Apr
20

Can Jorge possibly keep up his contact and swing rates?

By

Like all teams, the Yankees faced a number of questions heading into the 2010 season. Could they continue to perform in the face of even loftier expectations? Would their new acquisitions adequately replace the departed? Can the veterans keep up their production? This last question concerned me most, particularly at two positions, shortstop and catcher. The Yankees have enjoyed advantages at those two spots over the past decade-plus. To see production erode there would run down the lineup. Thankfully, both Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter have opened the season with strong performances.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Of the two, Posada concerned me a bit more. Catchers typically slow down at Posada’s age, and while he’s done a good job of staving off Father Time to this point we know that can’t last forever. Early in the off-season, Bill James ran a study that examined the likelihood of a player’s performance declining in 2010. Of all players who accumulated 400 plate appearances in 2009, Jorge ranked as the most likely to decline. While age did play a factor, a number of performance issues did, too. For instance, Posada’s BB/K ratio was his lowest since 2001.

Thankfully, Posada has temporarily stopped these questions with his early season surge. In his 43 PA so far he has hit .378/.465/.730, a ridiculous .505 wOBA. Clearly he cannot maintain that throughout 2010. It does provide a positive sign, though, that he can continue producing at an elite level. Not only are his production numbers up, but so are his peripherals. His contact rate and walk rates are up, while his strikeout rate is down considerably. Even if these numbers come down (or up) a bit over the next five and a half months, Posada can still carve out an impressive season at age 38.

As we know, though, drawing conclusions form a sample as small as 43 PA can prove misleading. Anything can happen in two weeks, so we tend to back off on analysis of the first few weeks. Still, there are certain things we can glean from a sample only slightly larger than Jorge’s. From the Sabermetrics Library, we can start to see certain stats normalize at as few as 50 PA. Here’s the entire list:

  • 50 PA: Swing%
  • 100 PA: Contact Rate
  • 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
  • 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
  • 250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
  • 300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
  • 500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
  • 550 PA: ISO

Posada’s Swing% currently sits at 42 percent, which more resembles his 2008 and 2009 seasons than his stellar 2007, when he was at 38.3 percent. That number could come down over his next seven PA, I suppose. Still, it seems odd to think that anyone’s Swing% would stabilize in as few as 50 PA. There’s research to back up the claim, but I’m still skeptical. I’d still expect Posada’s Swing% to resemble his 2002-2009 rate of 40.6 percent.

Two of Posada’s discipline stats which stand out are his Z-Contact and overall Contact rates. Z-Contact refers to pitches within the strike zone. Posada has yet to miss one of those pitches. He surely will, of course. Those numbers, according to Russell Carleton’s studies (linked at Sabermetrics Library), stabilize at 100 PA. Another two and a half weeks should give us a better indicator of whether Jorge will make contact at a rate closer to his 2007 mark of 82.5 percent, or more like his 2009 mark of 79.5 percent.

What I’ll really be looking at is where Jorge stands at around 200 PA. That’s when we’ll get a real idea of his strikeout and walk rates for the season. Again, Posada’s ranking in the Bill James study came in large part because his strikeout rate represented a seven-year high and his walk rate represented an eight-year low. So far in 2010 he has walked in 14 percent of his PA and has struck out in just 10.8 percent. Again, while we should expect these numbers to regress towards his career totals, they could still forecast a strong season.

As is quoted in the Sabermetics Library post, “In small sample sizes, a good scout is always better than stats.” I don’t think any scout, though, could find much to criticize in Jorge’s hot start. He won’t end the season with the numbers he has now — a .730 SLG is quite impossible for him. But it has been quite encouraging to see him get off to a hot start. If nothing else it set aside, at least temporarily, questions about his age. At best it forecasts yet another quality season from the seemingly ageless catcher.

Categories : Offense
  • mbonzo

    My question is, if Jorge keeps hitting and slugging like he did last year, would the Yankees resign a 40 year old catcher in 2012?

    • pat

      I’d certainly hope not. Chances are at least one of our young guys will be MLB ready by then.

    • Ed

      As the DH, perhaps. As the catcher, extremely unlikely.

      Late last season Posada was talking about age catching up to him and not being able to catch as many games in a season as he used to. I think even he knows that he doesn’t have a lot of time left at catcher.

      Montero and/or Romine should be ready when Posada’s contract runs out. Hopefully at least one of them pans out and makes it an easy call to replace Posada.

      • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

        Normally you’d might keep an ageing catcher around to help the young guy to handle the pitching staff.

        Posada is obviously completely useless in handling just about everyone

        Cervelli on the other hand is already HOF worthy for his exceptional handling of pitchers like Andy, CC, AJ, Javy and Mo.

