2011-01-14 / Sports

The Jorge Posada Myth: An Analysis of a Yankee Catcher

By Don Kennelly (with contributions from Jim and Kevin Kennelly)

Jorge Posada began his full-time career as a catcher with the New York Yankees in 1997 after appearing in nine games for them in the years 1995 and 1996.

The Yankees, of course, had already won their first of several recent World Series Championships in 1996. They went on to win World Championships in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009. During his career, the media in general and, most significantly the New York media, developed and promoted what may be called the “Jorge Posada Myth.”

This myth has many facets, but its essential features appear to be that Posada was an outstanding major league catcher, that he was equally responsible with the other members of the group they dubbed the “Core Four” (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte) for the successes of the Yankees since 1996; that he has had what is close to a “Hall of Fame type career,” and that as the everyday catcher he helped the Yankees wine four World Series.

It is truly an unfortunate development because the truth that the media chooses to ignore or attempts to explain away is that Jorge Posada has been a defensive liability for the New York Yankees for his entire career. He, as a catcher, has held what is arguably the single most important defensive position in baseball. The truism throughout the years has always been that you have to be “strong up the middle” defensively in baseball.

Among the attributes a good catcher should have are so-called “soft hands” to receive the pitch and, if necessary, the ability to “frame” it well so as to get a strike call on borderline pitches. The catcher’s hands should always, if possible, be moving towards the plate and moving the ball into the strike zone. One great failure of Posada is that he regularly “snatches” at the ball while moving his glove away from the plate and strike zone. Just as regularly this trait or habit of his has caused difficultly for the Yankee pitching staff when it put them in unfavorable pitch count situations and changed the course of at bats and ball games to their detriment.

Needless to say, a good catcher should also be able to catch or handle all types of pitches. It is notable that Posada had such problems in handling pitches and especially high fast balls that in the late 1990’s the Yankees management actually sent him for eye exams to determine if he had a vision problem that was causing this difficulty.

This was a rather remarkable occurrence and it is hard to recall any instance in which this happened to another Major League catcher. With runners on base his limitations in this area would allow them to advance and, of course, further handicap the pitching staff. While he has had improvement in this area, it was never fully corrected and remains a problem to this day.

In addition to these areas of weakness or failure, he has been seriously criticized for his pitch selection or the manner in which he calls a game and his unwillingness or inability to block the plate or make tough tag plays at home plate.

Posada over the years, has consistently moved up towards this incoming throw and then attempted either to dive back to make a tag or caught the ball and threw to another base in an attempt to get an advancing runner. He has done this even when staying at home plate to make the play would have given him (and his team) an excellent chance to record the out and prevent the other team from scoring.

A few years ago, after Posada had very noticeably avoided being at home plate to make a play on several occasions in a short period of time, even Michael Kay, the ever loyal Yankee announcer, asked his broadcast partners if, perhaps, Posada was “contact shy.” His colleagues in the booth never gave a reply. In the same general time frame, the sports talk show host Mike “Mad Dog” Russo told a caller that had the caller been truly watching the Yankee ball games he would know that Posada would never be at home plate for the close or tough plays.

Yet this is another area of defensive weakness that is regularly ignored or glossed over by the media.

There are a very substantial number of facts and statistics that serve to debunk or disprove the media-created Posada myth. The obvious and most damning fact is that a large number of very good pitchers have had serious problems in pitching to Posada.

Mike Mussina, a winner of 270 Major League games, potential Hall of Famer, and renowned as a very smart and crafty pitcher, actually chose not to pitch to Posada. He opted instead for the major part of his Yankee career to pitch to John Flaherty, whose batting average and power statistics as a hitter were significantly lower that those of Posada.

It also has to be noted that Randy Johnson, winner of more than 300 Major League games, had problems with Posada and opted not to pitch to him but also chose to pitch to John Flaherty instead.

(Part Two of The Jorge Posada Myth will be featured next week.)

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