19 May 2011

Yankees' Jorge Posada Poised for Improvement

The benching heard round the world on Saturday - Jorge Posada's choice to remove himself from the lineup rather than bat 9th - may have been just what he needs to get his terrible season turned around.  The Yankees decided in the offseason that Posada's 39 year old knees and popgun arm were not going to serve them well as a catcher for a team making a run at a 28th world championship.

So they moved him to DH, except that he hasn't been doing much H'ing this year at all.  He was hitting only .165/.272/.349 before Yankees manager Joe Girardi tried dropping him to the bottom of the order against Boston on Saturday night.  Posada apologized for his part in the spat and everybody made nice and what-not, but the real question is whether it's reasonable to expect Posada to markedly improve over the rest of the season.

Part of the answer to that question relates to the $11.1 million Posada will earn this year and what his legacy will be as a player and a Yankee.  But really, money is not a huge problem for the Yankees and we all know that the guy who caught two perfect games and served as the primary backstop for four of the five championship teams since the 1990's is going to have his number 20 retired when he hangs up his spikes, even if he hits a buck fifty this year.  Nobody really gets on Carlton Fisk's case for hitting only .220 in a smattering of action over his last two seasons, right? 

No, the real problem is the one they had last winter.  The Yankees want to win, and just as they knew they couldn't do that with a catcher who was not a threat to ever catch a base stealer, neither can they do so with a DH who gets a hit only about once every three games.  Posada pinch hit a drew a walk the next night in a loss, then went 2-for-3 in a big win against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and is currently 1-for-3 with a double and two walks against Baltimore as I write this, but that's not the reason I think he might be poised for a turnaround.

Curiously, for a guy who's been such a good hitter for such a long time, Posada's awful start in 2011 is not wholly unprecedented.  Twice before - oddly enough, six years ago, and six years before that - Posada found himself mired in a terrible slump after the first month or so of the season, got benched for a game but came through as a pinch hitter, and then reverted to his usual form for the rest of the year.  Take a look:

Timespan       PA    BA   OBP   SLG  HR  RBI  BB 
thru 5/14/99   87  .176  .299  .311   3   10  12
rest of 1999  349  .260  .350  .421   9   47  41
thru 4/29/05   87  .244  .322  .333   1   10   9
rest of 2005  458  .265  .356  .449  18   61  56
thru 5/13/11  125  .165  .272  .349   6   15  15
rest of 2011   ?     ?     ?     ?    ?    ?   ?

I am not so naive as to think that this constitutes clear evidence that happy days are here again for Posada and the Yankees, but I am inclined to wonder whether maybe Posada just needed a chance to clear his head, get outside of himself a little or something, and be reminded that he can still play this game.  A man who thinks of himself as a champion and finds his batting average starting with a "1" in the middle of May has got to have a lot of stress, you know?

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