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Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Lombardi’

121 games into the 2010 season, the Yankees have a record of 73-48. It’s the identical mark that the team had at this point in 2009, but anyone who’s watched this season is well aware that this year’s team seems to lack the same “clutch” ability displayed last year. It’s far more than that this year’s squad has far fewer walk-off wins than last year; this team has simply not hit as well when it counts the most: when men are on base. This year, the American League average with runners in scoring position is .259; the Yankees actually are better than that at .264. But last year the league hit .269 with RISP and the Yankees hit .272 as a team in the same situations. In this “Year of the Pitcher,” the Yankees decrease in “clutch” ability hasn’t been as dramatic as the overall league rate – but there is a statistical drop in production. One that is frustrating to fans and, I’m sure, to the players.

So why the drop, other than that the influx of young pitching over the past few seasons is finally starting to step up? At the other end of the spectrum are the older hitters in the league. Those players are watching their skills erode – in some cases slowly; in others, more dramatically. One of those players is undoubtedly Jorge Posada.

The 16-year veteran has been the Yankee’s primary catcher for the past 13 seasons. Ask anyone familiar with the game and they’ll tell you the same thing: 13 years behind the plate places an incredible toll on the human body. It’s the primary reason most catchers don’t enjoy long careers. Jorge has not only had a lengthy catching career, he is probably a Hall of Fame candidate. His 241 career home runs as a catcher places him 9th all-time and his 1,003 career RBI place him 12th. He has more home runs than HOF’ers Gabby Hartnett, Roy Campanella and Bill Dickey; he has more RBI than HOF’er Ernie Lombardi. But Posada is definitely on the back-end of what has definitely been a great career. The question is, has that career basically come to an end?

There are two troubling aspects to this phase of his career. First, Posada has spent considerable time on the disabled list the past three seasons. The dings and dents that he played through as a 30 year old are not so easy to dismiss when you’re a 36 year old catcher. Second is his decline in clutch situations, which brings me back to the points at the beginning of this article. Posada is essentially a fixture in the 6 spot in Joe Girardi’s standard line-up (this season, 92.5% of Posada’s plate appearances have come from the 6 hole). That is a key RBI spot, especially in the Yankee line-up. In fact, this season Posada has come to bat 97 times with men in scoring position, in 80 games played – better than once per game. So it’s rather disheartening that Posada has accumulated only 29 RBI in RISP situations.

Based on his career, it’s also well below what the team has come to expect from Posada in those situations. As figure 1 shows, Posada is well below his career pace in RISP situations, and his past three seasons are trending down.

Jorge Posada RISP
Year SO% BA OBP SLG OPS DP%
2008

0.176

0.250

0.392

0.425

0.817

0.020

2009

0.210

0.328

0.399

0.603

1.002

0.051

2010

0.268

0.195

0.299

0.390

0.689

0.021

3 yr avg

0.224

0.269

0.364

0.500

0.864

0.035

career avg

0.192

0.281

0.397

0.495

0.893

0.034

2010 LG AVG

0.171

0.259

0.343

0.398

0.742

0.029

Figure 1

Clearly, the trends are alarming. Posada is making less contact each season in these situations, as evidenced by the escalating strike-out rates (.176 in 2008, .210 last year and .268 this season). Sadly, opposing pitchers are probably licking their chops when they see Posada come to the plate, given that he is more likely to strike out than get a hit with men in scoring position. 2010 also marks the first time in his career that Posada’s RISP metrics are all worse than league average. And not a slightly worse than average, but by significant margins. Jorge was once one of the most feared clutch hitters in the game; now, any fear is more out of respect for the past than actual production.

So the question remains, is this the beginning of the end for Jorge Posada’s greatness? It most likely is. Catchers are not known for aging gracefully – when the end comes, it usually comes pretty quickly. The first tell-tale signs are readily apparent: the increasing injury frequency and being overmatched in situations Posada once owned – often by guys who were in junior high when Posada first assumed the regular catcher’s spot for the Yankees. I’m loathe to write off anyone as finished, but I think we fans (and certainly the Yankees as an organization) need to face the reality that Jorge Posada is no longer a viable 6 hole hitter (unfortunately, I don’t think the team has many other options for that line-up spot, either). I also think that with next season being the last on Posada’s contract, 2012 is likely to be a transition year as Yankee fans get accustomed to seeing Jesus Montero or Austin Romine assume the tools of ignorance on a full-time basis, with Posada relegated to being a third catcher and DH type of role.

Author’s note: All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.com and all career rankings are courtesy of the Baseball Encyclopedia.

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