he wouldn’t have fared well, as his numbers dropped to .221/.263/.337, a .264 wOBA and a 60 OPS+. While it appeared at the time that Fisk was finished, he did come back to post five more average or better seasons, including two stellar years, 1989 and 1990, at ages 41 and 42.

Piazza realized a resurgence of sorts in 2006, his age-37 season, after he signed with the Padres. After hitting .251/.326/.452 in his final season for the Mets, Piazza rebounded to hit .283/.342/.501, despite accumulating about half of his plate appearances at PETCO Park. He did play his age-38 season, though the stint with Oakland did not go too well. He didn’t catch a single inning and posted a meager .275/.313/.414 line in a season shortened by injury. Unlike Fisk, there would be no late-career revival for Piazza. He hasn’t played since his final game with Oakland in 2007.

The stories of Fisk and Piazza might appear to bode poorly for Posada, but as with any player-to-player comparison it never tells the whole story. All three catchers traveled different paths to their age-38 seasons. Fisk was a highly touted prospect, the No. 4 overall pick of the 1967 draft, who came up in 1972, at age 24, and hit right out of the gate. While Piazza broke out at the same age, he was not nearly as highly regarded. The Dodgers took him in the 62nd round, apparently as a favor to Tommy Lasorda. Yet he killed the ball when the Dodgers handed him the starting gig at age-24.

Posada, however, did not break into the league until age 25, and at that point he was a part-time player. Over the next two seasons he saw more playing time, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he truly took over as the full-time catcher, at age 28. He also didn’t convert to catcher until age 20, when he played behind the plate for just 41 games. Entering his age-38 season he has started 1,793 games behind the plate between the majors and minors. Piazza had 1,898 at that age, though Fisk, because he caught under 100 games in four different seasons, had 1,782.

Through his age-37 season, Posada has defied age. His .885 OPS in 2009 ranks best for catchers with more than 200 PA in their age-37 seasons. Even if he does decline drastically and produces only 80 percent of that, .702, for the 2010 season, he’d still rank among the top catchers at age-38. The Yankees, however, are not so much concerned with how Posada stacks up with his historical comparables as they are how he fits into the lineup. While the .702 OPS might stand out in the former sense, it would be a huge burden in the latter.

These represent five of the freely available projection systems. After mashing them together, they think that Jorge will see only five percent fewer plate appearances than in 2009, though ZiPS accounts for most of the drop-off. All the others expect right around the same playing time, while Bill James is overly optimistic — though his article on players declining is a bit more pessimistic. In terms of production the systems forecast a 2.5 percent reduction in OBP, modest enough, but a nearly 14 percent reduction in power. Perhaps the short porch at the Stadium would inflate those projections.

While all aging catchers warrant concern, Posada presents an interesting case. He’s had an odd career path, switching to catcher in the minors and not taking a full-time role until age-28. The following 10 years were excellent, though, as Jorge became one of the game’s premier catchers, and perhaps the best hitting catcher over the past decade. He enters his age-38 season with few comparables, and unfavorable ones among those that exist. Still, Jorge has given us little reason to expect a drastic drop-off.

Categories : Players

66 Comments»

  1. FWIW, PECOTA’s line on Jorge in 2010 is: .270/.361/.440, 433 PAs, 14 HRs, 56 RBIs and 2 stolen bases.

  2. A.D. says:

    Should be interesting, the late start, and essentially having 2008 off in terms of catching, should all be in his favor.

  3. Rick in Boston says:

    In terms of OBP, only four catchers (including Posada) eclipsed the averaged projections in 2009 with at least 400 PA’s: Mauer, V-Mart, Yadier Molina. Slugging-wise, only seven (again, including Posada) eclipsed the average projections.

    As long as Posada is willing to let Girardi sit him when necessary, I’m fairly certain Posada can meet those projections.

