2011 Season Preview: Jorge Posada

Fan Confidence Poll: March 7th, 2011
Spring Training Game Thread: Split up

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

As I mentioned two weeks ago, the Yankees will start the season with someone not named Jorge Posada behind the plate on Opening Day for the first time since 1999. That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the lineup at all, he’ll just be there at a new position. The Yankees finally went ahead and made Posada their full-time designated hitter for the 2011 season, a move that’s been expected for a few years now.

Nagging injuries hampered Jorge throughout the 2010 season, though they were pretty much all fluky. A hit-by-pitch on the knee cost him a total of six days, a sprained ring finger suffered on a foul pitch cost him a day, and a fractured foot suffered on a foul ball cost him nearly three weeks. In between the injuries, Posada was his usual productive self. Yes, his batting average slipped to just .248, his lowest since 1999, but he still got on base 35.7% of the time and cleared a .200 ISO (.206) for the second straight year, fourth time in five years, and seventh time in the last nine years. Eighteen homers and production from both sides of the plate (.353 wOBA vs. RHP, .361 vs. LHP) is what he gave the team, and that’s pretty much all they ask of the guy.

Now 39, Posada is in the final year of his contract and what could very well be the final year of a career that will garner Hall of Fame consideration. He’ll be playing a new position  but will still be counted on for quality at-bats and production behind the heart of the order.

Best Case

Free from the rigors of catching, the best case scenario has Posada staying healthy enough to rack up 500+ plate appearances for the first time since 2007, when he was a 6.4 fWAR player. All that time at DH should help keep him fresh through all six months of the season, which would theoretically help his production. There’s certainly some merit to this, as Posada’s wOBA has traditionally peaked right around .400 in April and May before slowly slipping down to .370-ish in July, August and September since becoming a full-time catcher.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As an old player with old player skills and a surprisingly consistent career, why know exactly what Posada is capable of doing. We’ve seen him get on-base 40% of the time before. We’ve seen him club 20+ homers and slug north of .450. Expecting the .338/.426/.543 (.417 wOBA) monster from 2007 to return would be nothing short of foolish, but Jorge was a .285/.363/.522 (.378 wOBA) hitter as recently as 2009, and that approximates his best case offensive scenario. It’s better than his .275/.377/.479 (.369 wOBA) career average, and would qualify as Jorge’s third best offensive season since 2005.

The defensive upgrade behind the plate may end up being considerable, and the impact on the pitching staff could be as well. Yankees pitchers have traditionally performed worse with Posada behind the plate, but we just don’t have enough evidence to know how much of that is on that catcher. He’s not the guy throwing the pitch, after all. Either way, getting Jorge out of the catcher’s spot improves his offense and the team’s defense, a win-win. A designated hitter with a wOBA approaching .380 is better than a three-win player, a level of production Posada has cleared just once in the last three seasons.

Worst Case

Avoiding the abuse of the catching vocation is great, but adjusting to life as a designated hitter is easier said than done. Posada’s a career .223/.336/.358 hitter as a DH, which is not what any team wants from that position. He’s also well into his decline phase, and he could slip off the edge of the cliff at any moment. There’s not much to say about the worst case scenario for Posada; it has him clogging up the designated hitter spot with below-average offensive production, a .330 wOBA or worse. Jorge’s job is very simple. If he doesn’t hit, he’s hurting the team.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What’s Likely To Happen

Catchers usually turn into pumpkins around age 33 or 34, but Posada has managed to defy age for half-a-decade now. American League DH’s (taking out NL during interleague play) hit .252/.332/.426 last season, so simply repeating last year’s effort will give the Yankees an above-average player at that spot. Any improvement would be gravy, though at his age I’m not expecting any. A .350 wOBA would be better than what the Yankees got out of that spot in three of the last four years (2009 being the lone exception), so Posada’s break-even point isn’t exactly sky high as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t worry so much about his career production as a DH because we’re talking about just 351 plate appearances spread across a 14-year career. That represents less than 5.2% of his career plate appearances, and in fact, Jorge’s started more than ten games at DH in a single season just twice. Those 351 plate appearances hold very little predictive value.

Posada’s career is winding down, but the Yankees’ offense is in as good of a position to absorb his total collapse as ever. I don’t him to fall apart this year, but it’s a very real possibility. It wouldn’t sink the team, but it would certainly be sad to see such a great player crawl to the finish.

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Fan Confidence Poll: March 7th, 2011
Spring Training Game Thread: Split up
  • Andrew

    who thinks he retires at the end of the season or if he doesn’t, resigns with the yankees?

    • RL

      Most likely scenario is that he retires at the end of the season. It’s possible he looks for a new contract with the Yankees (but no other team), but I think the Yankees offer him, at best, a 1-year deal at a significantly reduced salary ($5 mil or so). Not sure Jorge goes for that if he wants to return.

      • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

        Agreed, I don’t think the Yankees future plans include Jorge past this year. If he’s willing to come back for an additional year at reduced salary though.. Why not?

        • Big Apple

          b/c he’s old and he can only DH at this point. That DH spot has to be held open for occasional use by Arod, Jeter, Tex, etc….and possibly a place for Montero.

          • The Real JobaWockeeZ

            So a scrub like Pena has to play everday? Please no.

            • Big Apple

              like it or not, the older guys need rest

          • Chris

            That DH spot has to be held open for occasional use by Arod, Jeter, Tex, etc….and possibly a place for Montero.

            No, it really doesn’t. If the Yankees have a full time DH, then they can actually give these aging players a full day off instead of having them DH on those days. By “leaving the DH spot open” the Yankees would essentially be forcing themselves to not give their older players days off. That’s not a good long term solution.

            • Big Apple

              giving a guy a day off in the field helps…and you get to keep his bat in the lineup. yanks have followed this formula before and it has served them well.

              • Chris

                giving a guy a day off in the field helps…

                And giving a day off at the plate as well helps even more.

                and you get to keep his bat in the lineup.

                This is only an issue if the alternative at DH is crappy. If the DH is good, then the gap in production over the few games the aging stars get off is very small.

                yanks have followed this formula before and it has served them well.

                I’m not sure that I agree with this. They’ve been ok without a primary DH in the past, but I think they would have been better if they had one.

                • Big Apple

                  if you are in a pennant race…which is usually the case for the yanks, you still need the big bats in the lineup.

                  the yanks situation is what it is….

                  while i agree with your thoughts, the reality of the yanks situation has been quite different than the ideal situation.

    • Big Apple

      I hope he retires. The Yanks are not in a position go get sentimental here so I would hope they don’t resign him. But it would be weird to see him anywhere else.

    • Pounder

      I think he would accept a mid season trade to a contender.Its happened before,remember Ellie Howard was sent to Boston,of all places, in the 60’s.Thurman talked about finishing his playing career in
      Cleveland.

  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    I don’t worry about Jorge getting on base, it seems like the guy can draw a walk off anyone. I remember him drawing a walk off Lee last year and just being amazed at his pitch recognition. He still obviously has some power left in his body, and as long as he can get on base on a decent clip and hit in the 20 homer range I think we’ll all be happy.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Great write-up. Looking at Jorge numbers as a DH, you have to take in account that mostly everytime he DHed in the past, it was to give him a break/rest from catching or because he was injured and couldn’t catch but could still hit.
    Seeing a healthy, rested Jorge DH may be a different beast entirely.

    • MannyGee

      +1. this is all I came in here to say.

      A “DH Jorge” prior to this day in time has been a “Tired Jorge” or an “Injured Jorge”

      We have not seen a healthy Jorge DH…

  • AndrewYF

    I wonder what happens if Posada really does fall off the cliff. Will the Yankees stick with him if he’s hitting .220 at the end of June, and Montero is bashing? Even if Montero is struggling, there’s a better use for the DH spot than to give it to a guy who can’t hit. Loyalty only goes as far as the number of years left on your contract. They wouldn’t out-and-out release him, but he would really just become a benchwarmer, used for pinch-hitting against pitcher matchups and the like.

    • MannyGee

      yeah, not buying him not hitting if he is healthy. I thinking the opposite will happen. Rested happy Jorge could absolutely crush.

      • Big Apple

        the other key is that by addressing this issue during the offseason, jorge has had a lot of time to mentally prepare for this new role. If this decision was made now in ST or during the season it has a higher liklihood of backfiring.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    I’m so stoked for the Eduardo Nunez 2011 Season Preview

    • Drew

      Nah Mitre is where it’s at.

      But seriously I’m looking forward for Hughes.

  • OldYanksFan

    If the Yanks were willing to put Jorge behind the plate for 30 games, he might have some value to the team in 2012, but it appears that health concerns will keep that from happening. As purely a DH and not a BUC, I’m afraid Jorge has very little to offer us after this year.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    Yankees pitchers have traditionally performed worse with Posada behind the plate, but we just don’t have enough evidence to know how much of that is on that catcher.

    …you mean CC might get BETTER???

    BETTER CC, non-innings limited Hughes, average AJ, average Garcia, great Colon for 10 starts then a slightly better Nova.

    WOW…backed up by a BETTER Jorge, backstopped by a fair Martin and if we can throw a resurgent Jeter into this mix, and its gonna be a great year!

  • Jonathan

    I understand people wanting some DH time for Arod/Jeter etc but if Jorge has a typical year, and i’m cautiously optimistic that he’ll have a slight uptick getting away from catching duties, I’d love to have him back next year for $5-7MM. He’ll be 40 too so he could use some rest as well. Just because he is the primary DH doesn’t mean Arod/Jeter etc can’t have some time off as well. If he has a Matsui 2009 type season he’s worth having back. The only reason we didn’t have Matsui return was his knees, which have actually held up.