Jorge’s puzzling struggles against lefties

The RAB Radio Show: May 19, 2011
2011 Draft: Tyler Beede
Keep working on that righty swing, Jorge. It'll come back to ya. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Three times in the past four games the Yankees have faced a left-handed starter. In each of those games Jorge Posada sat on the bench, watching as Andruw Jones, or, in last night’s case, Derek Jeter, got the start at DH. In a way it didn’t come as a surprise. The Yankees need to find at-bats for Jones, and using him in the DH role against LHP is one way of doing that. The bigger issue, though, has been Posada’s performance against left-handers. When flipped around to the right side of the plate this year he’s 0 for 24 with six walks. That’s quite out of line with his career numbers.

Throughout his career Posada has hit lefties just as well as he has righties. While his walk rate and power are slightly better against righties, he has dunked in more hits against lefties. It all adds up to a very similar line, .376 wOBA vs. righties and .366 vs. lefties. This skill did not seem to deteriorate with age. In fact, Posada hit lefties a bit better than righties as recently as last season. Here’s how his splits line up in the past nine years (as far back as FanGraphs goes).

There is no noticeable trend here. Some years he hit lefties better, other years he hit righties. It seems like normal statistical fluctuation to me, especially since it pretty much balances out during the course of his career. That’s why it seems so odd that his skill from one side of the plate would so abruptly disappear. Then again, it seems odd that his ability to hit in general has deteriorated so much during the course of a single winter.

Still, it’s not as though his struggles against lefties are just a drop in the bucket. It might be only 30 PA, but he has struck out in a third of them. That could suggest that something deeper is wrong. When he has put the ball on the play it hasn’t been hit particularly well — just one line drive out of the 14 times he has put the ball in play. That’s equal to the number of infield pop-ups he has against lefties.

Things have gotten better lately. Posada is 11 for 40 with three doubles and seven walks in May, good for a .275/.383/.350 line. That might not be a turnaround, but it’s certainly better than his .125/.232/.375 April. Part of the reason might be that of his 47 PA this month, only eight have come against lefties (3 K, 3 BB). That makes his line against righties a much more impressive .314/.385/.400. If he can pick up that power a bit, he’ll again turn into the heavy hitting force that Yankees fans have known for years.

As for his performances against lefties, it’s easy to see the justification in sitting him at this point. But there is nothing in his career track record that suggests that he’s deficient against them. As he recovers against righties, so should he recover against lefties. Batting from the right side is, of course, natural for Jorge, a right-hander who taught himself to switch hit. The problem is finding a spot for him. While the Yankees would benefit from his resurgence from both sides, they can’t afford to have him striking out every other at-bat. It’s why we’ve seen Jones taking those reps at DH, especially lately, when the Yanks need to rattle off a few wins.

To be sure, the team is better with a normal Jorge Posada. The only question is of how much patience they have for his recovery. If he can hit righties, he should be able to hit lefties. I’m just not sure the Yankees are willing to take that gamble right now.

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The RAB Radio Show: May 19, 2011
2011 Draft: Tyler Beede
  • CMP

    I’m too lazy to look it up but I vaguely remember Bernie Williams hitting much worse from the right side as he got older too.

    Maybe for an older player, its harder to stay sharp from the right side since they bat from that side so much less often.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Hmm maybe. Still very strange though.

      Although he’s not old, Swisher has a similar issue going on though, but he’s been much worse vs. RHP even though hes sees them much more.

    • BigBlueAL

      It was the opposite in Bernie’s final season.

      vs RHP he hit .261/.305/.383
      vs LHP he hit .323/.387/.549

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

        To me that makes way more sense, because he’s a natural righty. Same with Posada.

  • The Ghost of Steve Sax

    As silly as it sounds, you wonder if Jorge needs to schedule a trip to the eye doctor for some contacts or a new prescription. I had the same issue playing in high school and and getting contacts, my average jumped 100 points. Sometime the most complex of problems require a very easy solution…

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

      Eyesight does deteriorate with age. I’ll bow out now before I go on an umpire rant.

  • MikeD

    Everyone has been so focused on how poor Posada has been batting righthanded, with many saying he’s “shot” from the right side, I was wondering when anyone would notice he’s actually a stronger hitter from the right side during his career. Add in that he is a natural righthanded hitter, and as players age, switch hitters have a tendency to remain stronger on their dominant, natural side. Makes sense. Mantle

    Looking quickly at Jorge’s triple slash line (with OPS included at the end) for his career:

    .266/.376/.471/.847 (batting lefty)
    .291/.375/.489/.864 (batting righty)

    Now let’s look at his 2010 slash line:

    .243/.366/.433/.799 (batting lefty)
    .257/.340/.493/.833 (batting righty)

    Both lines show a higher BA from the right side and a higher SLG avg. from the right side. That’s not insignificant when taking into account Jorge bats lefthanded in Yankee Stadium, a place kinder to lefthanded sluggers than righthanded sluggers. His career BA from the rightside also indicates his stronger from that side. Higher BA, higher SLG, lower walk rate from the right indicates he’s more agressive and more comfortable batting righthanded, his dominant side.