        • radnom

          Snark aside, the older catchers who tend to stay around as backups/mentors tend to be defensively strong with nothing left in their bat. I can’t see Posada in that role.

          • WIlliam

            W already have an experienced catcher who can mentor our new catchers. His name is Joe Girardi.

  • http://www.thematrix101.com/ Thomas A. Anderson

    I tweeted this on Saturday. It’s a bit crude, I had to disregard Fisk’s last 2 seasons as they would have terribly skewed his numbers. I just looked at the OPS+ of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Jorge Posada in their 8 most recent, complete seasons of production

    Average OPS+:
    Carlton Fisk age 35-42: 117
    Johnny Bench age 28-35: 119
    Jorge Posada age 30-37: 127

    We basically have a corner infielder hitting as our catcher. And our corner OF at catcher has been a better offensive player than 2 of the best catchers post WWII. And yet, somehow, I think we all still take him for granted.

    Yeah, his defense is poor and was never that great to begin with. But that bat is somethin else.

    The MSM gives him crap for handling pitchers (even though he caught CC in the postseason when Carsten Charles was curbstompin’ fools left and right) and we give him crap for his declining ability to throw runners out the last 2-3 years and his allowance of passed balls that he shouldn’t.

    All that said, we still underrate him. Basically, we’ve had the mutant combo of Joe Mauer and Mike Piazza for the last 12-14 years.

    • Rose

      Average OPS+:
      Carlton Fisk age 35-42: 117

      That’s still pretty F’in good for those ages…

      Jorge Posada age 30-37: 127

      Pretty awesome…

  • YankeesJunkie

    It would be nice to Posada put up another year with the offense similar to 2009. If Posada can stay healthy through this season and give the Yankees close to 120 games at C then the Yankees might have more flexibility when Montero comes up in 2010.

    • mbonzo

      Seeing the way the Yankees handled Posada I would bet they give Posada about 100 games next year at Catcher and 60 at DH. Montero would then get about 60 games at catcher and 100 at DH. That is of course if he is productive this year.

      • YankeesJunkie

        Hopefully Montero gets at least 500 at bats in Scranton this year and continues to develop as one the best hitters in the minors. As long as Posada stays healthy there is no reason to call up Montero. Next year if Montero is able to catch 60 games or so for the Yankees during Posada’s contract year, that would just be a step in the right direction for his development, but at this point Montero just needs to get some more games at catcher under his belt and hopefully improve his defense.

  • Dalelama

    It would be great to have a DH who can actually hit again.

    • Tom Zig

      Yeah man. I really hate having a guy with a .420 OBP. That totally sucks.

      • Dalelama

        Yeah that .697 OPS has opposing pitchers quivering in their cleets.

        • V

          Wow. You have serious issues, man.

        • pat

          So true. While we’re at it we should find a new 1b as well. Tex’s .435 OPS certainly doesn’t have any pitchers jittery in their jockstraps.

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ pete

          yeah cuz that’s right in line with his career averages and everything…I said it before buy if you’re actually making judgments based on 12 games worth of ABs, then you have absolutely no idea how the game works. A typical Nick Johnson OPS+ is around 125, and a typical NIck Johnson wRC+ (a better gauge of offensive contribution) is around 130. Not only is that studly, but it’s a bit better than your pal Hideki Matsui, and MUCH better than Johnny Damon.

          Of course neither of those guys is in any way shape or form capable of getting hurt or having a dropoff in production from last year. Wait…what?

  • dillon

    Thank God he is hitting because he is one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball.

    I’ve watched every game this year and Posada has given up at least a base in all but two. They aren’t always in box score but he’s screwing up plays an average catcher would make. Whether its a passed ball called a wild pitch, an inability to block home plate, or absolutely horrendous decisions on basepaths. Mostly its passed balls called wild pitches. U can pretty much count on one a game.

    I’m not going to touch his game calling ability, but I will say he seems to have more issues w pitchers than any catcher I’ve seen.

    I’m not saying posada is bad. I’m just saying when he starts hitting below .300 its time to move on.

    • Dalelama

      I wouldn’t necessarily make the final judgment based on BA. From day one Jorge hasn’t been the shiniest button on the vest but the man can hit. As a DH he would be a huge upgrade over the delicate Nick Johnson who is so scared to hurt himself he won’t swing.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        Serious question:

        Are you for real? Or are you caricaturing someone that I haven’t caught on to yet?

        Again, serious question.

        • Across the pond

          I reckon this fella is Johnny Damon.

          Only real explanation for his hatred of the walkster

        • bexarama

          he’s for real and he’s awful

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        I wouldn’t necessarily make the final judgment based on BA.

        Really? Then why do you pass judgment on NJ’s BA after only 54 PA, instead of looking at his career averages?

