Archive for Jorge Posada
The refrain can cease. After months and months of yapping about Jesus Montero, the man himself is set to debut with the Yankees. For many it feels like a move long overdue. After a slow start Montero started to turn things around, and by the end of July it appeared that he could help the major league team. Yet the Yankees went through August doing business as usual, opting to wait until rosters expand before they called up their top prospect.
In a way that made sense. Roster construction dictated it. Early in the month the Yankees ran a short bench, opting to carry a sixth starter instead of a fourth bench player. That made sense, because it left the bullpen at full strength. They could have recalled Montero in that spot and worked with a short bullpen, but they also knew that Alex Rodriguez would return at some point in August. At that point they absolutely could not carry Montero, since they’d require all four other bench players. So even if they promoted him after the trade deadline, they would have had to send him back down after a few weeks.
The only way the Yankees could have carried Montero before today was if they chose to removed Jorge Posada from the active roster. While the organization and Posada came to blows in May, things seemed to smooth out from there. Posada started to hit, and the Yankees made it clear, through media channels, that they did not intend to release him. Despite his overall struggles he has managed to stay productive against righties, producing a .354 wOBA against them in 254 PA. That translates to 8.8 runs above average, a respectable figure for that number of plate appearances.
Now that the roster limit has expanded from 25 to 40, the Yanks have plenty of room to maneuver. They’ve wasted no time in calling up Montero, and he could immediately jump into a prominent role. YES Network’s Jack Curry recently reported that Montero will start at DH tonight against Jon Lester. That’s quite a debut assignment, and it portends his role down the stretch and perhaps into the playoffs. In fact, Joel Sherman quotes a Yankees official saying, “By the playoffs, [Montero] will be our best DH option.” That’s quite a bold statement for a player who has yet to face major league pitching.
While Montero’s assignment for tonight comes against a lefty, the unnamed Yankees official makes it sound as though he’ll play against right-handed pitching, too. That would leave Posada without a role. This is nothing new, of course; Posada lost his gig for a week in August while Eric Chavez took over DH duties against right-handed pitching. Posada came back with a fury, driving in six runs, including a grand slam, against the Rays. Since then he’s hit decently, but not to the level where he absolutely must remain in the lineup. Unless the Yankees use Montero behind the plate, Posada could spend most of September on the bench.
Throughout the season the Yankees have shown patience with Jorge Posada. They could have removed him from the lineup when he struggled early in the season. They could have treated him more harshly after his blow-up in May. But they stuck with him, for the most part, and he rewarded them with some quality numbers against right-handed pitching. But his complete lack of flexibility has hurt them at times. With rosters expanding the Yankees gain plenty of flexibility, and they’ll apparently use that to try another option at DH. Jorge will be there in case it doesn’t work out. But for the time being, his name won’t appear frequently on Joe Girardi‘s lineup card.
Over the course of the season, we’ve seen that this Yankees team really has strong components, even if they don’t all work at the same time. They pitch pretty damn well, they hit just fine, they’re pretty strong defensively, and they have an amazing bullpen. And while the stats may back this up, what’s more important is that the Yankees have players that embody the concepts that make a team great. You can have a great FIP or wOBA, but who cares if your team isn’t filled with true ballplayers? Let’s break down the team and make sure that, along with the best run differential, the third best bullpen ERA, and the sixth best ERA as a team, the Yankees know how to play baseball.
A Team Leader
One of the most important parts of a team is having a leader that can accurately explain what your team is going through at any given time, push their own problems and accomplishments by the wayside, and really encompass what a team is all about. Luckily, the Yankees have been gifted in this area of team chemistry for a long time with Derek Jeter at the helm. Three thousand hits? Winning is more important. Horrible, ground ball-induced slump? Small stance changes. Red-hot streak? Trying to help the team. Even before his anointment as captain in 2003, Jeter has always lead the team. The other important thing is that Jeter bats leadoff. The only places a true leader can bat are leadoff and cleanup, which helps noble fans distinguish who is a real leader and who is faking it. You don’t want to be mislead by fake leaders such as Jason Varitek (bats 8th) or Chipper Jones (bats sixth). But Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia….those players can really carry a team to victory.
