Jorge Posada’s Place Among Aging Catchers

Not many catchers make it to their late 30s. The wear and tear that results from squatting behind the plate for an hour or more per game often chases catchers from the game before age 37. In fact, only nine players in baseball history have caught more than 100 games in their age-37 season. Among them, Jorge Posada stands out. He has the highest BA, OBP, and SLG for age-37 catchers, marks he attained last year. But does this bode well for his age-38 season?

At the Bloomberg Sports blog, Tommy Rancel runs down third-tier fantasy catchers. After the top tier, Joe Mauer, and the second, Brian McCann and Victor Martinez, Rancel lists Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters, and Chris Iannetta. Completely absent from the article is Posada. His advanced age and recent injury history certainly plays into that. Even so, among catchers with at least 430 PA in 2009 Jorge led the way in ISO, and ranked second, to Mauer, in wOBA. So why leave him off the list?

History provides us with the beginnings of an answer. While nine players caught more than 100 games at age 37, only five did so at age 38* — and only three have done it since 1940. Only one, Benito Santiago in 2003, slugged over .400. Fred Jacklitsch holds the highest OBP in the group, .376, but he did it in 1914. Among the post-1940 players, Santiago’s .329 OBP leads the way. The catchers that did make it to age 38, it appears, were known more for their defensive skills than offensive prowess.

* To be fair, two other age-37 catchers also played that season in 2009, Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez.

On the age-37 list, the only other catcher to post an OPS of .800 or above was Carlton Fisk, who posted a .348 wOBA in 1985. In 1986 he played in 125 games, but started only 65 behind the plate. But even if he had caught 100 games in 1986, his numbers would rank him as the worst among his peers. His OPS sat at a lowly .600 that season, resulting in a -1.5 WAR. Age 38 does not appear to be a catcher-friendly one.

Even if Posada’s skills don’t decline as dramatically as his historical counterparts, his recent injuries do present a cause for concern. After avoiding the DL for the first 11 seasons of his career, Posada succumbed to shoulder issues in 2008, missing 109 days. While his shoulder did hold up in 2009, he did miss 24 days because of a hamstring injury. That’s 133 days over the past two seasons missed to injury. With another year taking its toll on his body, we shouldn’t be surprised at all if Jorge gets hurt in 2010.

How far will Posada decline? Because he ranked so far ahead of his peers at age 37, because of his recent injury history, and because he was one of the top offensive catchers in 2009, it’s difficult to say. Maybe he’ll be like Benito Santiago, who saw only a small drop-off in performance from age 37 to 38. Or maybe he’ll be like Fisk, who completely fell off — but who also came back and posted a few more excellent partial seasons before retiring. That will be part of the joy in watching Posada’s 2010 season. He’s in rare territory, not only in terms of his age as a catcher, but his performance at that age. Can he do it for one more season?




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


41 Responses to “Jorge Posada’s Place Among Aging Catchers”

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  1. Llewdor says:

    Posada could play for another 10 years.

    He just needs that Pat Borders Cybernetic Reconstruction surgery.

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  2. Tom B says:

    You missed a big part of why posada is able to catch.

    he played 2B for almost his entire baseball career. he has 10 years of not catching to keep his legs fresh.

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:

      He’s been a catcher since age 20 and has started nearly 1,800 professional games at catcher. I’m not sure how much you can attribute to his not catching in high school.

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    • Scott says:

      Posada played 421 minor league games at catcher, and only 64 at second base. If you’re talking about what he did as a teen before being drafted, I would imagine a good number of catchers didn’t catch regularly until they got to the minors and the organization decides where they should be.

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  3. Rick says:

    Another thing to factor in is how much the Yanks DH him on days he doesn’t catch. He could catch 90 games and still post something north of 450 PA if the Yankees choose to bench Johnson sometimes and let Jorge DH. How you think the Yankees choose to treat that situation seems like it should play a decent role in your valuation of Posada as a fantasy player.

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    • Joser says:

      For Fantasy, yeah, and if this were the Rotographs part of the site it would probably be given more attention in the article.

