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Posada Looking Old in the DH Role

Jorge Posada doesn’t always get hits, but when he does they’re home runs.* In his 67 PA so far this season, all from the DH spot, Posada has managed a mere nine hits, good for a .153 batting average. As Bradley wrote last week, that gives him a “laughably terrible BABIP,” which is now down to .086. That might seem a bit odd at first glance. A .154 BA against a .086 BABIP? That’s what happens when six of your nine hits clear the fence. It’s clear that Posada will still run into one from time to time. Unfortunately, similar to Vladimir Guerrero, about whom I wrote last week, Posada has looked a bit washed up at the plate.

*Gotta credit River Ave. Blues commenter whozat for this one.

Posada’s first and foremost problem is his inability to hit certain pitches. His swinging strike rate this year is 9.3%, which is a full point higher than his rate the previous two years (and also his career rate). This has led to a 30.5% strikeout rate, which is also significantly higher than his career average. This is in large part because he has trouble with anything off-speed or breaking. His pitch-type values show deeply negative scores for changeups and curveballs, which he routinely swings over. He also has trouble with sliders. Essentially, his only success has come on fastball varieties. This could be a sign that he’s cheating due to a slower bat.

Despite his swings over off-speed and breaking pitches that are clearly outside the zone, he hasn’t swung at an inordinate number of pitches out of the zone. He is, as usual, well below the league average in that regard, and is actually performing a bit better than last year. The problem is that he’s making far more contact with those pitches out of the zone, meaning poor contact. This is actually a two-year trend, as his 60.5% O-Contact rate in 2010 was well above his career rate. His 65.2% rate this year makes things look even worse. It certainly helps explain why his BABIP last year, .287, was well below his .316 career rate, and why it’s so abysmally low this season. That he’s not making as much contact with pitches inside the zone hurts matters even more.

As Jorge struggles he’s still taking his walks. He’s looked at ball four seven times this season, and has been hit once. While that hasn’t gotten his OBP over .300, it has added something of a positive light. That is, at least he’s not flailing at everything. Yet it’s not all that encouraging. Posada has still seen just 3.49 pitches per plate appearance this year, which is easily the lowest rate of his career. That in itself could be part of the issue. Too many swings early in the count means not enough deep counts. If he’s not working deep counts, that walk rate could diminish, especially if he continues whiffing at off-speed and breaking pitches.

During the off-season the Yankees tried to help keep Jorge healthy and productive by removing him from the catcher position. He had been something of an anomaly among catchers earlier in his career, avoiding the disabled list until 2008, at age 36. After missing most of that season recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, Posada also spent time on the DL in both 2009 and 2010, though with less serious ailments. After more then a decade of squatting — not to mention the foul balls off the noggin — the Yankees were right to move him to DH for the final year of his contract. But instead of helping Posada find a fountain of youth, it has apparently accelerated the aging process. Although 2010 was Posada’s least productive healthy season since 2005, he didn’t look nearly as old as he does in 2011.

The conclusion works the same way as with Guerrero. Anything can happen in 67 PA, and there’s a chance that Posada is just taking time to get acclimated to his new role. But during the course of those 67 PA he has looked old and slow, not a good sign for a 39-year-old who has caught almost 13,000 major league innings. He can still run into one here and there, but when pitchers adjust and stop throwing him any fastballs, he could run into further problems. There’s plenty of time for Posada to turn things around, but the way things look right now he might not have even hit rock bottom — and that’s saying a lot for a guy with a .086 BABIP.