A Professional Hitter
Sure, some hitters can get on base, hit homers, see a lot of pitches or take walks. Sure, some hitters can spray hits everywhere or beat out infield singles. While these are moderately important traits for a hitter, the most important tool is the professional at-bat. You want a guy who goes up there, spits on his hands, kicks the dirt, and really gets into a batting stance. In that case, there’s only one player that really qualifies: Andruw Jones. You can tell, from his massive biceps to his amused smile, that he knows how to hit. He goes up there with his doctorate degree in “sitting dead-red,” and he swings the bat. And he really swings the bat! He is never cheated out of hits, which is one of the most important parts of being a professional hitter. Also, only a man who truly knew how to swing the bat could do this. I don’t see Brett Gardner putting homers in the third deck, all right?
A Proven Veteran
Six hundred plate appearances is a lot. That’s a lot of time to practice something you have to be good at. Multiply that by ten or fifteen years, and you’re talking about thousands and thousands of plate appearances. While some people might just have a knack for baseball the minute they hit the bigs, the more important thing is having a player who’s had more plate appearances than you can even count. You don’t even have to hit in most of them. The experience is all that counts, and the Yankees have plenty of experience. The most experienced member of the Yankees? Jorge Posada.
I’m not talking about this in number of actual plate appearances, even if he has the most (I’m not checking because this article isn’t about numbers), but in the way Posada has had almost an unfair amount of experience at the plate. Blowouts both ways, playoffs galore, every possible situation leverage-wise that you could think of – the man’s done it all in style. He’s the kind of guy who can share his knowledge on how to get hits in the clutch with the young core of the team. It’s insane to think he might be cut or left off the playoff roster. A resume like Posada’s is a necessity.
A Gritty Grinder
You know what’s coming with this one, right? In every baseball game, there are times where nothing is more important than hustle and grit. A player with a lot of grit can make close plays, dive headfirst into first base, and isn’t afraid to get their uniform dirty with a steal. A grinder goes out there and plays every day, every inning, every at-bat as hard as they can, with an almost indescribable amount of ferocity.
It’s true that no player on the Yankees can match up to the absolute grittiness of Dustin Pedroia. There is no one better than him at playing every inning as hard as he can. Even those jumps before each play – what does that say about him? He’s ready. He’s ready for the line drive that jumps up on him, the diving catch and the dramatic double-play. There is no one in the history of baseball more ready than Pedroia.
That being said, the Yankees will have to settle for a fairly gritty man themselves: Brett Gardner. Even though his outfield station takes away from some of his grittiness, the way he plays practically makes it all back. Gardner makes every play interesting, from his on-the-run catches to his crazy dives. His real hustle, however, comes from the basepaths. THere is something to be said for the way he busts his ass to first base. There is even more to be said about his constant first base sliding. Why, only a person who really knew how to play the game would dive into first base. Additional speed? Momentum? Pfft! These are all things Gardner knows are less important than his incredible grittiness. His dirty uniform says it all: I move. I move fast. I play every inning as hard as I can. I am truly gritty.
I’m glad to see that this team has just as much (if not more) heart and soul than it has power numbers. From Posada’s sagedom to Jones’ at bats and Gardner’s hustle, there’s nothing we have to worry about in terms of the product on the field. Sure you could talk about the numbers – Granderson’s home runs, Cano’s batting average- but anyone could do that stuff. What’s valuable is our team plays the game the right way – and they certainly do.
The Yankees made one thing clear early this past off-season: Jorge Posada was done as a catcher. Who would take over was anyone’s guess, but the conclusion came with no ambiguities. Posada wouldn’t even back up the new starter. Instead he’d slide into the full-time DH role, with the hope that a removal from the rigors of catching would keep him healthy and productive in the final year of his contract. The plan, as we’ve seen this season, didn’t follow the script.
If Posada had his way, though, he wouldn’t have shed the tools of ignorance. Instead, he would have moved into the backup role that Francisco Cervelli inhabits. As he told ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews, “I could have (caught) this year. I could have been a backup this year.” The only question is of whether this arrangement would work out better than the current one.
In purely offensive terms, it certainly would. Cervelli, after producing serviceable numbers in 2010, has in 2011 hit in a manner you’d expect from a backup catcher. There’s nothing wrong with that, since he is the backup, and it does appear that at least some of the pitchers on the staff — most notably CC Sabathia — like throwing to him. The problem is that we can’t measure that value. We can measure offense, though, and in those terms Posada comes out with a distinct advantage.
The Yankees have started the backup catcher in 29 games this year, 27 for Cervelli and two for Gustavo Molina. In that time they have combined to produce 1.8 runs below average. Posada, in his 92 games, has produced 1.9 runs below average. That is, in more than three times the number of games he’s been only 0.1 runs worse, meaning he’d be a ton better than the current backup catchers in those 29 games. (Some quick math puts Posada at 0.6 runs below average, using his 1.9 runs below average on a per-game basis.)