      • V

        STOP TAKING THE THREAD OFF TOPIC TO ILLUSTRATE YOUR UTTERLY IRRATIONAL HATRED OF NICK JOHNSON.

        THERE IS AN OFF-TOPIC THREAD FOR YOU TO ACT SILLY AND IRRATIONAL. PLEASE KEEP YOUR BS THERE.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          You know, in pointing out a commenting guideline violation, you yourself violated a guideline.

          • Dirty Pena
          • V

            He’s not getting the point. Day after day after day after day after day after day. Maybe he will now? I don’t have my hopes up.

    • themgmt

      Because hitting .300 is all that matters offensively. Especially for a career .278 hitter.

    • Hey ZZ

      You are greatly exaggerating Posada’s negatives to make your point and not nearly putting enough emphasis on the positives he brings to this team. The relative advantage that Posada’s offense brings to the Yankee as a C is enormous compared to most other teams.

      As a whole the staff has 4 wild pitches right now. 19 other teams have a higher number than that. One of those is from AJ Burnett who is extremely difficult to catch and led the league in WP last year. Yet, Burnett has been confident to throw his curveball in the dirt to Jorge this year who I think has done a fantastic job of keeping that pitch in front of him thus far. Jorge also has 2 passed balls, which is hardly alarming.

      Sure he is a bad baserunner, but he has always been a bad baserunner. It is also not like other catchers have this huge advantage on the basepaths because on a whole the players that play the position are painfully slow. You can point out a time he cost the team this year but I do not recall a mistake he has made on the basepaths.

      Finally, he has only had one play this year where he blocked home plate poorly and he got the call on Hideki Matsui. For a guy with his hitting ability he has to pick his spots. I hardly want my number 6 hitter whose back up is Francisco Cervelli to be getting run over. He is far too valuable to this team to risk that on every plate at HP.

      Even if I were to grant your assertion that he costs the team one base a game, which is not true, he more than makes up for it with his bat. He could see a decline from 2009 and still more than make up for it because he is so much better offensively than most other catchers.

  • Rose

    Nobody ever gives Jorge any credit! Ok, so he’s bad defensively…the Yankees are still 1177-763 since 1998 (when he started catching full time – not counting this years good start either). That’s pretty darn good. What makes it even better were those few post 2003 years where we had no pitching at all and a bunch of bums in there…still winning over 100 games in 2004 and making the playoffs the following few years after that as well.

    I mean the guy was serviceable. I think we certainly take him for granted. The guy has been as clutch as anybody else on the Yankees over the years…he just doesn’t have a cool story or Derek Jeter’s face so he kind of gets stuffed in the closet when friends and family come over to see everyone (so to speak). He’s not particularly anything to look at…he never really has anything interesting to say…he stays out of the spotlight…so nobody really seems to care about him.

    He’s one of the most underrated guys of the past few decades in my opinion. As good as Montero is projected to be…he’s still got some big shoes to fill (if he can even stay there himself).

    • Dillon

      I’ve watched every game and Posada has missed a play that an average catcher would make in all but 2. That’s just what I have seen and believe. The large, large majority of the plays I’m talking about are passed balls that are called “wild pitches”, but they aren’t wild pitches. just watch the game and you’ll see posada make 2 or 3 attempts at pitches each game that just look foolish. the guy is losing his reaction time. It’s so clear, by the reactions by pitcher after pitcher that have made the comment about him in his career, that people don’t think he’s a great game caller. Thank God he can still hit. I’m not saying he’s bad, trust me. He’s an avg defensive catcher at best tho. Once he becomes an avg hitter, its time to move on.

  • http://captnsblog.wordpress.com/ The Captain’s Blog

    Sometimes I think we can overanalyze these decline studies. Yes, most normal SS and C significantly decline as they get older, but I think we’ve seen a large enough sample to suggest that Jeter and Posada are anything but normal. The sample of players who are truly similar to those two is so small, that it really makes no sense to draw conclusions from it.

  • Evan NYC

    Didn’t he start catching in the minors? He came up as a 2B if I remember correctly. I would imagine most major league catchers have been playing the same position since they were in HS as least. Perhaps this give Jorge a few extra years to produce at a decent level before seeing the massive decline most catcher become accustomed too?

    • Rick in Boston

      That’s been my thought for a while, too. However, I think all of the extra games in October do add up, as well as the fact the Yankees didn’t have a competent backup from the time Girardi left until Molina came in. So in the end, Posada’s caught a lot more games over his career than the average catcher with the same experience.

      • Evan NYC

        Good point. I think the addition of Cervelli on the bench, who seems to be at least serviceable with the bat (more so than Molina) will afford Girardi to sit Jorge more often than in the past. Plus the way Cervelli works with the pitching staff has been pretty awesome.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      He converted at age 19, I believe.

