Jorge’s rough start

Yankees pound Drabek, hang on for win over Jays
Curry: Millwood expected to opt out

Believe it or not, the Yankees have already played over 14% of their 2011 schedule. It feels like the season just started. Despite that feeling, we’re quickly getting to the point where data and statistics can start to prove enlightening. Caution is required, though, as we’re still dealing with small sample sizes. We do know that all small sample sizes are not created equally. Some samples become statistically relevant very quickly. Others, like BABIP or UZR, take a very long time to stabilize. The distinction is important, because this is the time of the year at which you’ll be tempted to believe that an unreliably small sample size is indicative of future performance. In a lot of cases, it likely won’t be.

Part of the reason that this temptation is so strong is because it confirms what our eyes have seen. This is particularly the case when a player looks terrible, either at the plate or in the field: “Carl Crawford may bounce back, but have you seen how badly he’s flailing at offspeed stuff in the dirt? Will he ever be able to hit a curve from a lefty?” This is where it gets tricky. Part of what Crawford may be dealing with is a temporary deterioration of skill, a slump. He looks bad, so we aren’t surprised to see him get bad results. There’s a flip side, though. Crawford is getting bad results, which makes us more likely to focus on how badly he looks. It’s a self-reinforcing mechanism, and the only way it stops is for Crawford to stop looking bad, or get better results, or both.

This is a roundabout way of addressing Jorge Posada and his horrific start. Heading into the weekend Posada was batting .130/.231/.391 with only nine hits and eight walks in 78 plate appearances. The only reason Posada’s slugging percentage is so high is because six of his nine hits have been home runs. It’s really been an all or nothing sort of year for Jorge. Some have argued that his slow start is indicative of a larger trend and predictive of future performance. Some have even called for Posada to get the Old Yeller treatment, so to speak. These calls may be premature.

So far, Posada’s approach at the plate isn’t much different than it’s always been. He’s swinging at the same amount of pitches he always has, both in and out of the zone (the latter is slightly elevated). His contact rates are slightly lower than they’ve been in the past but not significantly so, and he hasn’t accrued enough plate appearances for his contact rates to be considered statistically significant anyway. What seems to be happening is simply that Posada is getting some bad luck on balls in play. Posada’s career BABIP of .316. It currently stands at .070. For Posada or for any major leaguer, a BABIP of .070 is simply unsustainable. No matter how badly he’s looked at the plate, particularly against off speed pitches, there is simply no reason to expect him to maintain a BABIP that low.

He has looked bad against off speed pitches. As Mike noted on Thursday, Posada has always excelled primarily against fastballs. But this year he hasn’t been as bad against off speed pitches as our eyes may have told us. From 2009 to 2010, Posada saw 457 sliders and whiffed on 17.1% of them. This year he’s seen 33 sliders and whiffed on only 6.1% of them. In 2009-2010, Posada saw 597 changeups and whiffed on 10.2% of them. In 2011 he’s seen 44 changeups and whiffed on 11.4% of them. From 2009-2010 Posada saw 464 curveballs and whiffed on 14% of them. This year he’s seen 37 curveballs and whiffed on 16.2%. The “biggest” increase is the curveball. Posada has whiffed on 2.2% more curveballs in 2011 than he has in the past two years. This increase in whiff rate amounts to exactly one more curveball whiffed this year than he would have in the past two years. One.

Others might point to his batted ball data as an indication of his decline. His line drive percentage is down to 12.2%, off from a career average of 20%. His ground ball percentage is right in line with past norms; the line drives have essentially turned into fly balls this year. One way to frame this would be to say that Posada’s line drive percentage is currently half of his career average. This sounds rather ominous. Another way would be to look at the actual granular data. Posada has 21 groundballs, 22 fly balls and 6 line drives in 2011. If his line drives were in line with career numbers (20.1%) he would have hit a grand total of 10 line drives this year, rather than 6. A difference of 4 line drives hardly seems worth getting worked up over. If in July Posada is still hitting line drives at a 10% clip then perhaps it is time to worry. At this point it’s simply too small of a sample, and too small a difference, to merit concern.