That leaves me with four questions, none we can answer with any certainty.
1) Would Posada have performed better, both at catcher and DH, if he had played behind the plate roughly 30 times?
2) Would Posada have remained healthy enough to stay behind the plate?
3) Would Posada, as the backup catcher, have started more than 30 times, therefore giving Russell Martin more time off and perhaps keeping him fresher and more effective?
4) What kind of effect would Posada have had on the pitching staff?
The first two questions can be answered only with guesses. Posada might have better career numbers as a catcher than as a DH, but those splits never tell the whole truth. How many of Posada’s ABs as DH have come when he’s been too banged up to catch? Wouldn’t any nagging injury that prevents him from catching also affect him at the plate as he DHs? To the second question we might guess that he wouldn’t remain healthy, since he hit the DL before catching 30 games in every season from 2008 through 2010. But again, that’s just a guess.
Chances are, if he stayed healthy, the answer to No. 3 would be yes. Again, it’s a guess, but I think it’s a better guess than the first two. The Yankees clearly avoided using Gustavo Molina early in the season, leveraging off-days in order to play Russell Martin in almost every game until Cervelli’s return. But Girardi almost certainly would have gone to Posada before he went to Molina, if only to keep Jorge sharp behind the plate. (Sharp being a relative term.) The other aspect of this answer plays into the next question, too.
It’s tough to tell what kind of effect Jorge would have had on the pitching staff, because we don’t have any reliable measure of such an effect. It is pretty clear, however, that Posada would not have started with either A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia on the mound. Both throw plenty of pitches in the dirt, and those would give the aged Posada trouble. That’s the only thing that might have held him back from starting more often than Cervelli/Molina. He would have been essentially limited to starting with Nova, Hughes, Colon, and maybe Sabathia on the mound.
Since Jorge hasn’t played the role of backup in over a decade, since we don’t know how he’d hold up physically, and since we don’t know how he’d affect the pitching staff, it’s difficult to find a solid answer to the posed question. Offensively the arrangement surely would have worked better, at least to the tune of a run and perhaps more, if you think that Jorge would have hit better if he played the field. But again, that’s an argument from theory with little usable evidence behind it. All we have to go on is speculation. Would Jorge have fit better with this team as the backup catcher, or would that have only led to more problems?
Another Friday, another mailbag. This week our focus is on players currently with the team that may or may not be next season, plus some miscellaneous stuff about C.J. Wilson and prospects. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send in some questions.
Ryan asks: Do you guys think that Posada makes it onto the playoff roster?
I do think he’ll make it, assuming the Yankees get to the postseason, of course. We don’t want to jinx anything. Jorge Posada still has some value as a veteran pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers, plus it won’t be a real chore to carry him on the roster since they figure to drop down to an eleven man pitching staff. I try not too put too much stock into intangibles, but we know Posada won’t be overwhelmed in a big spot in October, which is comforting (if nothing else).
Chris asks: If Posada does not retire at the end of the season do you see him trying to get a catching job in the NL or as a DH in the AL? I think he has a chip on his shoulder and would be looking to prove the Yankees (and Girardi) wrong.
I think he’s going to retire, but if he doesn’t, I imagine he’ll go to an AL club to DH. Maybe he’s open to being a part-time first baseman and primary pinch-hitter for an NL club, but I think that’s a big if. I see two likely destinations if he sticks around after 2011: the Rays and Mets. Both are close to home for him and could use someone for those roles.
Tucker asks: What trade value does Eduardo Nunez hold? Ken Rosenthal recently wrote that he has a lot because he’s hitting well and can “play” premium positions. What’s your take?
You all know that I’m not Nunez’s biggest fan, but there’s no denying the dude has some serious trade value. He’s shown that he can hit in the limited at-bats he’s gotten this year, and his impressive contact rate is in line with his minor league track record and scouting report. His defense has improved as the season has gone on (likely because he’s getting more reps), and he’s a legitimate shortstop. That last part alone is hard to find.
Let’s be conservative and says he’s a .320 wOBA, 25+ stolen base, average defense guy going forward. That’s basically this year’s version of Erick Aybar, who’s already a two-win player with six weeks left in the season. Five years of that guy at a bargain price will have a ton of value on the trade market. I don’t think that it’s an accident the Mariners wanted him in a potential Cliff Lee trade last year, legit middle infielders that are more than zeroes with the bat are pretty rare these days.
Preston asks: What are the chances the Yankees would/could trade or cut Burnett at the end of the season?
