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L'Affaire Posada


It's a whole new ballgame
Jan 20, 2007
Where I belong.
I was initially going to post this in the baseball thread, editing it down to the key points and highlighting a few things. In the end, I decided, mainly for the benefit of EB and Chercherfemmes to just cut and paste the entire thing without comment and let you see it just as I did, without prejudice. As you probably both know, Joe Sheehan is both a Yankee fan and one of the founding fathers of BP. I find his commentary intelligent and even-handed enough to have plunked down $30 to receive his newsletter 4-5 times a week in my email box. This is what arrived at 2:30 this morning:

Let's start with what everyone seems to agree happened. Joe Girardi decided to bat Jorge Posada ninth in last night's game against the Red Sox, based no doubt on Posada's struggles in 2011, which include a .165 batting average and .165/.272/.349 overall. Girardi let Posada know this some time before 4 p.m., and when Posada addressed the media around 4 p.m., he indicated that he did not have a problem with this. Around 6 p.m., Posada went to Girardi and said he could not play. Girardi removed Posada from the lineup and inserted Andruw Jones into the DH and #9 slots.

Let's also go with a reasonable set of assumptions not covered in that paragraph. Posada's reason for asking out of the lineup had more to do with his mental state -- seemingly related to lineup position -- than the stiff back proffered as a reason during and after the game. A player asking for a mental-health day an hour before first pitch is non-standard. If the off day is demanded, if the player outright refuses to play, that falls outside the lines of acceptable behavior and should be criticized.

That seems to be what happened here, and for that, Posada should be taken to task and probably fined.

Let's put that behavior in some context. Nothing happens in a vacuum. For a 16-year veteran lauded for his contributions to championship teams, as well as his personal contributions to the community, to act this way on a May evening is unusual enough to warrant some examination of the reasons why it would happen. Certainly Posada is frustrated to even be in this position; no one likes hitting .165, and he certainly knows that in his new role as designated hitter, his only way to contribute to the Yankees' success is by producing at the plate.

That he's a DH -- he has not caught an inning and is not expected to -- is not entirely his choice. Posada caught in 83 games last year, starting 78. His skills as a receiver and thrower were diminished, and injuries prevented him from taking a full-time role behind the plate in the season's second half. The Yankees, with prospect Jesus Montero on the way and a deep crush on Francisco Jonas, decided early in the offseason to change Posada's role. At the time, November, Posada seemed to be part of the catching mix, but by this spring, the addition of Russell Martin appeared to end Posada's catching career. The Yankees, disappointed by Montero and having lost the dreamy Cervelli to injury, elected to roster Gustavo Molina rather than have Posada serve as Martin's backup. Remember, Posada caught 678 innings in 78 starts a year ago, reported with pitchers and catchers and kept catchers' mitts handy in Florida. He has yet to catch an inning this season.

It's useful to think about the beginnings of Posada's career. Posada was drafted as a second baseman in 1990, and moved to catcher in his first season as a professional. Perhaps making that change slowed his progress to the majors, but he did it anyway. Posada would play more than 500 minor-league games in five seasons before getting a call-up -- and a spot on the postseason roster -- at the end of 1995. He spent almost all of '96 at Triple-A, posting a .405 OBP, then made the Yankees for good in '97, serving as Joe Girardi's backup. Girardi, living off a reputation as a veteran leader, would get 249 starts behind the plate from 1997-99, batting .261/.303/.354, throwing out 30% of basestealers and being one of the worst plate-blockers in the game. (Posada inherited this trait.) Posada, already in his prime, struggled to wrest the position from Girardi over his age 25-27 seasons despite being much more productive -- .255/.348/.431 -- and even throwing better than the veteran. Posada, clearly ready for the majors at 25, lost around 500 plate appearances to Girardi at his his peak. He lost 125-130 hits, maybe 15 homers. It is possible, given Posada's career numbers and his career value, that the missing playing time from ages 25 to 27 will cost him a place in Cooperstown.

Now, it's the other end of Posada's career, and it's Joe Girardi in his way again. It was Girardi whose Cervelli fetish chipped away at Posada's playing time last year, and who no doubt was involved in the decision to make Posada the DH. When he was younger, the mythology attached to catcher defense kept him from playing ahead of Girardi; now, a beneficiary of that mythology is filling out the lineup card and using that same thought process to reduce his role, and finally, on a May afternoon in the Bronx, to insult him by filling out the lineup card with his name last.

Then again, Posada wants to win, and he has to realize that he's not been performing all that well. If batting ninth is warranted by his performance, perhaps he should just bat ninth and accept it. The thing is, it isn't. When you look at the baseball of it, Girardi's decision to bat Posada ninth is indefensible in light of the players involved, their performances, their skill sets, and how Girardi has handled Derek Jeter.

