As Marc Carig reported on Wednesday, Jorge Posada’s days in pinstripes are likely numbered, a fact that the longtime Yankee seems well aware of. Many Yankee fans feel similarly, due to Posada’s subpar 2011 season (89 WRC+, -0.4 WAR) and the emergence of superprospect Jesus Montero as his likely replacement in the DH/emergency catcher role. Since Posada seems finished in New York (at least on this side of town), many fans are hoping that he will call it quits, ending a distinguished 17-year career entirely in the uniform of one organization. I share some nostalgic hope that Jorge will be a career Yankee, but am conflicted about the idea of Posada hanging up his spikes after an awful 2011.
As we know very well, Jorge is a proud man who may very well want to go out on his terms. Posada’s performance at the end of the season and in the playoffs did not seem like a triumphant last hurrah to cap off a distinguished career, but rather, a signal to potential employers (the Yankees included) that he still has something left in the tank. While his 2011 season was well below his career norms, I think there will be teams who think Posada could contribute next season. Based on his 2011 splits, this does not seem like as unreasonable a proposition as it may initially appear.
As we know, Posada’s 2011 season was characterized by sharp platoon splits, and major struggles against left-handed pitchers. Against righties, Posada was more or less the hitter we have become used to seeing over the past 17 years, .269/.348/.466, good for a wRC+ of 118 and a wOBA of .353. Against lefties, Jorge’s numbers were downright abysmal, batting .092/.169/.108, good for a pitiful -33 wRC+ (that’s right, negative!) and .131 wOBA. Based on this horrible performance, it would be reasonable to assume that Posada’s right-handed swing had major problems in 2011, but since he was still pretty good against righties, it may be premature to call him washed up.
Posada’s atrocious performance against lefties came in a relatively small sample of 65 AB’s, which is big enough to be significant but in my mind not necessarily predictive, in light of past performance batting right-handed. In 2010, Posada posted a wRC+ of 116 against lefties (compared to 122 against righties), and a wRC+of 130 against them in 2009 (both in significantly larger samples than his 2011 performance). I am not going to simply blame low BABIP for Jorge’s poor performance against lefties, because by the eye test he clearly looked lost out there against lefties last year. However, Posada’s 2011 it seems like such an outlier compared to previous seasons that I can’t help but wonder if he is capable of bouncing back against lefties.
Of course, it is reasonable to say that Posada is not the same player that he was several years ago, as 17 years of wear and tear have no doubt taken their toll on him. However, it is also possible that he developed a hitch or mechanical problem in his right-handed swing, and (deservedly) didn’t get enough opportunities against lefties in 2011 to iron it out. The fact that his performance batting left-handed did not also drastically decline indicates that Posasda still has the bat speed, pitch recognition, etc. to continue to be a successful major league hitter next season and maybe going forward.
Due to the long-awaited arrival of Jesus Montero, Posada will, for the first time in his career, have to look elsewhere for an opportunity for major league playing time. Given Posada’s age, I assume his catching days are over. He may not be able to do much more than DH or play some first base (if he’s willing to learn the position), and fake an emergency 2nd base once in a while (maybe not, but seeing him make a play there was one of the highlights of 2011 for me). As a switch-hitter who was well above league average against righties, Posada could at minimum be a platoon player who would get a fair amount of playing time because righties are more common. If he is able to get his right-handed swing back to where it was in 2009-2010, he could even be more than that, perhaps an everyday starter at DH or even 1st.
Assuming Posada’s financial demands are not excessive, there could be multiple teams interested in his services for 2012. He could be a nice fit as a veteran mentor on an up-and-coming team, sharing his wealth of experience and tireless work ethic with an organization hoping to get a piece of that “winning Yankee culture.” However, as I mentioned earlier, I think Posada is capable of being more than a clubhouse presence, and could still contribute significantly with his bat. It would just require a GM to take a chance on him, and be willing to overlook his awful 2011 batting right-handed.
Jorge may want to keep playing to improve his Hall of Fame credentials or for pure love of the game, and I would root for him in either case. I’ve been a big Jorge Posada fan for his entire Yankee career, and I want to see him get the opportunity to go out on his own terms, even if that is in another uniform. I think he can still surprise the naysayers who think he is washed up, and be a useful contributor in another organization. It would be strange to watch Posada play for another team after all these years in pinstripes, but I would welcome seeing him get another chance.
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