      It is a big factor in his overall WAR, though, and that obviously matters outside fantasy. But then you have to factor in the (probably negative, at least offensively) contribution of Francisco Cervelli unless they bring up Montero sooner rather than later.

      Given their injury histories, does anyone want to lay bets on which of Posada or Johnson goes on the DL first and who racks up more total days on it?

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  4. MikeS says:

    You quoted Fisk’s decline from ’85 to ’86, but neglected to point out that in ’88 – ’90 he caught 70, 90 and 116 games and had an OPS of .919, .830, .821 those years.

    So maybe if Posada can survive the next two years, he will experience a renaissance.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      but who also came back and posted a few more excellent partial seasons before retiring.

      Read more, comment less.

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      • MikeS says:

        Oops, sorry, missed that. Don’t know how, I actually read this one.

        Still, 116 games isn’t really a partial season for a catcher, as was 106 behind the plate in ’91. Even 90 is right up there

        No need to be mean either – I just missed a half sentence two paragraphs after the main point about Fisk.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        You’re right, I shouldn’t have been a douche about it. I probably shouldn’t comment here immediately after reading ESPN.com threads.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Never understood why “douche” became synonymous with brutish behavior. Aren’t they cleansing?

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      • Joser says:

        It’s just unconscious misogyny / vaginophobia (even if “douche-bag” originated as an equal-opportunity alternative to [s]cum-bag). It’s odd how some term that’s been around for years suddenly zooms in popular usage.

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  5. JimNY says:

    Another factor to consider in the “games caught” metric is that Jorge quite often comes into games late as a pinch hitter for whoever’s backing him up, and catches the last two or three innings. This happened routinely with Molina last year, where Molina would catch A.J. Burnett, and once Burnett was out of the game Posada would pinch hit for him and catch the rest of the way.

    120 games at catcher doesn’t take nearly the toll on you if 30 of those game consist of two or three innings of actually catching.

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  6. Chris CT says:

    Professional sports teams as good as the Yankees are too smart to overdo one of their best players’ workload. Molina caught a lot last year, and they got Posada’s bat into the lineup late in games. This lessens the workload by a lot, not even accounting for his time at DH. No one knows how Nick Johnson will perform, and regardless, Posada shoudl DH a lot. Consider it similar to what the Cavs tried to do with Shaq this year. The Yankees should win the AL East, and Posada will be fresh for the playoffs

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  7. Steve says:

    Off tangent: If Posada DOES put up one more big season before he starts his gradual decline, is that enough to get him into the HoF??

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    • Kevin S. says:

      I dunno, that’s pretty tough. The career’s just too short.

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      • Steve says:

        I’d vote for him, but I agree that the voters will have a hard time with his counting stats.

        The only way I see it is If he had one more big season and then hung around as a DH for another 2-3 years which got him to 300 HRs and close to 2000 hits.

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    • Chris CT says:

      Are you joking? No matter what happens this year, he should and will be in the Hall.

      1. 5 All Star Games
      2. One of the best players on the Dynasty Yankees
      3. 5 Silver Sluggers
      4. 2 Top-10 MVP Votings
      5. His defense is not as bad as what people think.

      For all of this, he should almost be a lock. And the better thing? He might not even be close to done. Arguably one of the top-3 catchers of the decade, Ivan Rodriguez, has slowed down more than Posada has late in his career. If not overshadowed by Jeter, Mariano, Bernie even, he would be a first ballot hall of famer.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Not one of those things is a legitimate HOF argument.

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      • Travis L says:

        Interesting, I’ll respond to each as they were presented.

