Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jorge Posada--What's the Catch?

In the comments of my last entry, one of you wonderful readers mentioned that you thought Jose Molina should be the starter, and not Jorge.

As much as I love Jose, and I do, this didn't sit right with me. This can't be, I thought, Jorge is all-star talent...maybe even Cooperstown...

However, I wasn't entirely sure, so I asked Jscape2000, over at Pinstripe Alley if he thought Posada was a good Cooperstown candidate. A discussion ensued, where we both thought that if Posada's career ended today, he would be a borderline candidate.

Being the baseball fans we are, however, the discussion didn't end there, so things transpired as they are wont to do (I love that word, wont), and we've spent the later evening comparing the two, with striking results.

This is what we found: (all statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference)

We started by looking at the games played by both. In Yogi Berra's day, as you probably know, the season was shorter--158 games as opposed to the 162 today.

Taking this into consideration, we find that for the seven years between Berra's age 25-31, he caught 135 games or more in six of those seasons. In the one year Berra didn't top 135, he caught 133, which is still nearly 85% of all games.

Jorge has caught 130 games every year since he was 28 (eight seasons). The lowest total games caught is 131, which is still enough to provide an accurate comparison.

Thus, having established that in a seven-year period in each career, Berra and Posada have played in a similar number of games, we can look at their regular season offensive statistics without (totally) comparing apples and oranges.

Jscape2000 nixed the old batting average stat, and went straight for .OPS+, which, for the uninitiated, is park-adjusted and season-adjusted on-base + slugging (which means that if Yogi has 150 and Jorge has 150, they're equivalent. Like adjusting prices for inflation). Again, we find numbers that are strikingly similar:

Berra: 135, 130, 137, 140, 137, 120, 142

Posada: 139, 117, 121, 144, 131, 109, 122, 154

Thus, while Berra was more consistent, over all, Posada's best seasons peaked higher than Yogi. Still, when you're comparing 140 to 144, there isn't much difference.

From there, we moved on to one of the "soft" factors, ie, postseason play. Given that Berra and Posada have both played in a similar number of postseasons (a lot!) it's worth a look, albeit with the caveat that Berra only played in the World Series, while Posada's played in LDS, LCS and World Series.

Unlike Berra, Posada's never won a World Series MVP (it's hard to, with Jeter and Rivera in the same line up): over 96 games, Posada is 236/.352/.379, well below his regular-season standards.

Berra, on the other hand, over 75 games: 274/.359/.452, which is close to his career standard of 285/.348/.482

The one offensive area in which Berra soundly excels over Posada is in strikeouts; Berra's career high over a season is 38, while Posada has struck out near 30 times in a month. However, this isn't to say Berra didn't find other ways to make outs; merely that he was more of a contact hitter. Berra averaged 54 walks a year; Jorge averages 87.

In terms of defense Berra threw out 141 of 295 base-stealers--just under half. Jorge, on the other hand, has caught 337 of 1139, just over a third. Base stealing has apparently become much more common now than it was in the 1940s and 1950s; both player's contemporaries have similar steal attempts.

It's a shame we don't have the stats from early in Yogi's career when he was likely tested more often and established himself (the records from before 1956 are incomplete. Either way we have to give him the defensive nod. Yogi also averaged fewer than 10 wild pitches a year; Jorge has averaged 34- with a bigger glove. Defense goes to Yogi hands down. 

The last thing we loooked at was Yogi's Hall of Fame induction.

Yogi Berra was elected in the 1972 class, with 85% of the vote, on his second ballot. Major Caveat: In 1971, the first year of Berra's eligibility, he lead the vote with 67% (you need 75% for induction). Thus, Yogi lead HoF Voting for two years.

It is also worth a note that Berra was a 15 time all-star, while Posada has played most of his career in the same league as Pudge Rodriguez. The writers have never taken to Posada the way they took to Yogi- Jorge has fewer funny stories and many more strikeouts. While that might not matter long term, we think it's an indicator that Jorge will have a hard time mustering HoF support- the writers will be inclined to drop him in the Bernie/Paulie Very Good category.


JScape2000 and I both agree--Jorge is in. Offensively, Posada has higher peaks, and the higher career OBP also stands out (he's got a better eye), while defensively and in the playoffs, Berra gets the nod.

However, both have played in a similar number of games and made the postseason a similar number of years.

Posada's abilities have often been overshadowed by the other stars on the team--Jeter, especially, and Rivera (not to mention Alex Rodriguez, etc)--who many of us assume are first ballot HoFers.

Someone who compares as closely to Berra as Posada, should be in, regardless of the talent surrounding him. We'll see if the writers figure that out.

Jose Molina is an excellent back up, and could probably start on most other teams, but Jorge Posada is an elite talent. There's a reason he's been our starting catcher for much of the past decade, and a reason he got the four year deal he did. Cooperstown-quality catching doesn't come along as often as you think.


  1. "Cooperstown-quality catching doesn't come along as often as you think."

    Who thinks 'cooperstown-quality catching' comes along often? Who are these people you speak of?

  2. Great discussion. I started snooping around myself and bounced some ideas of another sabermetricly inclined friend. Our conclusions were: right now Posada is borderline, after few more good seasons he's a lock.

    I did a post about it on the blog if you're interested in the details behind our take.


  3. First of all Rebecca thanks for this article I never expected such a lengthy response and I really am a fan of your blog. I was not trying to knock Posada but I agree with what you said that Posada will fall in the O'Neill and Williams category and not get inducted to the HOF.