Posada very well could be undergoing a serious age-related decline. He’s 39 and he’ll turn 40 in August. He’s spent 15 years as a catcher in the majors and has a lot of wear and tear on his frame. But right now Jorge Posada’s biggest problem seems to be that he’s gotten shortchanged in the luck department for the first month of the year. Soon the organization will deem Jesus Montero ready for the show and Montero begin to push Posada towards the proverbial exit. But until then there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why Posada, a potential Hall of Fame catcher and face of the Yankees for the past decade, shouldn’t be given plenty of time at the plate to see if his luck will turn around.

Note: Stats don’t include yesterday’s game.

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Yankees pound Drabek, hang on for win over Jays
Curry: Millwood expected to opt out
  • NJYankeeFan

    I still think it’s too early to pull the plug on Posada but if he hasn’t turned it around by the All star break, I expect to see Montero get called up.

  • OldYanksFan

    Will Po continue to have a BABIP of .070? No… of course not. But will he get back to a BABIP of .300? Doubtful. As I posted earlier, Po has been useless as a RHB (SSS, I know). 72 AB is not a lot, but it’s pretty hard to have a BA of .125. That goes beyond ‘slump’.

    Is he done? That depends on how you define Done. But can we hope for an .800 OPS from here on out? I think not. And for a DH only guy, that’s bad news.

    Both Po and Jeter probably will get ‘better’, but they might still stink. They are our worst 2 defensive players, and currently our worst 2 (OPS wise) offensive players.

    How much rope can we give them when we know we have a huge fight in the AL East. Can we afford to give away 1 game? 2? 3? What’s the limit? Can we afford to hurt this $200m team to spare our hero’s egos?

    Frankly, I’m ready for Jesus and Nunez.
    I give Jeter and Po 3 weeks at the max to show us they’re not ‘Done’.
    (And that’s being a nice guy).

    • Zack

      (SSS, I know). 72 AB is not a lot…. That goes beyond ‘slump’

      I’m confused. So it’s a SSS and not a lot of ABs, but it’s beyond a slump?

      • CS Yankee

        The non book of rules-of-thumb states;
        1) o-fer 4 = “bad day”
        2) 20 AB’s or more = “bad week”
        3) 50 or less = slump
        4) 50+ = beyond slump
        5) 300+ = large platter size
        6) 600+ = low-A coach

        • The209

          Who is “The non book of rules-of-thumb”?

          • Slugger27

            CS Yankee.

    • David, Jr.

      Impossible to say it any better than that. Thank you.

    • the other Steve S.

      Jorge’s defense is bad? What happened? Did he drop his Gatorade?

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    Romine is also lighting it up in AA and so as part of the broader narrative (in which he gets called up to AAA to replace Montero who gets promoted to the bigs) there are a lot of moving pieces at work here that all point in the same direction.

    I was at the game last night, my first of the season. While I will say that Posada doesn’t look as bad as Jeter at the plate, I would nonetheless be surprised if Posada picked things up to be anything beyond a league average DH this year. That may be fine for 2011 but not beyond.

  • Bpdelia

    Mej. July is WAY too lomg to wait. Would u wait till july for gardner to get his avg above 200?
    Posada was shown respect already. We have a top prospect who fills an ml need. I give posada to june 1. He will normalize but its possible posada is going to hit 230. Not,good enough. Opsing 800 is not going to happen.

  • CS Yankee

    Some have even called for Posada to get the Old Yeller treatment
    ……………………………………………………….

    I just wish he would start to foam at the mouth though. He has been a warrior, but this “Met” year certainly was written off when they re-upped him, wasn’t it?

    The BoSox wouldn’t go (MSM’d) above 4/40M$ on Damon, and a buddy who is a Saux-crazed fan told me that we would regret that fourth year at 13M$, but other than the wounded-wing throw to the cut-man (SS), he was serviceable to solid. I’m afraid that this 4th year will prove to be the regression.