        1. Irrelevant
        2. Completely utterly irrelevant
        3. Somewhat irrelevant (except it reveals a little about his offensive contributions cmp. to his positional peers)
        4. Totally irrelevant
        5. Laughably irrelevant

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      • Joser says:

        Right now he’s a little short, according to all three of the HOF metrics tracked over at B-R. Of course, he automatically gets a finger on the scale thanks to being a high-profile Yankee for so long. And he’s close enough that another good season catching (plus whatever he can eke out as a DH after that) probably puts him over the top. But I doubt he’s a first ballot lock, given many of the voters’ odd (and indefensible and infuriating) insistence on not voting for anybody on the first ballot, and various other imaginary “inner halls” and related BS.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      Look at his numbers. They’re better than Pudge’s. Jorge’s a catcher. He’s a Hall of Famer, bro.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Jorge’s a vastly inferior defensive catcher to Pudge, and Rodriguez has 3300 more PA, so you can’t just compare rate stats.

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      • Chris CT says:

        Not Hall of Fame arguments, just things that most people don’t know

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      • Kevin S. says:

        You’re referring to your original post? The one that went

        No matter what happens this year, he should and will be in the Hall.

        Hall of Fame Arguments Things most people don’t know.

        For all of this, he should almost be a lock.

        We’re really supposed to believe, based on the leading and trailing sentences, that you weren’t using those points to justify Posada’s HOF candidacy?

        Look, I’m a Yankee fan, and I love Jorge. But I don’t think he’s done enough, and he really has to continue bucking the trend to get it, IMO.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Ugh, HTML-fail. The italicized “Hall of Fame arguments” should have had a strikethrough.

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      • About two months ago I wrote about Posada’s Hall of Fame case. This is what I had to say then with regard to why he should be in the Hall, and I’ll repeat it here because its relevant to the conversation:

        Jorge Posada came up for good in 1997 and has been a starter since 1998, and has been a premier offensive catcher ever since. Since 1997 he’s only been below average in league hitting once (1999), and has often been well above average, as his 128 wRC+ would attest to. Defensively he’s been mostly average throughout his career but not a liability. Being a capable catcher with strong offense is a very difficult combination to find in this league, and a very valuable one. I’d stop short of putting on a full-on Posada campaign — I’m not determined that he absolutely SHOULD be in the Hall — However, if I had a vote and there were not 10 more qualified players eligible on the ballot, I would use one of my blank slots to put a check next to Posada’s name. I think he’s earned it.

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    • Joe D. says:

      Absolutely belongs in the Hall.

      From http://jonahkeri.com/2009/06/02/posada-belongs-in-the-hall/ :

      OPS+
      Piazza 142
      Cochrane 128
      Dickey 127
      Hartnett 126
      Bench 126
      Berra 125
      Campanella 124
      POSADA 124
      Simmons 117
      Fisk 117
      Carter 115
      I-Rod 110

      By OPS+, he is tied for 8th best hitting catcher of all-time, and very snugly fir with #’s two through seven.

      Career batting line of .280/.380/.480 over 6.300+ plate appearances while playing the vast majority of time at catcher is just plain sick.

      He’d need an awful couple of seasons to drop him on the list above.

      Jonah Keri: “It’ll be very interesting to see how the Coop treats Hip Hip Jorge. You would think that one of the most skilled offensive catchers of all-time, playing for one of the great dynasties of all-time, would be a mortal lock. ”

      Yeah, I’d think so, too, Jonah.

      (PS: And Jonah’s argument came out long before the 2009 season concluded, in which Jorge posted another sick campaign at catcher.)

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  8. Chris CT says:

    But here’s the thing: becoming a hall of fame player is not entirely scientific, as you guys would like to think. One of the biggest arguments, especially with catchers, is longevity. Ivan Rodriguez, (a hall of famer in your minds, I think), is the same age as Posada. They are two of the best catchers of the decade. At the age of 36, in 2007, both of them played over 125 games, and had about the same number of at-bats (Posada with 506, Pudge with 502). Posada batted .338 with 20 HR and 90 RBI. Rodriguez, on the other hand, batted .281 with 11 HR and 63 RBI. Last year, Posada had one of his best offensive years, while Rodriguez barely contributed. Any way you look at it, Posada’s career looks to be far from over, and one of his best arguments for the hall is that he has been so good for so long, and still able to contribute big-time late in his career.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      How can you mention Posada and Rodriguez in the same breath when talking about longevity? Pudge has 50% (!) more career plate appearances than Posada, and it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have the usual mileage on his body, he’s 38 years old – you just cannot say “any way you look at it, [his] career looks to be far from over.” That’s just not true. Posada playing for significantly more time is would be in the right tail of the distribution, not the center.