Maybe they’ll try to trade him, but I’m positive the Yankees won’t just release A.J. Burnett this offseason. If they do that, they’re still on the hook for his entire contract, so why not just keep him to see if he can give you anything, even as a reliever? For better or for worse, the Yankees are stuck with A.J. for the next two seasons.
Jeff asks: What do the Yankees do with Russell Martin in the off season? He narrowly qualifies as a Type A player. Do the Yankees offer arbitration whether he is Type A or B? Are Montero or Romine ready to take the job as a catcher in the big leagues? Could the Yankees platoon those two guys with Montero getting some time at DH?
The Type-A stuff doesn’t matter because he doesn’t have six full years of service time yet. You can’t get compensation picks for players you non-tender, and Martin won’t get those six years of service time until after next season. He’d probably get something like $6-6.5M his final time through arbitration after the season, which is a steep price but not the end of the world. The Yankees could use him as a caddy with either Jesus Montero or Austin Romine, breaking those guys in gradually rather than just handing them the starting catcher’s job.
Mark asks: Do you see the Yankees and Rangers getting into another testy free agent battle for C.J. Wilson this offseason? If yes, do you think he’s worth the high cost and whose spot in the rotation he would take? Thanks!
I have a feeling that we’re going to spent a lot of time talking about Wilson in November and December, so I don’t want to get too deep into it now. He’s obviously worth inquiring about, but I can’t see how in the world he gets less than Burnett or John Lackey did. He’s straight up better than those guys were at the time of their free agency, he’s left-handed, and he doesn’t have the recent injury history either. I like Wilson but I don’t love him, especially at that price. But as the second best starter on the market, the Yankees are bound to show some interest.
As for the last part of your question, I’m guess that one of Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon will not be back next year. Even if they are, it won’t be too difficult to free up a rotation spot for a pitcher of Wilson’s caliber.
Chris asks: I read an article that said the Phillies haven’t depleted their farm system in spite of all the trades of the last few years. A) is this true and if so, B) how is it the Yankees are seemingly one deal away from depleting their own? Is the Phillies system that much better?
To answer (A) first, the Phillies have traded 13 prospects (not counting J.A. Happ, who technically wasn’t a prospect) for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence over the last two years or so, and they’ve somehow managed to hold onto Domonic Brown. They started out with a very good farm system and have done a nice job of replenishing it by developing mid-round picks. That said, you can see the toll all those moves have taken on their farm system. They had to scrounge up a pair of Single-A kids to headline a package for Pence because they didn’t have the players in Triple or Double-A to get it done.
The Phillies are in the middle of the best stretch in franchise history and are rightfully in win now mode, because guys like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and even Lee and Halladay are on the wrong side of 30 and will see their skills decline over the next few years. Their window isn’t infinite, and at some point the well will dry up. It’s kinda like what happened to the Yankees in 2005 or so, but they obviously had a much higher margin of error given their payroll.
As for (B), it’s just a matter of perception. The Yankees could deal two of Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and still boast a very strong farm system with two legitimate number one type prospects (whichever one of those three is left plus Gary Sanchez), one super-toolsy guy with some major helium (Mason Williams), and a cast of rock solid prospects close to big leagues (Austin Romine, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Corban Joseph, etc.). Yeah, the farm system would take a big hit dealing two of those three, but it would still be in much better shape than half the farm system’s out there.
As Jorge Posada, the Yanks’ once and former designated hitter, has come to grips with his newfound role on the bench, the hot-tempered elder statesman has not been in the best of spirits. “I’m not happy with it,” he said to reporters this week. “I don’t need to tell you again that I’m not happy with it. But I’m moving on, and I’ll be ready to play whenever I happen to play.”
Of course, Jorge isn’t happy, and he has many reasons not to be. At the tail end of a career that could land him in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, Posada has been told by his one and only employer that he’s no longer with a job, and if he were anyone other than Jorge Posada, the Yanks probably would have flat-out released him a few weeks ago. Since he has a legacy, though, and rosters expand in three weeks, the Yanks will allow him to bow out somewhat gracefully at the end of the season.
For Posada, the end has been jarring. As the Yanks’ seemingly full-time DH for much of the season, he hit just .230/.309/.372 with nine home runs. He hasn’t homered since June 29, the date of A.J. Burnett‘s last win, and Posada posted just a .207/.258/.244 in 89 plate appearances since then. The league average DH is hitting .262/.338/.416. That sound Jorge hears isn’t the end of the road fast approaching.
