Less than a year ago, Jorge Posada was the New York Yankees' four-time World Series champion catcher whose skills were so respected and whose leadership was so revered that he was included in the ranks of former Yankee catchers Thurman Munson and Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.
During the offseason it was announced that the 39-year-old Posada would be relegated to the position of DH. Posada was not happy, but he accepted his role.
Early in the season, Posada struggled mightily, especially against left-handed pitching. Yankees manager Joe Girardi restricted the switch-hitting Posada to batting against right-handed pitching and dropped him in the order. Posada was not happy, and this time he sat himself down.
After an unceremonious move that many criticized as childish, Posada found himself under attack from the fanbase he spent the previous 16 seasons endearing himself to. Batting only .165 and 0-for-24 against left-handed pitching on May 13, Posada’s plummet from grace seemed to have come to its conclusion.
Since then, Posada’s average has risen to .195, but his day-to-day value as an only-against-right-handers DH has kept his roster spot with the Yankees in jeopardy.
Then, last night, a wild split-finger fastball from left-hander Jon Lester may have changed all that.
As had become the norm, Posada was scratched from the lineup against left-handed starting pitching, making him the most expensive spectator in the ballpark. But after Mark Teixeira was hit on the kneecap by a wild pitch from Lester, Posada was called in to pinch-hit.
Posada rose to the occasion last night, recording his first three-hit game of the season, including two hits off left-handed pitching. Just like that, Jorge’s average against left-handed pitching jumped from .000 to .069. Still pretty abysmal, but he had so few ABs against lefties this year that his average jumped nearly 35 points per hit.
So Joe Girardi’s binder says that Posada should sit, but why? Twenty-nine ABs amounts to about a week of baseball. Posada is a career .283 hitter against left-handed pitching. Couldn’t his poor numbers be accredited to a terrible slump—a week’s worth of bad hitting?
To find out, I performed several T-tests to test the statistical significance of Posada’s depreciated statistics using a confidence interval of 90 percent.
Currently, I found that Posada’s average against left-handed pitching this year is significantly worse than last season or his five-year average. However, because the sample size of 29 ABs is so small, the statistics are still highly malleable.
Also, because Posada hasn’t been allowed to hit against left-handed pitching for nearly a month, his statistics from the left-hand side of the plate have not seen the benefit of improved hitting of late.
So consider this: Suppose for a moment that Joe Girardi had some renewed confidence in Posada and decided to let him hit against left-handed batting again. If he were to hit 7-for-28, or .250, in his next 28 ABs, his average would rise to .157 against left-handed pitching. These estimates assume that Posada has broken out of his slump but will still hit worse than his career averages or his previous season at the left-hand side of the plate.
These conservative estimates would allow Posada to more than double his batting average in less than a month. Last season, Posada had 136 ABs against lefties and hit .257. Despite an extremely rocky start, with a stretch of .250 hitting for 28 ABs, the difference in Posada’s average from the left-hand side of the plate would not be statistically significant from last year (with a 90 percent confidence level).
Of course, implicit in this article is the assumption that Jorge Posada is capable of better. But with only 27 ABs from the left-hand side of the plate in the midst of a horrible slump, it seems nonsensical that Girardi would prohibit a five-time All-Star from more than a third of his ABs in favor of Andruw Jones (.215 BA) or Eduardo Nunez (.212 BA), who were batting eighth and ninth in the order last night, respectively. He’s being paid $13.1 million.
History would suggest that he’s capable of more, and right now the sample size of Posada's statistics is too small to draw any definitive conclusions.
If Posada is still hitting under .200 by July, by all means, the Yankees should cut him. But limiting his ABs is just going to make it harder for him to get out of this slump. As bad as it's been, Girardi and Yankee fans need to remember that, statistically, Posada could turn this all around in a couple of weeks if given the chance.