Yankees’ Posada Passing All Tests
There was a time, not too long ago, when you could form a decent debate surrounding who was the better (or worse) defensive catcher – Jorge Posada of the Yankees, or Mike Piazza of the Mets.
Both had their terrible flaws: Posada led the American League in errors by a catcher in two consecutive seasons, 2001 and 2002, while Piazza’s three-hop throws to second base were the stuff of Shea Stadium legend.
No more. Posada, finally healed from the pre-2002 right shoulder surgery and the sore left knee that limited his productivity last season, has made great strides defensively behind the plate and has emerged as one of the AL’s premier catchers, both with the glove and the bat.
In a season in which the Yankees have found themselves without Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson for extended periods of time, Posada has stepped up as a producer and as a team leader. He’s not only a go-to guy at the plate – the switch-hitting Posada entered Wednesday’s action batting .260 with 18 homers and 54 RBI, with new career highs well within reach – but in the clubhouse as well.
The AL’s starting catcher this year, Posada was once content to stand in the background while players like Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill assumed leadership roles. These days, Posada is noticeably more involved with the day-to-day operations of the Yankees clubhouse. "Jorgie gives us a boost," manager Joe Torre said. "He’s become a lot better as he gets older. He’s become more involved with the pitchers than in the past. You watch him catch, and he’ll go out to the mound on his own now. That didn’t happen a whole lot before this year."
The difference in Posada’s game-calling – with a huge assist to catching instructor Gary Tuck, who mentors Posada and engages him in a number of skill-developing games behind the scenes – has been obvious to everyone around the Yankees, but especially the starting rotation.
When the Yankees made the blockbuster move of acquiring Armando Benitez from the Mets last week, Roger Clemens’ first impression was that Benitez would benefit from throwing to an experienced backstop like the one the Yankees have in Posada.
"Jorge takes those close pitches and makes them look better than they are," said Clemens, who compared Benitez’s heavy and violent fastball to his own. "He has very strong hands and works hard on his mechanics."
Those mechanics have proven to be Piazza’s Achilles heel across town, but with help from Tuck and diligent hard work on his own, Posada has been able to quell the demons of the off-target throws to second base.
Jeter and Alfonso Soriano have become accustomed to expecting Posada’s throws to be right on the bag when a runner takes off from first base, and more times than not, Posada gets it there. This season, Posada has gunned down 20 of 66 runners attempting to steal, a very solid 30.3% success rate.
"He gets rid of that ball as well as anyone, and he does it with a strong arm," Torre said. "That’s usually the key to a catcher – the footwork."
With the newly polished Posada guiding their pitching staff, the Yankees are quickly finding that they have less and less to worry about as this season progresses toward October.
*Alfonso Soriano may be one of the most dominant offensive players in the American League these days, but to Joe Torre, he’s just another kid. Torre was irked when Soriano admired a recent home run, trotting slowly around the bases, and took the 24-year-old infielder aside after the game and explained the situation to him – among the points discussed, that such theatrics often beg for retaliation.
"Even though he puts up the big offensive numbers, you can’t lose sight of the fact that he’s inexperienced," Torre said. "It’s no different than raising children."
Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.