Ben’s afternoon post over at RAB yesterday (BTW-Happy Birthday RAB!) got me thinking. As Jorge ages, there will come a point at some time when the Yanks will have a very difficult decision to make. A decision between sitting an aging, proud core 4 player in decline and giving more of his playing time to a young defensive whiz at a premium defensive position. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. So I wanted to walk through this, give my thoughts, solicit yours and see if we can come up with some sort of consensus. Here’s what Ben wrote:
Jorge Posada — .263/.355/.445 VORP: 16.7 WARP: 1.6
The key stat here for Posada is the way PECOTA pegs him as a prime candidate for a collapse. He’ll turn 39 in mid-August, and his collapse rate is an alarming 37 percent. Comfortingly, though, his attrition rate is nearly the same. We’ll probably see something of a decline from Posada, but hopefully, it’s closer to an attrition dip than an all-out collapse. The Yanks are penciling him in for 120 games behind the plate. That might be optimistic, but BP is high on Francisco Cervelli’s defense as a caddy to Jorge.
If Jorge’s still OPSing .800 at age 39, he’s still your everyday Catcher and you’re going to live with his defensive deficiencies. That is still above League average (.777) at the position, though admittedly not as much as his career mark (.859) or last year’s number (.885). But an .800 OPS represents a big decline for Jorge, and given his position and age even that number may be somewhat optimistic. Just falling back to the pack with his bat could cause you to cut back his playing time and pick your spots more often with him, further decline will cause the Yanks to examine who should be the starter altogether.
Let’s assume his bat drops off significantly from there, either this year or next, to somewhere in the mid-700s. Now let’s say Cervelli’s OPS is around .700 (.747 in minors) you get to a point somewhere in which you will value Cervelli’s glove more than Jorge’s bat. I’m just not sure where it is. Catcher has always been one of the most elusive positions to nail down with any sort of defensive metric. If they were BOTH at .700, then I think it’s an easy call. Cervelli would catch most days unless a pitcher (like Andy) prefers Posada or Cervelli needs a day off. But let’s say Jorge’s around .750, it’s July and it’s obvious to everyone that it’s not just a slump. Is that enough to sit Posada? When do you pull the trigger on this? I guess the real question is how much value do you put on a Catcher’s glove? First I’ll weigh in with my own thoughts, then with what I think the Yanks will do.
I’ve already been on the record wondering if Cervelli can hold down the job everyday and if Jorge is poised for a big decline this year based on his Walk rate and SO Rates both going in the wrong direction last year. That often signals that a player’s bat is slowing down. Fangraphs Pitch Type Values tell you how he fared depending on what pitchers threw him, and it was clear his ability to handle fastballs declined while he destroyed change ups last year. That won’t last, pitchers will simply stop throwing him the change and challenge him with more heat. Defensively, Jorge has long been one of the bottom dwellers at his position. The Bill James 2010 Handbook pegged him as the worst catcher at “saving runs” with a mark of -23 over the past 3 seasons. Jorge’s status as an everyday player has always been tied to his bat, so as his bat declines he goes from being a net-plus to a net-minus pretty quickly. You could even argue that if his bat was simply league-average, he’s a net minus to the team due to his defense.
From the Yanks perspective, this is a contingency they have to have been considering for the past few years. Catchers who maintain the ability to start everyday at age 39 are the exception, not the rule. Especially on a winning team like the Yanks. We know that the Yanks aren’t nostalgic, if the were Matsui and Damon would be on the 2010 team. The manager has already sat Jorge in the playoffs and was a defense-first catcher himself, so I think it’s obvious where he stands. The 15 mil Jorge is due for 2010 and 2011 is irrelevant, you have to pay him that whether he plays or not. If anything, having a replacement on the roster in Cervelli making the MLB minimum softens the blow from a payroll standpoint. All totaled, the Yanks will do whatever they believe will help them win, pride, loyalty and contract aside.
We know that there are differences between how Posada and Molina caught Sabathia last year, and in the results, but game calling is still very difficult to nail down. You’d have to normalize for Umpire’s strike zone, Ballpark and Opponent before you can even begin to discuss the Catcher’s impact. As Max Marchi noted in that piece, Cervelli and Posada were very similar in their pitch selection, though Cervelli managed to outperform Jorge and match Molina’s output, albeit in limited action.
That leads us to the starting pitchers, who would have a lot to say with where this would go as well. If the Yanks believe that the pitchers perform better with Cervelli behind the dish, then that could make up for the difference between the two bats. CC has gone on the record raving about Cervelli, and the Yanks will cater to him with the money/years they have committed to Sabathia. AJ’s issues with Posada are well known, though I’ve never believed it was anything personal. I just don’t think Jorge can handle AJ’s electric stuff on a regular basis. Andy loves Jorge and doesn’t have the type of blazing stuff that would give him problems. With Joba, they will probably go with whichever combo works better, and he and Jorge have worked well together in the past. Though Joba’s vicious slider, plus heat and so-so control would lead me to believe they’ll lean toward the more athletic receiver. With Vasquez, I have no idea.
What do you think? When does Jorge’s plus-bat no longer make up for his minus glove?
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