Thanks to one very big afternoon against six innings of Quad-A pitchers, Jeter is outhitting Posada this season, but not by much: .268/.314/.331 to Posada's .165/.272/.349. Jeter's OPS+ is 79, Posada's is 70; both suck. Jeter runs better than Posada. Then again, Posada hit circles around Jeter a year ago, with a 116 OPS+ to Jeter's 90. The two were basically equal in 2009 and 2008, and Posada was a bit better in 2007. For that matter, Posada was out-hitting Jeter until Sunday, although you had to look past batting average to notice. Jeter batted first or second in every game this year; Posada, sixth or seventh, and eighth once, prior to today. Despite Posada outhitting Jeter since the start of the 2010 season, and being even with him for the two years prior, Posada has not batted ahead of Jeter in that time. Yet Posada had been dropped to eighth last Saturday, while Jeter frolicked along in the #1 slot. And today, with Jeter still batting leadoff, Posada saw himself dropped to DFL, by the same guy who wouldn't get out of the way 12 years ago.

It gets worse when you consider information typically found in a binder, such as platoon splits. Jeter was terrible against right-handed pitchers last year (.246/.316/.317) and has been even worse this year (.250/.282/.287). Despite this, he has yet to bat lower than second in the lineup against them. This is important, as the worst general error you can make in lineup construction is batting low-OBP players in front of your best hitters. Jeter, the worst Yankee batter against right-handers, has been treated as a table-setter, while Brett Gardner (.359 OBP vs. RHP this year; .387 in 2010) has been batting low in the order since two bad weeks to start the season.

Posada has, of course, struggled from both sides of the plate this season, but he's at least shown some effectiveness batting left-handed: .212/.295/.447. The walks and the power have been there, and he has been a much more valuable hitter against right-handed pitchers than has Jeter. That statement is true for 2009 and 2010 as well. Based on the players they appear to be today, there is very little defense for batting Derek Jeter ahead of Jorge Posada with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. To bat Jeter leadoff while batting Posada ninth is willfully ignorant of the skill sets involved and downright insulting to the more productive player.

I don't think Posada pulled up a laptop and checked out baseball-reference. I don't think he believes he has a platoon split -- for his career, he doesn't, and no switch-hitter ever admits to one, anyway. I don't think Posada is necessarily comparing himself to his longtime teammate. But on some level, he has to be processing all of this, to be seeing the guy who stole his playing time years ago stealing first his identity as a catcher, then his playing time, then his pride, all while going to the mattresses to defend someone who is struggling just as much as he is. And maybe it took him a few hours to get his head around that, to think about batting ninth, to think about the guy putting him there, and when he did, well, it was 6 p.m., but he just didn't think he could play for that guy, not that night.

I'm not defending it. I am saying that Joe Girardi, who batted or deserved to bat ninth pretty much his entire career unless there was a pitcher around, had no comprehension of what it would mean for him to do this to Posada. It's taken Posada nearly 13,000 innings of catching, nearly 7,000 plate appearances, nearly to his 40th birthday to be reduced to the hitter Girardi was at his peak. Girardi repeatedly used "I" statements in his post-game presser -- "I've been there," "I've been through struggles", "The last time I ever played a game I cried like a baby. It's hard when you get older in this game" -- that show a complete lack of understanding of the difference between Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada. Girardi has no idea what it's like for Posada, a borderline Hall of Fame player, a middle-of-the-lineup bat for most of his career, to be told he's batting ninth. If he did, he wouldn't have told Posada this at 4 p.m. like it was no big deal. Girardi should have known, because this is the same manager who has left a .310 OBP against righties atop the lineup for a season and a quarter because he doesn't want to deal with the other path.

What followed was a circus, of course. It's the Yankees and the Red Sox, and there were 700 reporters there, plus Ken Rosenthal there for the national broadcast; it was going to be a circus. Brian Cashman made the situation worse by speaking; all he had to do was issue a "no comment" and while the situation would not have improved, it wouldn't have deteriorated. The game itself was lost in a hail of words like "voiding contract" and "retirement", reaching a height of absurdity when Posada's wife and father were quoted, one via Twitter. The in-game chaos meant nothing; Posada will be on the roster Sunday, and the day after that, and the day after that. He'll probably be in the lineup, and though he doesn't deserve it, he may even bat ninth.

The bigger problem won't change, and that's this: the Yankees have explicitly created a system where everyone else runs on one track, and Derek Jeter on another. Gardner didn't hit for two weeks and was dropped to the bottom of the order, and has yet to return despite running a 972 OPS since then. Posada posted a poor batting average for six weeks and was dropped to ninth. Jeter has basically had one good game, is the team's worst hitter against righties, and continues to stay atop the order. There's all this focus on the Yankees' failures with runners in scoring position, and none on the fact that their lineup against righties, with Gardner eighth and Jeter first, nears maximum dysfunction. Moreover, this situation is only going to get worse as Brett Gardner's OBP climbs. Gardner was at .359 against righties entering last night, some 70-odd points above Jeter's mark.

Yesterday's controversy was a symptom of the real problem. Girardi dropped Posada in the lineup because he wants his team to score more runs, but he's not willing to take the single most important step towards that goal, because he's afraid to address the elephant in the room. There absolutely is an aging Yankee legend who should be batting ninth against right-handers, and until that happens, this lineup will underachieve.
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