    We have to take the Jeter syrup for at least this year regardless, but as the race tighens up I would guess that Joe will realize that he can only have one “give me” going to the plate each night. Grit is correcting & ‘Sada better find a way to the Mendoza-line by June or get the gear ready for Old-timers Day, 2011; as he will start.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Posada should not be batting right handed now. His power is essentially from the left side and power is what he brings to the table now. He is a terrible baserunner so doubles and triples will be rare and, of course, no singles can be “legged out”. The walls are closing in on Jorge. Play Jones as DH against lefties and Gardner everyday in LF.

    Oh ok, I’ll give it a few more weeks. Easy to be a bit patient when the team is playing well. That is a Yankee luxury-so many different guys can carry the team and hide our liabilities until they no longer are liabilities in one way or another.

    • MikeD

      Based on only 19 ABs over the course of the month from the right side?

      Posada’s natural (and dominant) side if from the right. He’s been productive from both sides of the plate throughout his career, but he has been a bit better hitter from the right, including in 2010 when his SLG was 60 pts. higher. For his career, he SLG’s about 20 pts. higher from the right, with a career .292 BA vs. .266 from the left. He has shown a little bit more HR power batting lefthanded, probably because of Yankee Stadium, but he’s a better overall hitter batting righthanded. I’m not going to assume 19 ABs says more than his career.

      The real question is Posada done, not is he done from the rightside. Just enough data yet to make that determination.

  • Tim

    Face of the Yankees?

    I thought Jeter was the face of the franchise.

    I’m confused.

    • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

      He meant to say “Ears of the franchise”

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    It seemed like before 2007, Jorge would always go through these long stretches where he couldn’t hit to save his life. He would be hot for 2-3 weeks and be stone cold for 2-3 weeks.
    I’m hoping he can regain his form and enjoy his final season in the sun.

  • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

    I’m much more worried about Derek than I am about Jorge right now. It’s very possible Jorge is simply adjusting to life as a DH, while Derek has looked bad since April of 2010.

    Of course, the situations are completely different as well. If Jorge doesn’t hit, you simply cut back on his playing time in favor of Chavez, Jones, Alex @ DH, or possibly Montero. Jorge is in the last year of his deal while Derek has 3 more glorious years guaranteed to him if he chooses to play. Thank Levine for that baby. Cash wanted to give Derek 2 years, Levine dismissed those concerns and went to 3 with a player option.

    But I doubt the Yanks call up Jesus. He’s likely to struggle initially (as many prospects do) so his trade value remains highest as prospect destroying AAA.

    BTW-

    • Slugger27

      Cash wanted to give Derek 2 years, Levine dismissed those concerns and went to 3 with a player option.

      link?

    • toad

      He’s likely to struggle initially (as many prospects do) so his trade value remains highest as prospect destroying AAA.

      This makes no sense.

      Known, predictable, expected, patterns of performance do not affect trade value. If it’s known that he’s likely to struggle initially why would that actually happening influence any sentient GM’s valuation?

  • Kosmo

    Posada just might not be DH material plus he´s 39 yrs old. To be playing the field for a long time and then be asked to DH is quite possibly to much to ask of Posada.
    The Yanks now have decent options in Jones and Chavez .
    Jeter will get his 3000 hit sometime early June and if he doesn´t get his OPS up around .725 ,which is still relatively low,he´ll get diminished playing time from then on.
    Nunez serves next to no purpose sitting on the bench as much as he does.
    The only forseeable problem is if Jeter starts to sit more often ,who will bat leadoff?

    • CMP

      I appreciate your point but it’s not gonna happen with Jeter.

      He has 3 years on his contract after 2011 so even if he posts a sub .700 OPS with crap defense, he’s not going anywhere.

      • David, Jr.

        About the only quasi- positive thing you could say about Jeter is comparative, in that there are some absolutely awful shortstops that are MLB starters, like Alexi Casillas of the Twins. The guy is hitting .164, has zero power and constantly makes inexplicable base running moves. He does have far more range than Jeter, as does everybody.

  • http://marcys.wordpress.com MarcyS

    IMO, Posada is having a hard time, understandably, adjusting to a whole new way of baseball. All these years he’s been catching, and suddenly he’s a DH. It’s going to take some time for him to get used to it, and I just hope Girardi gives him that time. Torre certainly would have. Posada needs, and deserves, a little compassion right now. What he’s going thru is emotionally difficult as well.