      • Evan NYC

        Okay so then he is more or less in the same boat as the normal catcher, work wise. Like Rick said, if you add in all the post season games then he is probably right on par with everyone else.

      • http://captnsblog.wordpress.com/ The Captain’s Blog

        Age 20 while at Greensboro was when he converted to a catcher. Interestingly, however, he really didn’t play that much in the minors, and then didn’t top 120 games in the majors until age-28. Assuming that most catchers start out sometime in high school, Posada’s relative grind has been much lighter.

  • http://highteawithchurls.blogspot.com Matt on Earth

    He’s not the best defensive catcher but I think he’s good enough. His offensive benefits far outweigh his defensive shortcomings. Even if Montero ends up being the real deal at the professional level for the Yankees (I think he’ll be traded before then, personally), he’ll certainly have an adjustment period. We should enjoy Jorge’s productivity while we can.

    • Dirty Pena

      Between you and the poster “V,” I DON’T KNOW WHO TO TRUST ANYMORE!!

      • V

        Huh?

        • Dirty Pena

          The show V about aliens, and he’s “on Earth,” ah never mind.

          • V

            Oh, heh. I stopped watching ‘V’ after that ridiculous promo clock during Lost.

            • Dirty Pena

              I’ve never watched, I just find the commercials hilarious. “We can’t trust anyone anymore!!!” “I don’t know who to trust!!” “Don’t trust her!!!”

              We get it. It’s a show about aliens who look like humans and you can’t trust people because of this.

              • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

                (Battlestar Galactica did it better.)

  • http://highteawithchurls.blogspot.com Matt on Earth

    Lol for a feeble joke, it was surprisingly amusing.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    Two years from now Jorgie is hitting very well, but Montero is ready to go, Romine looks good, and Cervelli is still here.

    Does that make Jorgie the DH and third catcher? If Montero isn’t better than Romine defensively, wouldn’t we want Romine catching and Jesus batting?

    So then it comes to Jorgie not getting resigned or traded if he and Jesus are hitting the same?

    And Frankie is…?

    • V

      Jorge won’t be traded. I do fear paying him top-tier catcher money to DH, though. You can get a DH for $5-10M. Will Jorge take that paycut?

      • Evan NYC

        I don’t see that as being realistic. In the upcoming years, the Yankees are going to need that DH spot to give Tex, ARod and Jeter days off. I don’t see them signing a DH for $5-10M. I think we are more likely going to see the Nick Johnson type of DH who will come in at an affordable rate.

        • king of fruitless hypotheticals

          Nick Johnson was $5.5MM right? I think even NJ lovers would take Jorgie at 7.5 or 9.

        • Snakes on the mother effin Temple Of Doom

          I think he takes the pay cut.

    • Ed

      First off, ignore Cervelli in all of this. On a good team, he’s never going to be more than a backup catcher.

      I expect Romine to be in AAA next year.

      I wonder if we could see a 3 catcher situation, with Posada, Montero, and Romine on the roster at once. There’s always a little hesitance to DH Posada when he’s not behind the plate, as that means losing the DH spot if something happens to the catcher. This way you end up with 3 guys filling 3 spots – catcher, DH, and backup catcher.

      I can’t see Posada holding up long enough that a situation like that becomes an issue for more than 1 season at most though.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        While i like this setup defensively, we don’t get the bats in the game–If Jorgie’s DH, and Romine is catching, there’s no Montero. Romine doesn’t seem to carry as a backup catcher. If Romine is catching, then there’s only one spot left for those two bats. See what I mean?

  • paK_

    I hope so, because i have him on my fantasy baseball team:D

    Winner takes $180

  • Evan NYC

    Of the three lifetime Yankees (Jeter, Mariano and Posada), I see Posada as the one that the Yankees would let finish his career with another team. I could see him playing 1B with the Mets or DHing somewhere else in his last year. I don’t think he will be willing to take a huge paycut to DH, plus we will need that spot for Jeter, ARod, Tex, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

    When Red Sox fans are begging the gods to see Posada’s decline begin something is going right.

    Of course his numbers are going to come back down with more PAs and while I don’t expect another career season with the bat from Jorgie I think he’ll give the Yanks a better season than last year. Due to no early season injury concerns and not wanting to predict any DL time. (I just noticed for the first time what great BABIP he’s had his entire career. Not bad, old boy.)

  • http://techshots.net Jaremy

    If you’re going to make a post like this, doesn’t it also seem appropriate to do the same for Teixiera, then? I think the point is that this is such a small sample size (and I don’t think we can expect Teix to finish the season batting .120) that it’s pointless to speculate yet.