For the past 15 seasons, Jorge Posada has been a stalwart. Often underappreciated for his hitting, he was a five-time All Star and finished third in the MVP voting in 2003. For the first few years of his career, he split catching duties with Joe Girardi and did not emerge as the Yanks’ full-time catcher until 2000 when he started 136 games the plate. His career numbers — .273/.374/.474 with 270 home runs — are particularly impressive as a backstop.
Posada was one of those Yankees with whom I grew up. We all know the stories of the core of the Yankee Dynasty as the team’s farm system produced Jorge along with his buddy Derek Jeter, their lefty Andy Pettitte, the closer Mariano Rivera and the graceful centerfielder Bernie Williams. Bernie’s slide into baseball oblivion was a quick one, spurred on by a slowing bat and a knee injury. He too was unhappy when the Yanks offered him only a Spring Training invite and only recently has re-embraced his turn in the Yankee spotlight.
Getting older though is what baseball is about. It’s a game dictated not by a clock but by the more leisurely pace of outs. As our favorite players age, the outs melt away much like innings on a scorecard. Jorge Posada isn’t the first former great to grow old before Yankee fans’ eyes, but he’s the first of the group that formed the core of my first Yankee Dynasty to suffer the fate. Andy Pettitte retired because his body couldn’t withstand the beating of another season, but he still had the skill to match.
Jorge isn’t alone here. We’ve seen Derek Jeter’s magical age-defying offensive streak come to a screeching halt lately as well. Even though he’s hitting better after coming off of the DL, his numbers are right-handed pitching are painful to see, and his overall line is a far cry from the halcyon days of 2009. The .273/.335/.360 slash line makes him seem like just another middle infielder and not Derek Jeter. One day in the future, in 2012 or 2013, the Yanks will be faced with a Jorge Posada situation with Jeter, and the boyish short stop won’t seem quite as timeless.
On the mound too, we’ve seen Mariano Rivera lose a little something. It’s not much, but it’s enough. Last night, it was the difference between missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 91 and missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 93 or 94 as he would have thrown five or six years ago. At 41, Rivera is the oldest Yankee, and baseball time marches on.
But baseball too is about renewal. Although no one will be the Next Mariano Rivera, young kids with live arms and lots of promise pass through the Yankee Stadium doors. We know the names of the players who are supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and we see a pitcher like David Robertson turn into a star. Soon, in ten or 12 weeks if the Yanks make a big October run again, it will be time to say good bye to Jorge Posada. But another feisty player with a hot temper will take his place. That’s the circle of baseball life.
Jorge Posada is out. Before last night’s game the Yankees informed Posada of his new role off the bench, paving way for a DH platoon that will involve Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones for the time being. As Mike noted this morning, that leaves the Yankees bench fairly inflexible, especially since it’s only three men deep to begin with. That’s certainly one downside to the issue. But what about the other side? Will the Jones-Chavez tandem significantly outperform Posada for the rest of the season?
Updated projections can give us one sense of expected production. ZiPS updates its numbers constantly, adjusting its full-season and rest-of-season projections as the season progresses. This helps weed out some of the noise we get in partial-season samples. It’s quite optimistic about the final two months of Posada’s 2011, projecting him for a .334 wOBA in 126 PA. That amounts to about two runs above average, though that is below average production for a DH. That projection might seem overly optimistic, since Posada has produced a mere .299 wOBA to date. But he has produced much better against righties, a .341 wOBA (5.1 runs above average). There is a chance, then, that he could hit that .334 projection if given 126 PA exclusively against righties.
Taking over his role as the DH against righties is Eric Chavez. A foot injury has limited him to just 26 games and 76 PA this year, but he’s done a fine job filling in, producing a .368 OBP and a .336 wOBA. ZiPS has him on track for just 36 more PA this season at a .300 wOBA, which would mean below average production. The upshot here is that his ZiPS projection is based on the past few years, in which he played hurt and hardly played in general. There is reason to believe that he’ll beat that production if he remains healthy. Unfortunately, Chavez is a risk to get hurt at any point, making his projection even more difficult. It’s as easy to see him matching Jorge’s .334 projected wOBA the rest of the way as it is to see him produce nothing while on the DL.
For most of the season Jones has played the part of DH against lefties, though as I’ll describe in a moment it hasn’t always been a straight DH role. He’s apparently hitting right in line with his ZiPS projections: his .341 wOBA matches his rest-of-season and full-season projection. At his 87 projected plate appearances the rest of the way, that would work out to 1.9 runs above average. That makes for a decent right-handed part of the platoon, though again it’s not above average for a DH. The caveat is that with that kind of playing time, a couple of extra strikeouts could significantly downgrade his production, just as an extra homer can significantly upgrade it.
