The Ageless Wonder

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Yesterday’s game was not a typical one for Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. The soon-to-be 39-year-old made an out in each of his four plate appearances, which by itself isn’t all that shocking, everyone has days like that, but what was surprising was that the 0-for-4 came on just five pitches. Most teams expect very little from their catchers offensively, but Posada isn’t most catchers. He’s been a central piece in the Yankee lineup for the last decade-plus, and continues to be that this season.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

With Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez limping along to the worst full seasons of their careers, it’s only natural for the age question to creep into our mind. We have to acknowledge that their skills will decline for no other reason than being in their mid-30’s, whether that’s losing a step in the field or a touch of bat speed or reaction time or whatever. Even though he’s closing in on this 39th birthday and has spent basically his entire professional career playing the most demanding position in the sport, age is one thing that does not appear to be taking it’s toll on Posada’s offensive game.

Following last night’s 0-fer, the Yankees’ primary catcher sports a .262/.366/.472 batting line this season, good for a .368 wOBA that ranks just behind Joe Mauer’s .370 mark for the lead among American League backstop. Victor Martinez is a distant third at .351. Posada’s season has been two stretches of offensive dominance sandwiched around a period of physical trouble. He came out of the gate playing like an MVP, hitting .326/.406/.618 through mid-May before a Michael Cuddyer foul ball fractured a bone in his right foot. It was a fluke injury, something that comes with the territory. Jorge ended up missing just 16 days, much better than the initial diagnosis of three or four weeks. He served as a designated hitter in his first ten games back, and went just 6-for-33 before getting back behind the plate.

The rest of the first half wasn’t kind to the Yanks’ catcher, as he went on to hit just .230/.352/.365 in 91 plate appearances between his return from the DL and the All Star break. Between his age and the injury, it appeared as if Posada might be joining A-Rod and Jeter on the path to age-related decline. But then something strange happened and Posada started hitting after the break. Perhaps the four days of rest recharged his battery and allowed the nagging bumps and bruises to heal. Jorge came out and went 8-for-23 with three homers in his first three games back, and overall is hitting .250/.339/.500 in the second half. The only AL catcher with a better OPS during that time is that Mauer guy again.

What’s helping Posada remain productive at an age when most catchers are in the retirement home is his skill set, quite simply. He’s always had what you’ll see referred to as “old man skills,” meaning he’s a patient hitter with power. His game doesn’t rely on speed (heh, no kidding) or hitting them where they ain’t, Jorge makes his own luck by working the count and waiting for pitches he can drive. His natural strength allows him to hit those pitches with authority for extra bases.

Of course, this season hasn’t been perfect because of injury. Before the Cuddyer foul tip, Posada missed a few games with a sore knee after Jeremy Guthrie hit him with a pitch (another fluke) and a minor calf strain. A sore ring finger shelved him for a day after another foul tip (yet another fluke), and a barking knee relegated him to DH duties for a few days at the end of last month. Posada has played 46 games behind the plate and another 25 as the DH, the latter group aided by Nick Johnson‘s injury. With a full-time DH on hand, like the team has now in Lance Berkman, Posada would have seen more starts behind the plate.

Defense has never been Posada’s forte and never will be. His mammoth offense – seriously, he hit .283/.386/.492 (.383 wOBA) from 2000-2009 – far outweighed whatever he gave away with his glove. Once the offense starts to slip, then the defense will become a pressing issue, but thankfully that has yet to happen. ZiPS rest of the season projection is a bit pessimistic, forecasting a .350 wOBA for Posada the rest of the season. It’s below Posada’s norm but still well above average for a catcher.

The Yankees have been successful for all these years because they’ve been strong up-the-middle, getting premium production from premium positions. Posada is a gigantic part of that, and so far he’s done one hell of a job defying the aging process as a catcher. He continues to be a dynamic offensive force that makes pitchers work and hits with power, two traits you want to see in any player.