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  9. Chris CT says:

    Posada pretty much split the catching job with Girardi early in his career, so most of his games caught are after the age of 30. What do you mean by your last sentence?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      It refers to a distribution. Basically, right-tail means it’s the most optimistic outlook, but it doesn’t have a high likelihood.

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      • Chris CT says:

        How can your argument be that he won’t make the HOF because you don’t think he will play long enough? Especially when he has shown no signs of any serious decline in his contributions?

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Did you read the article about what happens to 38 y.o. catchers who did well at age 37? Even if they haven’t “shown signs” of slowing down, they can go off a cliff at any moment. And if the comparison is to Pudge, yeah, he lacks in the duration department.

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      • Will says:

        That’s silly. The sample of 38 y.o. catchers who did well at age 37 is so small that drawing a conclusion from it is of very little value. You might as well look at the performance of catchers from Puerto Rico with their own charitable foundation who have played with only one team for their entire career.

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  10. Ted Hoppe says:

    Before he signed his last contract Yankee fans were looking elsewhere for a catcher. Posada resigned, his hitting picked up again, and all the talk about replacing him, which will not be easy, went away. Catchers are not that plentiful in the bigs, which is why the Red Sox jumped on Victor Martinez when V-Teks hit disappeared, along with his ability to toss out base runners. The Yankees have Montero in the minors, but the word is that they would like to see Montero be able to play OF so they can get his bat into the line-up. Montero’s catching skill good, not great. or at least not as good as his batting skills. Personally, I believe the Yankees made a mistake by signing Nick Johnson to DH this year, when they could have gotten a back up catcher with a better stick than Jose Molina’s to catcher 50 games and had Posada DH more.
    Jake Fox comes to mind. But there is another Montero in AZ I wouldn’t mind seeing in pinstripes if he players like he did last season. Miguel Montero.

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  11. kevinM says:

    The problem with the article is it doesn’t give us any other reason to expect a downfall from Posada outside of his age and age-related injuries. Outside of Fisk, the other comparisons are poor in that the players were never (or not recently) Posada’s peers offensively. Looking at Posada’s numbers, the only real slide he had at age 37 was the lowest BB% of his career along with a spike in K%. However, his wOBA was still second to Joe Mauer among catchers.

    As far as the comparison to Pudge, Posada is the slightly better offensive player using the best 10 year stretch of their careers. Pudge’s advantage in “counting stats” is based on a long stretch of below average offensive production. Posada’s Hall of Fame worthiness will come down to whether voters of the time are willing to bypass average counting stats for exceptional rate stats.

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  12. joe says:

    Rat face Posada, or Pass Ball Posada should not ever be mentioned as a HOF’er, ever. He has played in a bloated line $$, that has protected him. To group him with Pudge should put you in line for the Twinkie wagon. Stupid Yank fans want Ken Phelps in the Hall too, morons

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    • Tom B says:

      Posada has 4 rings, which he one before he earned more than $2mil a year. He is extremely similar to Fisk and Dickey career wise(according to baseball-reference), and meets all of the baseball-reference qualifications for a HOF career (he’s short on gray ink because he’s never really led the league in anything).

      Keep your hate to yourself, you can’t keep someone out that has been as successful as Jorge has.

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  13. Tom L says:

    There are lies, damn lies, and statistics…

    So, nine men have caught more than 100 games in their age 37 seasons, but only five caught more than 100 in their age 38 season.
    But three of those nine (Posada, Rodriguez and Varitek) caught more than 100 games last year, and therefore haven’t played their age 38 season!

    So really five of six (83%) who caught more than 100 games at age 37 who have lived through their age 38 season caught over 100 games the next year. And the sixth is Carlton Fisk, who did catch more than 100 games in a season after age 38.
    I wonder if 83% of the 25 year old catchers who caught over 100 games returned to catch more tha 100 games the next year…

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