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Kicking Jorge When He's Down

Posada wearing the tools of ignorance: quoth the raven, "Nevermore." (AP)

Sometimes a team makes a decision and rigidly sticks by it no matter what else is happening. It's easy to mock the club for its inflexibility in such situations, one such being the Yankees' decision that Jorge Posada was going to be on the 2011 roster but, blast it, he would not be the second catcher nor even the third. Russell Martin could stroke out, Francisco Cervelli could break every bone in his body while jumping his motorcycle over 28 garbage cans, but Posada was not going back there. Some of those things did happen, and the Yankees called up Gustavo Molina instead. In the end, Posada got in one hold-your-nose game behind the plate--the same number of games he spent playing second base.

In recent weeks there have been two studies on areas of catcher defense that are hard to quantify. Mike Fast looked at catchers and pitch-framing. Bojan Koprivica analyzed catchers' ability to block pitches in the dirt. Both studies are fascinating and I urge you to go through them to get a real sense of just how much catchers can do to influence the outcome of a game. Both studies look at different aspects of catcher defense, but the physical skill underlying both pitch-blocking and pitch-framing is mobility. Those watching the Yankees for years know that Posada had none--he allowed an obscene number of wild pitches/passed balls given that he never caught a knuckleball pitcher--and that was true even before A.J. Burnett came into the picture.

That much was obvious, but the cost was not. When you take both the Fast and Koprivica studies together, the inevitable conclusion is that over the last few years of his catching career, Posada was probably the worst defensive catcher in baseball. Now, we shouldn't overstate the cost--Fast's study indicates the damage on poor framing was great, but Koprivica suggests that the damage of those unblocked dirt-balls was only about a win a year. When Posada was hitting .285/.363/.522, as he did in the championship season of 2009, the offense offset the damage, but as soon as his bat began to age that was no longer the case.

Parenthetically, none of this takes away from Posada's place as an unrecognized great during the peak phase of his career. We all get old, I'm sorry to say, and that sad fact doesn't erase what came before.

Posada will be a free agent after the World Series and has suggested he does not want to retire. His bat still showed enough life that he could have some value as a player in a platoon role. Initially, I had thought he would get another job easily, probably with a team that was less scrupulous about employing him as part of a catching time-share. After these two studies, I have my doubts. Getting something like .270/.350/.465 rates from a platoon catcher, 40 years old or not, would be a very positive thing for most teams; all of two American League teams got an 800 OPS out of their catchers, and only eight were over 700. If you look at Posada as a catcher and assume he can hit as he did against right-handers this year, he can be a secret weapon for the right team...

...But after these studies, it is clear that the Yankees were right, that Posada was a catcher, but he's not that anymore. And once you come to that conclusion, finding a place for him becomes that much harder.