Brian Kenny of ESPN Radio is one of the best sports talk show hosts when it comes to talking baseball. He knows the history of the game, but he also knows how to apply Sabermetric concepts in a meaningful and understandable way. So I was honored to have the opportunity to do a guest spot on the Wednesday night edition of his show. Right off the bat, Brian asked me about Jorge Posada and whether I felt he was worthy of election to the Hall of Fame. In trying to assess his case objectively, I looked at Posada’s career year by year and determined that he has put up about eight Hall of Fame seasons, based on OPS and fulltime playing status. That puts him roughly two to three seasons short of the call to Cooperstown. For those who prefer Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Posada has accumulated 44.7 of WAR for his career. That’s a respectable total, but well short of another contemporary catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, who stands at 67.2 for his career.
During the radio show, I compared Posada to Ted Simmons, another switch-hitting catcher, albeit from the decades of the 1970s and eighties. Simmons posted about ten Hall of Fame seasons, and did so in an era in which conditions were far less favorable for hitters. Simmons also had the advantage in WAR for his career, at 50.4. All things considered, Simmons’ ledger is probably sufficient to deserve entry to the Hall of Fame.
Right from the start, Simmons had a major advantage over Posada in that he arrived in the major leagues at a much earlier age. Simmons was 18 when he made his debut; Posada had to wait until he was 23. More importantly, Simmons established himself as a regular catcher by the age of 21, while Posada did not become the Yankees’ fulltime catcher until he was 27. That’s a six-year difference. So practically from Day One, Posada has had to play catch-up with his career. He did a terrific job right through last year, when he turned 39, before falling off a cliff in 2011. Barring some kind of late hitting surge this summer, Posada will likely be forced into retirement at season’s end, thereby preventing him from building up any further Hall of Fame value.
While I think that Posada is at least close to Cooperstown requirements (I mean, it wouldn’t be like putting Ron Hassey in the Hall of Fame), I suspect that the mainstream media will treat him less kindly in the Hall of Fame elections. Simmons received only three per cent of the vote in his first season on the ballot; in falling below the five per cent threshold, he fell off the ballot immediately, as the Hall of Fame rules dictate. And he hasn’t received much support from the new Veterans Committee either.
So if Simmons received such a small level of backing, Posada will likely struggle when his turn comes up for the first time in 2017. Yes, he’ll receive a boost from playing in New York and being such an important part of four world championship teams. But I don’t see him coming anywhere near the 75 per cent minimum needed for Hall of Fame selection. He’s more likely to fall somewhere in the 20 to 25 per cent range. That’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it won’t allow him to stand on the Hall of Fame stage next to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
Of course, none of this is pertinent to the Yankees in 2011. Posada is having his worst season, and has been so thoroughly unproductive that he has been demoted from his job as the primary DH. I believe that Joe Girardi is completely justified in making the move; if anything, Girardi gave him more games and at-bats than he deserved because of his status as one of the Yankee icons.
The demotion leaves Posada as a glorified pinch-hitter and backup first baseman, a pair of roles that will translate into little playing time. Given such insignificance, some have argued that the Yankees should just release Posada and replace him with a more versatile and useful player. Ordinarily, I would agree with such sentiment, but releasing Posada is one of those rare cases where the affect of team morale is potentially more damaging than any gain that comes from replacing him with a better bench player. In spite of his paltry power and inability to hit for average, Posada remains one of the team’s respected veterans. He is regarded highly enough by the majority of his teammates that his mere presence in the dugout and clubhouse can be justified–at least for the remainder of the regular season. Simply put, the Yankees don’t need the disruption that would occur with the unconditional release of their catcher-turned-DH.
I’m not usually one for sentimentality when it comes to the cold, hard facts of constructing the 25-man roster, but for the moment, the Yankees are playing it right with Jorge Posada…
Am I concerned about the recent struggles of Mariano Rivera, another of the Yankee icons? Not in the least. Yes, he had a bad week, but it has only comprised three games. The start of the slump coincided with an appearance against the Red Sox, who have historically had their way with the great closer. Rivera’s velocity remains very good; it’s just the movement of the cutter that has been subpar.
It seems to me that Rivera ran into a similar slump last year, but it ended quickly and was not a factor in the postseason. So let’s give Rivera a few more days before we decide that time has finally caught up with the Baron of the Bullpen.
I still don’t understand why Girardi did not give Rivera an extra inning on Sunday night against the Red Sox. Though he had coughed up a one-run lead, he needed only nine pitches to get through the inning. He could have easily started the tenth. Even a subpar Rivera is a better bet than Phil Hughes making his first relief appearance of the season, pitching in the frying pan of Fenway Park, and having to do so with no margin for error.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.