Before essentially taking a mental health off from work on Saturday night, Jorge Posada had been nothing short of terrible in his new role as Yankees DH. It was determined shortly after the season ended last year that Posada, a suspect defensive catcher even in his younger days, was no longer capable of handling the everyday duties of a backstop at age 39.
Thus, Posada was made a perma-DH. He still had value, or so it seemed, with his bat and with only a year left on his contract the move away from catching would in theory maximize the value of an aging star.
Through 32 games and 125 plate appearances, it has not. The stat line isn't pretty: .165 average, .272 OBP, .349 slugging. Posada is currently a minus-0.4 WAR player, meaning giving a league average type player those same DH at-bats would have been more valuable to the team.
The easy explanation for this ineptitude is Posada is old, and old players start to stink something awful at some point. That train of thought isn't exactly esoteric; professional athletes rely on physical attributes to carry them, and the human body wears down with age.
Unfortunately in Posada's case, the easy answer is in fact a bit too easy. A simple trip over to Fangraphs helps us make sense of these struggles.
The first thing to look at are the walk rates. Yankee fans can remember anytime Jason Giambi slumped the first thing out of his mouth would be, "I'm still taking my walks," indicating he wasn't completely lost at the plate, that his approach was fine the results just weren't there yet. Posada's walk rate in 2011 of 12 percent is a bit low but only 1.2 percentage points off his career number of 13.2 percent.
In relation to the walks, Posada's strikeout rates are also showing slight negative skews in '11 (27.5 percent) a 3.5 percent jump from his career rates, but not that far from the strikeout rates he's put up the last three seasons. Basically, Posada's troubles aren't really approach driven; the over 100 point increase from batting average to on-base percentage confirms this.
So if the issues aren't approach driven, the problem must lie in when Posada actually puts the ball in play. Has age completely sapped his power? Not likely. Of his anemic 18 hits in 2011, six have been home runs and two were doubles, meaning 44 percent of his hits have been for extra bases. Thus, the resulting terrible slugging percentage is more a result of the horror show batting average than a regression to Juan Pierre-type power.
So the question remains, why isn't Posada hitting?
Two things stand out. The first is his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .164. With a year to year league average of around .300, Posada's BABIP is incredibly low, and indicates a lot of his early season failings are both unlucky and unlikely to sustain themselves. Every now and then a player can have an unlucky season (Aaron Hill in 2010 comes to mind) but in general no everyday player is going to have a BABIP that low for an entire seasons stretch.
The other thing that stands out when looking at Posada's early season peripherals are the lack of line drives. For his career when he puts the ball in play, Posada hits line drives 20 percent of the time, but that number has sank to 11.4 percent this season. The lack of line drives without the drop in power is puzzling, and may be nothing more than a result of small sample size.
When all the pieces are put together and the analysis is complete, we're left with a picture of an aging slugger who's showing signs of deterioration but has also been unlucky. It appears that what Posada probably needs most is the one thing he cannot be afforded: time. The "position" of designated hitter is unique to baseball in that it has no defensive value, only offensive. If Posada continues to bring nothing to the table in the batters box, he won't last as a DH.