Aside: Just out of curiosity, what kind of offensive numbers do you think Posada could have put up if he played first base all those years? He’s at .277/.378/.480 for his career right now, would .290/.390/.500 be reasonable? Only 29 players in baseball history can claim that as their career line, so we’re talking big time here.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUvg7Empjfg Captain Jack

    I hear he used to be fast too, so if he actually did play first base all those years, I wouldn’t doubt that he could have put up a line like that…legging out a few more infield hits each year and turning a few more doubles into singles, I could easily see that.

    • Steve O.

      legging out a few more infield hits each year and turning a few more doubles into singles

      How the hell do you turn a Double into a Single?

      • rafael

        Posada is that slow.

        • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUvg7Empjfg Captain Jack

          Yep.

  • swo

    From the 29, why don’t we get any players like that?

    /17th’d

  • brockdc

    Jorge has 16 seasons with an average OPS+ of 124 (including a walloping 153 in 07) at the most physically demanding position on the field. And he’s arguably been one of the top three players at his position since 2000. So why is he always referred to as being on the bubble of the HOF?

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUvg7Empjfg Captain Jack

      I don’t see how Pudge is a slam dunk, but Posada’s considered “borderline, leaning no” type candidate.

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        you don’t see pudge as a slam dunk? he is the best all aorund overall catcher of the past 25 years hands down.

  • B-Rando

    Mike-
    Do you think Posada has been underrated outside of NY for pretty much his entire career?? I always get the impression from non NY media outlets that they do not really think much of Posada.

    He has been the rock behind the plate for almost the entirety of this Yankee dominance of late 90s thru today. Its hard to imagine where the Yanks would be without him.

    • Steve O.

      I’m not Mike, obviously, but yes I do think that he’s been underrated by the media. If he were hitting cleanup for a small market team, instead of 6-7 for the Yankees, he’d get much more praise. Because he’s had so many great players around him, it’s caused him to be lost among the media.

      Honestly, so many catchers flare out in their late 20’s to early 30’s, I’m surprised he’s not a walking corpse. His longevity as a catcher, combined with the stats he’s accumalated, he should be a Hall of Famer.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I definitely think so.

  • larryf

    Our slowest and worst baserunner. But we still love the guy.

    • pat

      It’s funny what people harp on.

    • http://soxandpinstripes.net Angelo

      Oh noes, catchers are supposed to be fast.

  • Anchen

    @Brockdc: Mostly for starting his career relatively late as he was converted to catcher, and was behind Girardi for a while. So his career numbers overall are mostly what is putting him on the borderline. So his career numbers in the counting stats are not that impressive. He also has the whole weak defense thing at a position that has generally valued defense, although there are exceptions. However that late start, and getting quite a bit of rest relative to many catchers has probably prolonged his career so he may get to those numbers yet. Also one of the barometers supposedly in general for “deserving” to be in the hall of fame is if you are ever considered to be the best player at your position during your era. And unfortunately between Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza earlier his career and Joe Mauer later, except for 07 probably I dunno if Posada has ever been considered the best catcher in the game. He has comparatively few All star appearances as well due to this issue, which while it is a lousy real way of determing a players worth is often used as a quick barometer for a player’s HOF chances. I do personally think Posada has a good chance to make the HOF especially if he keeps up his production for a few more years.

    • jim p

      Well, you don’t have to be THE best. Just among a top-tier. Snyder, Mays, Mantle in CF for example.

      On top of stats, being “Famous” should also count for something in Hall of Fame voting.

      • Anchen

        Yeah being famous helps, which the All-Star game nominations generally represent. Unfortunately for Posada, he has not been recognized much in that regard which is a shame. For a Yankee he has been in general somewhat underrated compared to his accomplishments. We’ll see, I’m certainly hoping and rooting for him to get a few more numbers and getting in.

        • jim p

          When the voters look at his accomplishments, even if he quit the game tomorrow, versus other Hall of Fame catchers, well he’s right up there. I think the only real question is will he be a first ballot HOFer or later.

          It is a shame he’s never been valued as highly as he deserved by NY writers and fans.

