Amidst all the glory and celebration of our 27th World Championship, a disturbing trend for Yankee fans began to pop up this year. One that many announcers and pundits alluded to, but never spoke to directly or put any names to. After the corks were popped and the champagne flowed, I’m sure you heard someone in Yankeeland say ‘The Yanks have some aging players, who you cant expect to repeat their performance from this year’. We all know who the aging players are, the ‘Core 4′ veterans are among the oldest members of this team. You could include Damon and Matsui if you like, but they aren’t signed for next year. Of the Core 4, only one of them showed the kind of age-related red flags that would concern you about his ability to perform going forward. That player, that member of the Core 4, is Jorge Posada.
When looking for signs of decline, there are many methods you can use. You can use visual clues, such as if the player in question has trouble with hard throwers (esp. same handed ones) or if he’s getting uncharacteristically fooled frequently by off-speed stuff, where other members of the lineup are not. But these methods can be subject to perception or personal bias, so you need to cross check what your eyes are telling you and look at the numbers.
In the early stages of a player’s decline, his overall numbers might look good. But even if his BA/OBP/SLG seem fine there can be hidden clues that signal decline. Look at a players Walk Rates and Strikeout Rates, and see if they’re going in the wrong direction. Check out his numbers facing Power/Finesse pitchers. The theory goes that a veteran hitter might maintain his production as his bat slows down by cheating a bit. This will make him less patient since he’s starting his bat sooner and leads to getting fooled on breaking pitches. Therefore, more SO and less BB. So when you see a drop in the SO/BB rate for an aging player, it’s a huge red flag. But it’s not always the case. One candidate for this age-related decline was Bobby Abreu. Abreu saw his Walk Rate plummet his last two years with the Yankees, but went on to have a stellar 09 campaign where he increased his Walk rate at age 35. But Bobby’s 3 years younger than Jorge, and cases like that are the exception, not the rule.
Here’s Jorge’s numbers courtesy of Fangraphs:
That Walk Rate is the lowest he’s had in any full season of his career, though he posted similar numbers in 2001 (11.4%) and 1998 (11.6%). The Strikeout Rate is the highest he’s posted since 2002 (28%) and is a significant jump from his 08 showing (22.6). It’s an even bigger jump from his 04-07 numbers, when he hovered around 20% annually. The overall BB/K% is his lowest since 2001, and 2nd lowest of his career.
2009 Power/Finesse splits courtesy of Baseball Reference:
Career Power/Finesse splits courtesy of Baseball Reference:
He seems to be holding up against power pitchers. Although his numbers dropped substantially from his 07 splits, that was a career year for him and they seem to be in line with his overall career averages.
It’s possible that his numbers declined this year due to the effects of the shoulder surgery, which could be better with another year of rest and rehab. Or maybe he was just a little banged up this season, as many Catchers will be over the course of a year. But if it’s injury related, that doesn’t necessarily play in his favor going into next year. Posada’s fundamentals as a Catcher have never been great and some of his flaws make him more prone to injury than most. He’s not a good bet to stay healthy, he hasn’t been for the past 2 seasons. Whether its age related, health related or a little of both, it’s difficult to imagine Jorge Posada continuing to produce with his bat going forward. If he’s walking less and striking out more, you can be sure pitchers will notice and adjust accordingly. You may have seen his last good offensive year this past season. Most Catchers don’t have soft landings.