The Sabathia – Posada connection


In his last three starts, CC Sabathia has thrown to Francisco Cervelli. For the most part, this appeared to be the luck of the draw. Each start has been either a day game after a night game, or else a night game before a day game. The latter case happened just once, in the rain-shortened game against Texas. Posada had to sit for either Friday’s or Saturday’s game, and since Joe Girardi has been deliberately pairing his starting catcher with A.J. Burnett, Saturday’s starter, it was a clear choice to write Cervelli’s name in the nine spot.

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Yet, despite the coincidental nature of Cervelli catching Sabathia, there seems to be something there. Last season Cervelli caught Sabathia 10 times, which equalled Jose Molina’s total and was just five fewer than Posada’s. Adding it up, Sabathia threw to the backup catcher 20 times while he threw to the starter just 15. Posada’s May injury skews that number a bit, since Molina was hurt at the time and Cervelli started most games. Still, that was a short stretch. If Girardi deployed the backup catcher only when Posada needed a rest, we should have seen more Posada starts when CC was on the mound.

A glance at the results reveals a discrepancy. With Molina and Cervelli catching, Sabathia performed much better. In those 20 games he averaged almost 7.1 innings per start. In the 15 games with Posada he averaged just 5.2 innings per start. As expected, the results favored Cervelli and Molina. Opponents hit .195/.244/.307 when Sabathia threw to Cervelli and .233/.273/.349 when he threw to Molina. With Posada behind the plate, though, the results were pretty terrible, as opponents hit .262/.344/.414. This would appear an indictment of Posada. As with most baseball concepts, though, this one isn’t black and white.

In 2008 Sabathia got off to a poor start. He pitched like a repeat Cy Young winner down the stretch, but when he started the season with Cleveland he was beyond horrible. In six April starts he lasted just 32 innings and allowed 28 runs. Last year we saw much of the same. It was a bit better, as he pitched 32.1 innings in five starts, allowing 17 earned runs, but it was still his worst month. The poor start extended into May a bit, and through his first six starts Sabathia had allowed 21 earned runs in 39 innings. It seemed, then, that Sabathia was simply a slow starter. He proved that later in the season, as he pitched like the ace the Yankees had envisioned.

Posada caught two of those early poor starts, Opening Day against the Oroles and then the 6.2-inning, seven-run performance against the A’s later that month. He also caught the home opener against the Indians. While Sabathia allowed only one run in that span, he also allowed five hits, including three doubles, and walked five. Also, on the season’s final day, Sabathia allowed nine runs on eight hits and five walks in just 2.2 innings. Behind the plate: Jose Molina. These all seem like aberrant performances, either due to a slow start — Molina caught two bad games during Sabathia’s first six starts — or nonchalance at season’s end.

Sabathia surrendered five or more runs in eight starts last year. Posada caught four of them, though again three were either in April or otherwise the last game of the year. Molina caught three, while Cervelli caught just one. On the other end, Sabathia allowed zero or one runs in 13 starts, and the distribution is quite even. Posada and Molina caught four each, while Cervelli caught five. Again, this all looks good for Cervelli. In their 10 starts together last year Cervelli caught just one clunker and five gems.

There might be something to the Sabathia-Cervelli connection, though I’m not willing to draw any conclusions based on 13 starts. There’s just so much more going on for a pitcher beyond the guy who receives the pitches. As Sabathia showed last season, he was equally apt to throw a gem or a clunker with Posada or Molina behind the plate, and Molina has a far better defensive reputation than Jorge. Again, maybe there’s something there, but I don’t think the data shows anything definitive.

Of course, if Sabathia pitches poorly tonight we’ll hear plenty about his work with Jorge. I’d still dismiss it, though. Then again, I don’t expect a poor start from Sabathia, so I don’t expect it will be an issue anyway.

Categories : Pitching


  1. JobaWockeeZ says:

    But it is interesting to note that CC’s walk and strikeout rates are better with Cervelli/Molina than Jorge. Same with AJ and Pettitte.

    It doens’t mean much so take it FWIW.

    • bexarama says:

      I was just looking this up and it’s true, especially for Sabathia. Then again, like others have said, CC utterly dominated playoff games with Posada catching him.