    • Chris

      Even with the late start, Jorge ranks 29th in games played at catcher. Assuming he catches 100 more games this season and next then he’ll move up to 19th – right behind Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.

      • Chris

        Oops… not 29th… he’s 27th.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        catching 100 more games this season would be pretty tough…

        • Chris

          I know. I meant 100 total this season and next. That seems pretty reasonable.

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals

            reading fail.

            you actually wrote what you meant. i understood what i read. i just skipped the words that explained away my preconceived notion of what i though you were going to say.

            just…trade me to the Pirates and be done with it.

    • Ed

      I’d imagine that the late start to his career is balanced out by still being a starting catcher this late in his career. Most catchers are retired for a few years already by the time they reach his age, or at the very least are relegated to backup duties.

      • Anchen

        I’d agree and I mention that his late start is something that may be keeping him fresher later in his career and may still get him those numbers that people look for HOF wise. I sure hope so though, Posada has been one of my favorite yankees for a while.

  • larryf

    A race between (almost) 39 year old Jorge and 20 year old Jesus would be close…very close

    • pat

      No way. Jesus isn’t as slow as he’d made out to be. I’ve seen Montero nub a few infield singles. Can’t remember the last time Po had one.

      • http://twitter.com/astrophunq Dax J. aka The Bull in the China Shop Effect

        I think there’s a video of Montero beating out a throw to first. He looks fast to me.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    A-Rod is .03 points in OBP away from making that group.

    • Jon in CUO

      A-Rod 1994-2009: .390 OBP. :(

  • Jimmy

    I think not playing catcher during his amateur days has helped with his longevity.

  • larryf

    I know it won’t happen but..let’s just wait for the right year and put the core four into the hof together. What a great time in Cooperstown that would be! What is the projected order of retirement of the core?

    1. Andy
    2. Jorge
    3. Mo
    4. Derek

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Well 3 of the 4 should be locks for the HOF. Only 2 will. Posada shold get in and I think he will.

      Andy, I don’t think makes the cut.

      • nsalem

        book on Andy is still open

        • JobaWockeeZ

          True but he’s going to need a lot of good seasons like what’s he’s doing in 2010 to be a legit HOF candidate IMO.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        I think Andy has way more of a chance at the Hall than Jorge, which I find pretty unfortunate. IMO unless Pettitte rattles off like three more years like the one he was having this year, he doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF. He just wasn’t quite good enough during his peak. He’s a Hall of Very Good guy, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

        Jeter and Mo should obviously be in there and Posada is borderline at absolute worst.

        • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

          I think Andy has way more of a chance at the Hall than Jorge, which I find pretty unfortunate.

          I’m assuming you mean subjectively, right? ‘Cause objectively Jorge’s definitely got a better case (and by the rest of your post I’m assuming you know this).

          • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

            I mean that the voters are more likely to vote in Pettitte than Posada, and I find that unfortunate because Posada is far more deserving than Pettitte. Posada is borderline at absolute WORST. If that wasn’t clear.

  • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

    Jorge is a Hall of Famer.

    • Karen

      He sure is.

  • jsbrendog (returns)

    didn’t the yanks sign him as a 2b or something and switch him to catcher when he was like 20 or something?

    that would take a huge amount of wear and tear off his knees

  • nsalem

    Jorge is a master at avoiding a direct hit at plays at home and I think that has lots to do with his longevity. The runs he has given up over the years due to this strategy is far outweighed by his offensive prowess and there is a good case for him to be in the Hall.

  • Yankee27

    Nice win by the Twins today over the Rays. Yankees back in sole possession of first place. Lets get on a roll against Boston !!!

    • nsalem

      down 6-0 they tied it in the 8th (bartlett grand slam)and then lost of a pop up off the catwalk in the ninth (sorry for off topic)

      • RR

        Saw they lost, last night Twins barely pulled it out. Glad they did it again. Yanks for first again!

        • RR

          *in first again

  • ZZ

    The end is near.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

      I’m sorry, but I can’t take this comment seriously. You need to be standing on a street corner while holding a cardboard sign with that written on it to be effective.