Given the projections it would appear that the former platoon of Posada and Jones would work out best. Chavez fits, because he’s hit this season and is expected to continue his current pace, rather than his projected one. But even then, the Yankees are looking at about four runs above average for their DH spot the rest of the season. With that kind of production, combined with the inflexibility that the arrangement causes, should give the Yankees pause. That might work as a quick-term fix, and if Chavez breaks out while getting regular playing time it might stick for a bit longer. But I suspect that this is merely a tide-over while the Yankees let the effects of the Posada benching dissipate.
When the Yankees announced Jorge’s benching, the one name on everyone’s tongue was Jesus Montero. There has been talk of his promotion for weeks, and with Posada on the bench there appears to be a clear opening. There’s a chance that Chavez and Jones are merely a placeholder so that the Yankees don’t have to bring up Montero as Posada’s replacement, which would create additional and unnecessary tension and drama. Bringing him up to replace the Chavez/Jones platoon might be a bit easier for the organization to handle, though they could be losing out on potential production.
ZiPS projected Montero to produce a .358 wOBA in the 2011 season, a mark greater than any of the current DHs. If we project Montero to get 200 PA the rest of the way — which is in line with Robbie Cano‘s projected remainder — he would produce 7.3 runs above average. That’s nearly double what the platoon would combine to produce. It’s tough, of course, to project a rookie to produce at that kind of level, especially when he hasn’t even produced that well at AAA. But we know what type of talent Montero possesses, and we know he can go on a tear. If he goes on one with the Yanks, he’ll easily be their best DH option the rest of the way.
This DH platoon does afford the Yankees a bit of flexibility, especially after Alex Rodriguez returns from the DL. It will allow Joe Girardi to cycle through his players who might need a half day off, using them as DH and either Jones or Chavez in the field. That stands in contrast to Jorge, who can spell only Mark Teixeira at first. Chavez can do that, as well as handle A-Rod‘s duties at third, while Jones can take over for any of the three outfielders (with Gardner going to center when Granderson gets a day). That should help keep everyone fresh as the Yanks play 30 games in 30 days, including a doubleheader.
While the new DH platoon does pose some risks, it does provide a number of benefits. Chavez, while not projected to hit well, has produced while healthy. Posada has actually produced similar numbers as a left-handed hitter this season, but apparently the Yankees feel that Chavez is the better bet going forward. The gained flexibility is also a major benefit, since the Yankees are rather inflexible as currently constructed. The plan comes with a ready made backup, too, as Montero can slide into that spot if it becomes necessary. This move probably won’t pull the Yankees out of the bottom half of the league in DH production, but it figures to be something of an improvement over the current arrangement.
The Yankees continued the long and painful process of phasing Jorge Posada out yesterday, informing their long-time catcher that his playing time will decrease because they need to put their best lineup on the field and he’s not a part of it. “[We'll] try some different things [at DH],” said Joe Girardi before yesterday’s game, a pretty good indication that they’re going to rotate people in and out of the spot for the next few days and maybe weeks. That’s all well and good, but now the Yankees are working with a roster that offers very little flexibility.
Due to the team’s six-man rotation situation, the Yankees are currently carrying 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster, which means only three bench players. Before yesterday those three guys were Frankie Cervelli, Andruw Jones, and either Eduardo Nunez or Eric Chavez. Now it’s Cervelli, Jones, and Posada, basically a backup catcher/emergency infielder, a platoon outfielder, and a platoon DH. You can’t do anything with that, especially if the Yankees are committed to not playing Posada more than once or maybe twice a week.
“Eventually we will probably get to 12 pitchers,” said Girardi. “That will give our bench more versatility. We are not a club that necessarily pinch-hits a lot, we are not a club that has to make a double switch. The bench in the American League, the versatility isn’t used a ton. Our thought moving forward is that some of our guys’ day off will be DH days.”
I’m in favor of the six-man rotation, at least temporarily to give Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova innings at the big league level while CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia all get a little extra rest heading into the season’s final month and (potentially) the postseason. It’s going to hinder the roster construction but only if the Yankees let it. There’s no reason to carry all three of Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala, and Cory Wade on the roster, so send one down for an extra position player. Noesi is the easy choice there, let him start in Triple-A to build innings and what not. A six-man bullpen isn’t the end of the world.