    My point about Posada was not necessarily that Molina is a better player. That would be a ridiculous statement. I remember when Posada broke into the league years ago and he hit his first homerun, and Jeter retrieved the ball for him. I have a lot of great memories of him in pinstripes, don't get me wrong.

    My point was that the last few years the Yankees simply have not been winning the way they used to in the playoffs. I felt this offseason could have been a time for change, with the pitching staff already undergoing a transformation. The problem I have is that the Yankees spent around $400 million dollars re-signing the same lineup that has failed them time and time again come October. No, I am not simply blaming Posada, but at his age I don't see Cashman's logic of giving him that big deal. I would have rather seen the Yankees save $10 million of their payroll, and then this offseason spend money on a talent like Teixeira. Molina is not Posada but for what you pay him he gets the job done more than adequately. Ask Mussina who he would rather have catch him.

    I just feel, being a Yankee fan before the era of the $200 million payrolls, that maybe fans take for granted the amount of money our owners are willing to spend. We do not need a $10 million player at every position on the field to be successful. Look where it got us last year and the year before. Spend the money elsewhere if you want, but I would have been perfectly happy with Molina as a starter.

  4. Adding on to my point that "We do not need a $10 million player at every position on the field to be successful."

    Case-in-point: Melky Cabrera as our starting center fielder. Who would have expected that to happen 2 years ago? Look at the way he has progressed since being given a chance to play every day. Big difference from the guy that misplayed balls out there when he was first called up.

    I'm sure there were Yankee fans this off-season that wanted the Yankees to sign Torii Hunter to patrol CF. But you know that, the Yankees made the right move.

  5. rackem: Trust me, I can't wait for serious money to come off the books the next couple of years.

    My post wasn't so much a knock on your comment as a genuine question that arose in the course of our conversation, but thanks for providing the comment that starte it =)

  6. I'm not sure why you only used seven seasons, but over their entire careers, they are still very close to offensive equals: Yogi's OPS+ is 125, Jorge's is 124. I agree that Jorge is a borderline HOFer, but I don't think he gets in because its the sportswriters, who vote for the HOF, and most sportswriters are stupid. They won't vote for Jorge because they'll say he's "Never been THE guy" or because of the subpar postseason numbers, which really shouldn't matter that much, given the relatively small sample size, or only five AS appearances, or because he doesn't say ridiculous things.

  7. I think we went for seven seasons because they had the most comprable numbers in terms of games caught, but you might want to ask jscape2000.

  8. Nate, if you use Yogi's entire career, you are including some of his decline years at the end which bring the numbers down a bit. Jorge had a record year last year and using his career stats do not include the decline years he's bound to have at the tail end of his career, making his numbers higher. Taking 7 years in the prime of their careers arguably gives a better comparison of the two players at the top of their game.

  9. Hi Rebecca,

    I enjoy your writing and, as a longtime Yankee fan, I identify with your enthusiasm. But I'm afraid I couldn't disagree more with your (JScape's?) comparison of Jorge to Yogi. Yogi is not just a Hall-of-Famer, he is an elite Hall of Famer, and it is NOT because he had a unique way of expressing himself. Is there really anybody out there who thinks Yogi is in the Hall of Fame because he provided the writers with a cute line every now and then? Do people have any idea who Yogi Berra was? Jorge is a great catcher, and if he can post a few more strong seasons he MAY get into the Hall. But with Yogi there was never any doubt. Here are some of the reasons:

    First, starting the comparison with Yogi's 1956 season is certifiably insane. Did you know that Yogi was the AL MVP in 1951, 1954, and 1955? If Jorge was MVP three times, would you leave those years out of the equation? Choosing 1956-62 of Yogi's career because it makes the math convenient totally invalidates the comparison; it leaves out Yogi's best years. And, need it be said, Jorge has never been MVP, although he took a run at it in '03.

    Second, Yogi was the best defensive catcher of his generation. He once went 148 straight games without making an error. Think about that. The catcher is involved in almost every play, many more difficult than average, and Yogi went error-free for virtually an entire season. Unbelievable.

    Third, Casey Stengel considered him so valuable to the team, he often played Yogi in the outfield on his off-days from catching.

    Fourth, Yogi was named to the all-star team every year from 1948 to 1962 - fifteen straight years. Jorge has six so far (and counting, hopefully) but I don't think anybody expects many more, at this stage of his career.

    And finally, as for Jorge having a tough time being named World Series MVP because he plays with Jeter and Mo, who, exactly, do you think Yogi was playing with on those Yankee teams of the 50's? Those teams won 14 pennants and ten World Series because they were packed with wall-to-wall all stars. As Yogi said, "You can look it up."

    Hope your university year is wrapping up well, Rebecca. Take care. - Jim in Edmonton

  10. Hi again,

    I seem to have made an error in thinking that you used Yogi's years from 1956-62; I reread your post and I see that you used his years from age 25 to 31. So I withdraw the argument that Yogi's MVP years were left out, but leave in the argument that he DID win three MVP's!

  11. Jim--Thanks for stopping by!

    I appreciate your opinion...and it's certainly true Jorge is MVP-less, but I'll put it this way:

    If A-Rod did not have the season he had last year, we'd be chanting MVP chants for Jorge.

  12. Jim- again, sportswriters vote for MVP, and sportswriters are stupid. I'm not trying to take anything away from Yogi Berra. I'm not trying to say that Yogi is only in the HOF because of what he said, but that does make him more memorable in sportswriters minds, while Jorge tends to keep to himself.

  13. Well presented but I'm going to go ahead and agree with...anonymous (the one who defends Yogi).

    It's all about peak dominance and Berra is in the pantheon of all-time greats.

    And I'm not a Yankees fan!

    Love these debates.