      Andy is the exception to the rule as he actually was not very good with Cervelli last year (he was great with Molina); however, when Cervelli was catching, it was probably that period in June-ish when Jorge and Molina were hurting and Andy was not very good period.

      Overall, though, it’s just such a SSS that you can’t really make any definitive statements about it. Andy was certainly very good with Cervelli on Saturday.

  2. Yankee1010 says:

    Shouldn’t the postseason numbers between Posada and CC be included? CC absolutely dealt in the postseason, in theoretically more difficult situations (including on 3 days rest), and Posada was the catcher for all of them?

  3. A.D. says:

    Should be interesting to see how some of these trends play out as we get some decent sample sizes.

  4. Bill says:

    Jorge’s never going to be confused with a good defensive catcher and its natural that pitchers might do a bit better with defensive minded catchers like Cervelli and Molina. Still I look no further than Sabathia’s playoff performance to determine that he has no issues pitching to Jorge in a meaningful game. And if he has no issues pitching to him in really important games I see no problem with matching them up in the regular season whenever it makes sense to do so.

    Simply put I’m ok with Cervelli getting extra work now and then, but all of our starters better be ready and willing to throw to Jorge because he’s the guy in games that matter.

  5. leyritzs chauffeur says:

    regardless of the impact on sabathia’s effectiveness doesn’t it almost always make sense to put the backup catcher out there when cc’s on the mound?
    cc is our best pitcher and thus putting out the B lineup when he’s on the mound is logical; we just don’t need as many runs when he’s pitching. as much as i like cervelli the move from posada to him almost single-handedly moves the lineup down to B level

  6. Hobbes says:

    It seems statistically the Jorge is not as good, and to the fan watching the game it seems that way too, but I desperately hope Girardi doesn’t set up a personal catcher this year, just so we don’t have to hear about it all year.

  7. My educated guess as to Girardi’s decision tree regarding Posada v. Cervelli:

    1.) Does Sado need a rest? If so, give him one immediately, regardless of who is on the mound.
    2.) If Sado needs a rest soon, let’s try and schedule it on a CC start if possible, since CC’s our ace and he’ll hold the offense down the most, meaning we’ll need/miss Sado’s bat less.
    3.) Do I have Hughes or Joba (or some other young pitcher) on the hill? If I do, I don’t want Cervelli in there, I want Sado. I want the kids throwing to the veteran (even if he’s a defensive liability), it’s an important part of their development.

  8. nathan says:

    If Montero turns out to be as good as Posada at the plate we should be happy. We will miss Posada badly upon his retirement. He annoys me sometimes, but he has been a rock at one of the prime positions. Yankees have been very fortunate over the last decade with Posada, Rivera and Jeter.

    // Cliche but fact

    • YankeeScribe says:

      If Cervelli continues to hit and turns into a Yadier Molina type catcher, then we’ll still be in good shape if Montero doesn’t work out at catcher.

      • Rick in Boston says:

        I think the most likely long-term solution is Romine behind the plate as the primary catcher, Jesus at DH/backup-C until Tex’s contract expires and he moves to 1B.

        • nathan says:

          Tex is signed through 2016 or 2017? I see your point though, Romine is considered to be good behind the plate and adequate at the plate. There are so many options in the lower minors too

          • Rick in Boston says:

            I think it’s that Romine has the glove and the bat to be an everyday guy. Yeah, he isn’t going to be the All-Star with the bat that Montero projects to be, but he won’t be Jeff Mathis, either.

            Beginning next year, the Yankees will roll with three catchers for the near future – Montero, Cervelli, Posada/Romine. When Posada’s deal expires, Romine will come up. When Cervelli hits his arb years and starts getting expensive, hopefully one of the lower level guys is an option as the backup C.

            Keeping it slightly on topic – I’m 100% comfortable with Cervelli catching Sabathia, provided it continues b/c of the day after night game schedule. The important part is that Sabathia is going to have Posada behind the plate come October – none of this AJ/Molina crap from last year.