The Yankees also have the option of using the phantom DL to open a roster, basically coming up with a fake injury. They did this to a certain extent with Lance Berkman last season, though that whole situation started with a legit injury. He hurt his ankle running through first base in Kansas City and was only going to miss a few days, but the Yankees placed him on the DL and kept him there for two weeks until Sept. 1st. Perhaps Jorge will feel something in his back during BP this week and needs some time off. It’s not the most ethical thing in the world, but teams do it all the time and the Yankees should at least consider it.
Roster spots are precious like outs in a game because there is a finite amount of them. The Yankees do a great job of not making outs, but right now their 25-man roster is completely inflexible. They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot by keeping the unproductive Posada around for this long, so they might as well hold onto him until the rosters expand in three weeks. He might still be useful as a veteran pinch-hitter against lefties, but that’s pretty much it. The roster right now is basically the regular starting nine, the rotation, three or four core relievers, and half a dozen 25th men. It’s tough to work with that.
Via Joel Sherman, Bryan Hoch and Erik Boland, Eric Chavez will be the Yankees designated hitter “for a while.” If that doesn’t work, the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero, though they have no immediate plans to do so at the moment. “I’m not happy about it,” said now former DH Jorge Posada, “[but] I put myself in this situation.” The team told him they need to put their best lineup on the field, but he’s not a part of it.
Posada had a nice little run in late-May and early-June, but he’s hitting just .237/.289/.364 with only three homers in his last 128 plate appearances. I suspect that Chavez won’t be the DH exclusively, but rather you’ll see a bit of a rotation. Chavez at third while Eduardo Nunez gives Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano a day at DH, or Chavez at first with Mark Teixeira at DH, maybe Andruw Jones in the outfield with Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher at DH, something like that. Either way, something had to be done.
* Disclaimer: I did not actually measure Jorge Posada‘s bat speed.
We’re almost exactly two-thirds of the way through the season now, and it’s painfully obvious at this point that Posada is pretty much done. I love Jorge, I think he’s one of the greatest Yankees of all-time and one of the most underrated players of the last 15 years, but he’s been an offensive black hole for most of the season. Yes, he’s hitting a respectable .285/.347/.405 since May 17th (when he pulled himself out of the lineup), but that’s buoyed by a three-week hot streak immediately following the incident. Posada is hitting .252/.310/.388 over the last seven weeks and .236/.318/.382 on the season. That’s a .307 wOBA and a .146 ISO, easily the lowest marks of his career (not counting his injury plagued 2008 season).
Although his .269 BABIP is low (.316 career), there’s been a pretty drastic shift in his batting ball profile leading to the drop. His line drive rate is just 16.7%, down from 20.8% from 2008-2010 and his lowest since the data started being recorded in 2002. A 45.2% ground ball rate (his highest since 2004) and an utter lack of speed will also contribute to a lower than usual BABIP. Also, man just watch the games. Jorge doesn’t hit the ball with much authority these days. He hasn’t hit a ball out of the park in over a month and has just three homers since late-April, almost 90 team games. At 39 years old (40 in two weeks) and with all those years of catching on his body, frankly it’s a miracle Posada stayed as productive as long he did.
Thanks to this post over at Getting Blanked, I found out that Hit Tracker records “ball off the bat” speed for all homeruns. That’s pretty amazing, and I wish they had it for all batted balls, but I don’t want to sound greedy. One day we’ll have that data, maybe. Anyway, the table on the right shows Posada’s various ball of the bat speeds through the years. Remember, it’s just homeruns, so we’re talking about pretty small samples. In fact, he hit just three homers in 2008 because of the shoulder injury, so you can probably just disregard that year.
The data is pretty consistent from year to year, averaging right around 105 mph and topping out at north of 110 mph pretty much each year. It’s dropped off this year, about four miles an hour on average. His maximum ball off the bat speed this year is short of his averages for the last four years. Although this is just homeruns (all nine of ‘em in 2011), it’s does support the claim that Posada just isn’t hitting the ball with much authority these days, a claim also supported by his declining line drive rate and the eye test. Less hard contact is a symptom of declining bat speed, so the title isn’t that erroneous.
Had Posada not been “Jorge Posada, All-Time Yankee Great,” he would have been jettisoned many moons ago. He’s basically a switch-hitting version of 2007 Josh Phelps this season, a sometimes first baseman/sometimes DH/emergency catcher that can’t really hit (Phelps hit .263/.330/.363 as a Yankee, better than what Posada is going this year). Phelps was cut in mid-June that year, but Posada met no such fate. Despite his utter luck of offensive production at a position designed only to produce offense, it looks like Jorge will spend the rest of the year with the Yankees before being put out to pasture after the season. The signs of decline are obvious though, and I didn’t need to look at the speed of the ball of his bat to tell you that.