  4. Chip says:

    Seriously, what are the chances that the Yankees have four players in Jeter, Mo, Pettitte and Posada who are completely destroying the age curve? Mo’s last season and Jeter’s last season are probably the most impressive at their position and age in the history of the game (without looking up numbers). According to this, Posada was in a similar position. Bizarre

    • Steve H says:

      As much as steroids likely played a part in the late career resurgences of several players in the 90′s and 00′s, we also have to consider that today’s players take much, much better care of their bodies than in the past. For the most part they don’t smoke, Mo doesn’t drink, they work out year round, watch what they eat, etc., etc., etc. I’m sure the age curve will continue to shift a little bit towards older players as there are more advances in technology, diet, etc.

      • Chip says:

        I completely agree but this isn’t a small increase over normal age-curve projections. In fact, Jeter and Mo seem to be getting better overall for the past two seasons. I’m in no way throwing steroid accusations around, I’m just pointing out how unusual this is to have all of these guys doing this at the same time.

        • Steve H says:

          Oh I agree. I’m just wondering if they are the start of the new wave of players who age well (presumably) without help from PED’s. Mo is a complete outlier, but the others may just be trendsetters. I mean seriously, when have you ever heard of any of these guys coming to camp out of shape? There has never been any concern about conditioning with these guys.

          • Chip says:

            We can only hope that A-Rod can follow suit for the next 8! years

          • mo says:

            perhaps they should check into pissing on your hands as a PED

          • Tank the Frank says:

            I agree with this. Mo is an outlier but he’s also an amazing athlete with one of the smoothest deliveries in baseball. I think A-Rod is going to be mentioned in the same category when all is said and done. I personally think he’ll be giving the Yankees tremendous production during the last years of his career. Players like him can’t be projected by using their comparables. He’s such a freak athlete; the kind that only comes around every so often.

            Even though Alex has used PED’s, I don’t believe he abused them. I don’t believe it will effect him physically in the future. I agree the Yankees have been very lucky to have players like Mo, Jeter, A-Rod (and Posada to a lesser extent) who not only are world-class athletes, but tireless workers who take care of themselves.

    • Rick in Boston says:

      I think with Jeter, Posada and Mo, the Yankees have three serious outliers when it comes to making comparisons. Hence when projection systems try to figure them out, the Yankees don’t always look that good (ie, PECOTA versions 1 & 2 this year).

      Yes, all four could collapse this year, but if I had to bet on it, the order would go:

      Pettitte, Mo, Jeter, Posada

      I think Posada’s “old man skills” can hold up if even forced to move to a DH role.

      • Chip says:

        Really? I’d put Posada right behind Pettitte due to the fact that he doesn’t have the contact skills of Jeter or the sheer God-ness of Mo

        • Rick in Boston says:

          Posada’s ability to draw walks and hit for power are usually skills that last longer than the ability to just hit for contact. Look at someone like Chili Davis (a stretch, I know), who stuck around because of that. Also, Jeter’s value right now is tied to that of a SS. Sure, he could all of a sudden jack 20-25 bombs and make me eat my words, but I’m not sure he’s got it in him without changing his game.

          • Chip says:

            That’s understandable, but there are guys like Marcus Thames out there if you just want a guy who can hit for power. I know that’s not a good comp either but my point is that I don’t think Posada will ever stick around and be a pinch-hitter/backup catcher the way Pudge has. Plus, his defense was never anything great. It’s not like Jeter who is one of the best defensive shortstops in the league (just typing that made me feel weird). Posada does seem more of a DH-type than Jeter but his offense isn’t really above-average there and I think Jeter’s a much better lock to play shortstop longer than Posada is to play catcher

      • DCBX says:

        I’d go Pettitte, Posada, Mo, Jeter. Not seeing the first two playing past 2011, much as I love them. Jeter and Mo OTOH I can imagine still being around in 5 years, esp. Jeter.

        MO is ageless and timeless, after all. :)

    • radnom says:

      That is one of the benefits of have three HOF players. Sure the chances are low for any random SS or relief pitcher to sustain production at their age…but it isn’t like the Yankees are just getting dumb luck here. These are some of the greatest players of all time.

      Pettite doesn’t belong in this discussion. He is only 37. He hassn’t doing anything crazy for his age thusfar.