    What we’re seeing right now from Jorge batting right is a small sample size.

    • MikeD

      Just realized I didn’t finish the last line of the first paragraph, although apparently had started it, which is why Mantle’s name is hanging out there. I was going to note Mantle and Bernie Williams strength from the rightside, but decided didn’t matter in this discussion.

      • Ted Nelson

        The sample size is definitely too small for definitive conclusions, but at the same time it’s been awful enough that I’m fine with Jones taking the RH DH PAs.

        Mantle actually hit better from the left-side in ’66 and ’68 and evenly from both sides in ’67. (66-68 being his final 3 seasons.)

        • MikeD

          Yeah, which is why I decided to not include. I would need a deeper study on many swithhitters, and including two mentions of Mantle and Williams would have been pointless.

          I’m still not convinced Jones hits lefties any better than righties. He hit lefties well last year, but once again small sample size. The years prior tell a different story..

          The problem is if they sit Jorge against lefties moving forward, then the slump will never end, and then we’re left to wonder if Jones really is better against lefties than Jorge would be.

          • Monteroisdinero

            The slump will end in October when he retires.

            • Ted Nelson

              What’s with your hatred for Posada?

              • Monteroisdinero

                Why is reality hatred? I like Posada. Great Yankee. Better (offensive) catchers than him called it quits well before 40.

                The list is long.

                There is no shame in it and no hatred on my part.

                • Ted Nelson

                  You constantly make disparaging remarks about Posada. Constantly. You made disparaging remarks about his 2010 season as well, and he had a .357 wOBA in 2010.

                  • MikeD

                    He needs an opening for his guy, which means Posada or Martin has to go.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Yeah… that’s sort of what I was getting at, but didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I still don’t really understand the attitude of acting like a consensus top 5-type prospect is an underdog who needs defending.

          • Ted Nelson

            Agreed on the need for a study.

            It’s not about whether Jones hits lefties better than righties, though, it’s about whether he hits lefties better than Posada. I have no idea, but if they think that’s the case then I’m fine with it. Of course, he might also hit righties better than Posada…
            (Jones, by the way, has a 40 point higher OPS against lefties than righties… not a huge split and might not happen this season, but overall he seems to hit lefties better than righties.)

            Posada not getting more PAs does lead to that problem, but same can be said if they don’t give Jones any PAs. If Jones hits well, I’ll just take that production over the possibility of a resurgence by Jorge. It’s not that the Yankees have permanently given Jones a job… they’re just giving him a chance. Before they sat Posada your argument could be made for Jones. Now Jones gets his chance.

            • MikeD

              The situation will become more complicated (or clearer?) when Montero is eventually called up, which I believe will happen this summer, unless they end up trading him.

              Even if Posada does have a resurgence, the team has no committment to him beyond 2011, so all things being equal (meaning if both are hitting), my guess is they’ll give Montero more of a the opportunities. That leaves both Posada and Jones with less PAs.

              • Ted Nelson

                I would say it depends how they all do. If Montero does well, sure he’ll get the PAs. If Jones and/or Posada seem like better options I don’t think the Yankees will force-feed Montero too many PAs he doesn’t earn.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Sado cannot get around on a fastball from a lefty. I would be happy with Gardy in LF everyday and Jones DH’ing against lefties.

    Gardy does just fine against lefties and is a superior defender to the happy-faced Andruw.

    The window on Jorge’s career is closing fast.

  • OldYanksFan

    Jones’ line so far this year: .209 .261 .372 .633
    with around 80% of his ABs coming against LHP.
    It’s possible Jorge could do better then that.

  • David, Jr.

    Now he is at first base!

  • Rob Thomsen’s Chili Farts

    Could it be the pugilistic alzheimer’s? Not even joking. It would explain a lot.

  • The BIG 3

    Why is every day around here shit-on-Jorge day?

  • wilcymoore27

    Posada has had 24 at bats against righties entering tonight’s game. That’s 2-4 … 24. I don’t care that he’s 0-for-24. It’s a statistical fluke. Hitters go into slumps all the time, and you can measure slumps by a thousand different yardsticks.

    The only reason that it’s an issue at all is because people perceive that it’s age-related. So are we supposed to believe that between last year and this year he suddenly lost all his ability to hit a baseball? Just two years ago he had maybe his best statistical year as a hitter. And now it’s all gone? In a month-and-a-half of one season.

    This is nonsense. Everyone please take a chill pill on Posada.

  • forensic

    I’m far from the biggest Posada fan, but his strikeout rate is only a couple % points higher than Jones’ (41.7 vs. 35.3) but at least his walk rate is nearly quadruple Jones’ (20.0 vs. 5.6). Despite the .000 avg., Posada still nearly equals Jones’ OBP (.200 vs. .250). Regardless of Jones’ two homers, I’d still rather see Posada have some more time there than have to see Jones more often than I already do.