Believe it or not, the Yankees might not be aggressively seeking pitching in the next two weeks. We’ll see them connected with any starting pitcher that becomes available, and we’ll continue to find potential fits for the rotation, but the pitching situation isn’t quite as dire as we might have imagined when the season began. Both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon continue to exceed expectations, A.J. Burnett isn’t going anywhere, and Phil Hughes showed signs of life in his last start. Beyond that, the Yankees have depth with Ivan Nova at AAA. Where, then, would a new pitching acquisition fit?
The perceived surplus shouldn’t stop the Yankees from hunting for a rotation upgrade. As we saw last year after the Cliff Lee trade fell through, the rotation’s identity can change dramatically between July and August. But with a lack of available options who represent true upgrades, there just might not be a move to make. Does this mean that the Yankees will stand pat at the deadline? Probably not. There are always upgrades they can make, even when it comes from an area of perceived strength.
Make no mistake: the Yankees offense is top-notch. They’re second in the AL in runs scored, and are .8 runs per game better than league average. But there are areas where they can upgrade. Three of their nine starters are below average with the bat, and for the next few weeks they’ll be without their second best offensive contributor this season. It does raise an interesting question: is upgrading the offense a worthy endeavor?
The Yankees could stand to upgrade at three positions: catcher, DH, and shortstop. Clearly they won’t make a move at short; if they won’t even move Derek Jeter down in the order, there’s no chance they’re replacing him. Not that they’d really have an opportunity to do so. The players who have hit better than him are either not available or not worth a trade. The Yanks are stuck there, but again, it’s not the worst position to be in, considering the realistic alternatives.
At DH they face a similar situation, though they could more easily replace Jorge Posada. He’s already been relegated to duty only against right-handed pitchers, but even with that he’s struggled lately. He had an excellent two-month run, hitting .303/.380/.447 in May and June, quelling the calls for his removal from the lineup. Yet he’s tanked again in May, which again raises the question of what he can produce going forward. There might be political ramifications of further reducing his playing time, but it’s less of an issue due to Jorge’s contract situation.
At catcher the Yanks have a conundrum. The pitching staff reportedly loves Russell Martin behind there, which makes it difficult for him to replace. Yet his performance has declined markedly: .185/.296/.275 since his two-homer game against Baltimore on April 23rd. That’s 233 PA of replacement level production. There’s little chance they’d remove Martin as starter, because of his rapport with the staff. But that doesn’t mean they have to continue starting him four out of every five days.
To the outside observer, there is a clear opportunity here to bring up the team’s top prospect, Jesus Montero. He could not only take over DH duties for Jorge, but he could also jump behind the plate and reduce Martin’s playing time to three out of every four days, rather than four out of five. The Yankees, however, have not displayed a willingness to consider Montero as an option this year. We can disagree all we want, but it appears to be the same situation as with Jeter in the leadoff spot: we can whine and complain, but that doesn’t change the reality of the situation. The Yankees might upgrade their offense, but I’m fairly certain it won’t be with Montero.
There isn’t any player on the market, or even remotely available, who could help with the catching situation. If the Yankees don’t use Montero, they’re stuck in that regard. That leaves DH as the only realistic spot where they can upgrade. It would be easier, and more cost-effective, for them to just stick with Posada and hope that his current slump ends the same way as his first one did. But that might not be in the cards. It’s hard to say what Jorge will do at this age — he turns 40, remember, next month. If the Yankees can upgrade anywhere, it’s here.
The problem, of course, is that an upgrade isn’t free. Teams don’t just give away players, and while we’ve seen such actions in the past, there don’t seem to be many teams that absolutely need to shed payroll right now. Those that do — and it appears to be just the Astros at this point — don’t have anything to offer the Yankees. That makes it more difficult to find an upgrade. At this point, given the team’s resources, its options on the market, and its needs, I can’t see any better move than bringing up Montero. Failing that, I’m not sure anyone — whether Carlos Beltran, Jason Kubel, or Josh Willingham — will be both worth the cost and represent a significant upgrade.
The Yankees stand to improve their 2011 team, and in the next few weeks I expect to see them connected to many players. On offense, though, the wise move is to wait things out. There are a few areas of weakness, but the market doesn’t bear completely logical fits. The Mets want a top prospect for Carlos Beltran, and none of the other options provide an instant, noticeable upgrade. Considering the what’s out there and what they have, Montero appears to be the only logical upgrade.