      • Chip says:

        Yeah, he’s not doing anything crazy but he’s still pitching incredibly well for a 37 year old

      • Steve H says:

        Yeah, check out most Hall of Famers, and many of them were outliers on the age curve. Hank Aaron/Cal Ripken/Nolan Ryan/Rickey Henderson, etc. didn’t stop being productive at 33/34. They may have slipped, or in many cases gotten better, but they remained productive, which helped them become HOF’s.

        • Chip says:

          O yeah, and that’s part of the reason that they’re Hall of Famers but how many shortstops, catchers, center fielders, and second basemen are this good at this age? Rickey moved to a corner outfield spot at age 28, Ripken moved to third at 36, Ryan is a crazy outlier at pitcher and Aaron wasn’t really ever anything other than a right fielder. I know that these are just examples you threw out but I can’t think of a shortstop who did what Jeter is doing, a reliever who did what Mo is doing and maybe Carlton Fisk is the only Posada comp I can think of. We’re spoiled to have them all at once.

          • A.D. says:

            With relievers there have been a few guys to keep pitching strong into at least beginning of their 40s, Timlin & Orosco come to mind along with Trevor Hoffman

    • Is Pettitte destroying the age curve?

    • A.D. says:

      2 of those players are sure fire hall of famers, so that will have some impact.

  5. Chip says:

    Also, what happens to Posada if he has two years similar to his last one? That will be a hell of a contract dispute if he actually keeps this up and the Yankees have catching help in the minors ready to contribute. Would they really push him to go play somewhere else?

    • Jose says:

      I think he will retire after this contract.

      • Chip says:

        If he puts up a .800-.850 OPS as a catcher and still feels good, you really think he’s stop? Playing another season or two might be the difference between getting into the HOF and not for him (not sure if that matters to him or not)

    • Well, its unlikely that he continues producing at the same levels he has in the past. In all likelihood, 2007 aint coming back.

      • Chip says:

        Yeah, I’d be completely shocked if 2007 happened again but what if he puts up 2009 numbers over the next two years? That’s still incredible offense coming from your catcher and we might be in a position to still rotate him with one of the young guys

    • Rick in Boston says:

      If Posada is willing to take a team friendly contract to be a full-time DH and occassional emergency C, then yeah, he’ll be back. But I really think that if he’s a straight DH and he’s looking for the same money he’s making now, Cashman might tell him “Good luck, see you in a couple years for Jorge Posada Day”.

  6. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    I think this also reinforces the argument that if we can get Jorgie ANY time off at all it will be greatly to his advantage in sustaining that bat for four more years.

    7th inning up by 4 he just hit? Frankie.
    Up by 6? Frankie.
    Down by 6? Frankie.
    Day after night? Frankie.
    4th day in a row? Frankie.

    Anything the Yanks can do to keep this up they should!

  7. Coach says:

    What is Cairo, and how does it compare to the other projection systems?

  8. miketotheg says:

    Personally I think the big statistical anomaly in Jeter, Mo, Posada and Petite is that no group has ever come up that strong and that close. It’s not one superstar, its four of them and they check each other.

    spring training + 162 games + post season, year after year is just unimaginable to us mere mortals. Its being able to share the mental/emotional burden of competing and grinding it out year after year.

    I predict Posada is going to have a great year battling it out with franky & jesus. I doubt he’s going to let Jeter, Mo and Petite have all the fun!

  9. The Evil Empire says:

    On the homepage near the top left

  10. dkidd says:

    carlton fisk caught 103 games at the age of 43

    insanity

    • DCBX says:

      Fisk is the reason I played C in Little League and HS. Joel Skinner (remember him?) wasn’t exactly someone to look up to, so I had to go outside the Family.

  11. Shits and Giggles says:

    Is this off topic? It is a Preview of what is yet to come.
    Nick Johnson has been taken out of the lineup due to back stiffness. I guess he is in mid-season form.

  12. Hughesus Christo says:

    Statistical projections for Posada are all going to be terrible:

    1. He’s not a typical player. Typical players aren’t borderline hall of famers.

    2. He wasn’t catching in the minors/college for 10 years before he got to NY.

    3. He wasn’t catching fulltime as the starter until 2000.

    4. His 2008 season drags down all the projection systems and was an injury outlier.

  13. [...] March 4th: Will Posada continue to defy age? [...]

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