      A scraggly white beard would help, too.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        I believe he’s referencing a post by… someone… during one of the games against the Astros. Posada had recently come off the DL and looked pretty terrible through his first few games and there was a lot of griping about how he probably should’ve had a rehab stint, etc. He struck out in his first at-bat and looked really bad and someone said something about the end being near.

        Then, of course, he promptly hit a grand slam in his next at-bat. And the next day. I love Jorge Posada.

        • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

          Oh word. Yeah, Jorge’s my boy.

        • http://soxandpinstripes.net Angelo

          I mentioned the guy in my reply, it was “Frank the Tank” but he now goes by “Not Frank the Tank” after that day, haha.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9370232 Mike HC

            hahah. that is funny stuff. good to see he has a sense of humor about it.

        • Karen

          He is my number 1 Yankee. Anyone who wants to talk about his skills should not just focus on his hitting (loved the 2 games in a row Grand Slams) but also on things like getting Bobby Abreu out twice in one game while he was trying to steal.

    • http://soxandpinstripes.net Angelo

      /Frank the Tank’d

      He remembers! Just ask him.

  • Ross in Jersey

    Jorge Posada worked a walk off Cliff Lee without taking the bat off his shoulders, that tells you all you need to know. His pitch selection still seems to be top-notch.

    • nsalem

      The ability to walk is a skill that remains with great hitters well past their prime. Willie Mays (age 40) led the NL in OBP (app. .425)
      with a .260 BA in the 4th year into his decline, Mantle in his last 2 years with around a .240 ba and no power still managed
      a .391 and .385. Both these players were meary a shell of their former selves at the time. Hardly anybody noticed that kind of stuff back then.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    Posada <3333

    It occurred to me pretty recently that you know how some people just cannot deal with Jeter criticism? I'm like that with Posada. I mean, I'll laugh at his baserunning and his mental farts while catching, but any time someone's like "ZOMG we need to use Cervelli! We're so much better off with him! He's not a HOFer because he was a bad defensive catcher!" I basically murder them with words.

    • nsalem

      don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        When it comes to Posada, I at least certainly know what we got.

        • nsalem

          I know you know. I’m talking about the haters.

  • runnerkmf

    Sado needs to go ahead and get the Baker’s Cyst taken care of, go on the 15-day DL (wouldn’t think he’d be out more than that), get some rest and be ready for the stretch drive. And give Montero a two-week stint in the show!

    • http://twitter.com/astrophunq Dax J. aka The Bull in the China Shop Effect

      How about we don’t and say we did?

  • lawyerdan

    It seems now to be an article of received wisdom that Phil Hughes made “only one bad pitch” in his start against Tampa Bay, the pitch hit for a home run by Matt Joyce. In fact, the pitch was bad only because Joyce managed to get on top of it and hit it out. It was actually a good pitch, the same high fastball that everyone swung and missed all night long, including Joyce. It was also Hughes’s most effective pitch yesterday against Toronto. The pitch he keeps getting hurt on is the curve ball. Phil, keep throwing that high heater, as much as possible.

    • http://twitter.com/astrophunq Dax J. aka The Bull in the China Shop Effect

      That’s a little bit off-topic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9370232 Mike HC

      See the article below about this very topic of Hughes fastball.

  • steve

    If Posada isn’t a HOF selection, then the HOF loses what little relevance and credibility it has with me.

    • poster on another computer who happens to be a deuce bag

      This. That Posada isn’t a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer is a travesty in itself.

    • hello9

      There have been numerous articles hashing this – unless you believe that catcher has been an exceptional position and only about 10 catchers all time deserve to be hall of famers, Jorge Posada is absolutely a hall of famer.

      If you apply a positional based adjustment for catcher just like you do for shortstop than Posada is a top 15 and easily top 20 catcher all time by most metrics. The fact that he may have played in an era which overlapped with multiple other hof’ers is no excuse to exclude him.

      • Karen

        Amen!