        • YankeeScribe says:

          I haven’t seen Romine play with the ML squad so I don’t know where he ranks between Montero and Cervelli. From what we’ve seen from Cervelli since last season, he clearly was undervalued by the Yanks. Even if he doesn’t take over Posada’s job in 2011, he’s greatly improved his trade value. I think he could start on a lot of teams.

  9. mike c says:

    if you start doubting posada, just take a look at v-mart and boston’s pitching for a quick second

  10. Steve H says:

    In general I would think that pitchers almost always pitch better to backup catchers. Why? Because they are backups for a reason. There’s no such thing as an “offensive” backup catcher. Backup catchers are 99% of the time in the majors for their strong defense, and backups due to their poor offense.

    On another note, does anyone know if, in general, runs scored are down during day games? Backups usually catch day games after night games, and I would think in general position players are rather sluggish if they leave the stadium around midnight and don’t fall asleep until the early morning, then have to show up to play at 1. This obviously doesn’t affect the next day’s starting pitcher as much, as they didn’t just play a 9 inning game. If this is the case (and I’m not sure), this would also help lead to pitchers pitching better to backup catchers.

  11. Steve H says:

    This is why I don’t think Posada/Montero sharing DH/C is a real possibility down the road. They are both below average defenders. I think you’d always want your backup C to be strong defensively, and I especially think that’s what Girardi would prefer. The only way it could work would be if you carried 3 catchers, which if you didn’t carry a primary DH could probably work.

    • Jammy Jammers says:

      That’s what I’ve been thinking, too.

    • 2011:
      1B-I Wanna Tex You Up
      2B-The Lazy Dominican
      3B-CentWAR Centaur™
      SS-The Blazing Copper Horse
      LF-The Other CC
      CF-My Man, 100 Grand

      C-Cervelli, IF-Peña, OF-Gardner, OF-?????

      Nick Johnson, Marcus Thames, and Randy Winn walk. Carl Crawford, Jesus Montero, and some Thames/Winnesque 25th man outfielder take their places. Yes, we’re carrying 3 catchers, but two of them have bats big enough to handle 1B/DH, so it’s not really a traditional “three catchers” kind of setup.

      • Rick in Boston says:

        The only thing I’m not 100% with is Crawford until I see his contract.

      • Steve H says:

        I know. I talked myself out of my own point once I got to the end, but posted it anyway.

      • CS Yankee says:

        Agree on all fronts with maybe the exception being LF if it costs us a 5/60M$ committment.

        Have Lee (or Joba) replace Javy or Pettitte as they both are unlikely to be back (one=yes, both=doubtful).

        • Expiring money at season’s end:
          Jeter: 22.6M
          Rivera: 15M
          Andy: 11.75M
          Jazzy: 11.5M
          Nick Johnson: 5.5-8M (if we don’t pick up his option)
          CHoP: 1.2M
          Winn: 1.1M
          Thames: 900k

          If we assume that we bring back both Jeter and Mo, but only one of Andy or Jazzy (and give the other spot to Joba), if we let Nick walk, we’re looking at 16-20M in money that can be used to sign Crawford without raising payroll.

          Making Joba, Montero, and Melancon regulars on the 25 man (with Joba in the rotation) is the key to being able to afford Crawford without raising payroll.

          • Rick in Boston says:

            While they won’t be massive raises (or any raises), but Mitre, Joba and Hughes are all arb-eligible. But I could see Lee being a preference over Crawford – if Gardner can keep this up, Cashman might want to save the Steinbrenners some change and use it in July.

          • mike c says:

            current OF + CC/AJ/Lee/Hughes/Joba > crawford/grandy/swish + CC/AJ/AP/Hughes/Joba, plus we have a CC insurance policy if he decides to go AWOL after next year

  12. Rose says:

    2010 Solution (Partially Sarcastic):

    Jorge Posada to DH, Nick Johnson to the bench, Cervelli/somebody else at Catcher, Joba to the pen, Robertson to the morgue, Danielle Gamba (Mrs. Swisher) to my bedroom.

  13. Sea Man says:

    Not for nothing, but am I the only one that thinks that if you have to take Posada’s bat out of the line up you may as well do it on the days CC starts.

  14. JobaTheHeat62 says:

    I wonder if Jorge ever gets sick of being told he sucks compared to the backup lol

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