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Your Own Personal Catcher
2008-04-08 08:47
by Emma Span
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Here's a question for you guys, and something I've been wondering about for a while now: Is Jorge Posada good at calling games?

Yesterday, for the second time in this brand-new season, Jose Molina was behind the plate for Mike Mussina. I don’t know if the Yankees are going to use Molina as Mussina’s personal catcher – Posada missed Moose's first start with a sore shoulder, and last night was a logical day off because of today's afternoon game. Still, given that last season Mussina pitched to Wil Nieves until July -- you remember Nieves; incredibly nice guy, didn’t have a hit until May 9th -- it seems that Mussina prefers, or at the very least has no objection to, throwing to someone other than Posada.

I don't think this is a problem -- Molina’s got to start sometime, and unlike other recent Yankee backups he’s a capable hitter; if Mussina likes working with him, so much the better. And Mussina can, as you may have noticed, be a bit persnickety about his pitching circumstances, so I don’t want to read too much into his apparent inclination towards someone a bit more defense-oriented.

Randy Johnson, in his brief and unhappy time in the Bronx, also opted for a personal catcher, the YES booth's own John Flaherty*. Now, Johnson was so prickly that he makes Mussina look like a Teletubby, so you can take that with a grain of salt as well. Still, since Flaherty and Nieves, even working together, would be hard pressed to hit their way out of a paper bag, there must be some reason two of the best pitchers of their generation embraced such blows to their run support.

This is all just curiosity on my part, and no cause for concern -- Posada’s game calling really isn’t a big issue. He’s so good offensively, even during an average season, that he makes up for any defensive shortcomings, and he’s been incredibly durable besides. Of all the mid-90s Yanks still around, he’s the one I think the team will find it hardest to replace. And besides, he’s been behind the plate for countless excellent pitching performances over the years, including a perfect game – obviously he can’t be that bad.

That said, these questions have been floating around since the early days of his career, back when he and Girardi shared the catching duties. Posada was still learning the ropes, and Girardi was apparently in high demand among the staff, until he finally left for the Cubs. Buster Olney (then the Times' beat writer) wrote in February of 2000:

 

"Posada has been the primary catcher the last two years, but Torre and the coaching staff relied heavily on Girardi, for his experience and his empathetic relationship with pitchers. Although the earned run averages accumulated by the pitchers when working with Posada and Girardi were generally identical, the coaching staff would often use Girardi to work on a particular problem with a particular pitcher. When Orlando Hernandez was not throwing inside as much as the Yankees' staff wanted in 1998, Girardi stepped in for a game to nudge El Duque. When Roger Clemens was struggling into August last season, Girardi was assigned to work with him."...

..."After Leyritz left the Yankees, Girardi became Pettitte's catcher. There were games when Pettitte never shook off a sign from Girardi. But before that can happen, Pettitte must trust his catcher, and in the few games they have had together, he has not had faith in Posada.

Posada has teamed successfully with Hernandez, and interestingly, their personalities are similar, both determined and stubborn. Their disagreements lead to angry clashes that seem to spur great things from Hernandez. Posada, in fact, begins baiting Hernandez before each game, knowing how El Duque will respond.

As long as Girardi was with the Yankees, club officials determined, those pitchers who preferred him would never develop a relationship with Posada. Now those alliances must be sealed; there is no other choice."

 

During the 1999 playoffs, Olney noted, Girardi caught Cone as well as Pettitte and Clemens. Posada, who had started at catcher 109 times during the season, started only 3 of the first 11 postseason games, before successfully lobbying Clemens and Torre to catch Game 4 of the World Series. That’s almost unimaginable now, but back then it still wasn’t clear exactly how good Posada would be -- he was one of those rare players who didn’t come into his own until he was 28, in the 2000 season.


Regardless, all of the pitchers mentioned in Olney’s article seem to have eventually overcome any issues they may have had with Posada, and Clemens and Pettitte both came around in a big way: in recent years, the first words out of either of their mouths after a good performance were likely to be “Georgie called a great game.” Posada is a notorious hard worker, dramatically stepping up his defense in his mid-30s, so I find it easy to believe that he’s gotten better over the years. Or maybe it just took a while for him and the pitching staff to adjust to each other.


Game calling skills are tough to measure, obviously, since it’s not always clear whether a given pitch was chosen by the pitcher or the catcher, or what the coaching staff might have suggested before the game -- and besides, the results depend entirely on the pitcher’s execution. Kyle Farnsworth is probably going to do some Farnsworthing no matter how meticulously you've planned your pitch sequence, and Mariano Rivera could probably strike batters out if he threw to a lump of clay. In fact, catchers' game calling may be one of those concepts, like clutch hitting, that seems like it ought to exist -- might, in fact, exist -- but has little to no statistical evidence supporting it.

 

So, what do you think? Is it important for a catcher to call a good game, and does Posada generally do so? Or was Randy Johnson actually right about something?

-

 

*On a side note, does anyone else think Flaherty would make a fantastic bench coach? I'd say manager, but I'm not sure he has the personality for that. But dozens of times over the last couple years I've heard him predict a pitch selection or matchup or baserunning move, explain why it would be a good or bad idea, and then have it happen exactly as he said it would -- I mean to the letter. I imagine it might be slightly dry for casual fans, but he really knows his nuts-and-bolts stuff.

Comments
2008-04-08 08:56:45
1.   Cliff Corcoran
I seem to recall a Baseball Prospectus piece (perhaps in their book Baseball Between the Numbers) that was unable to find any statistical proof that game calling is skill that varies from catcher to catcher. My impression is that Jorge is as good at it as anyone else and, by the way, Moose was shaking off Molina an awful lot last night.
2008-04-08 09:00:00
2.   Schteeve
I don't know, I think it depends on who is calling the pitches. If the pitches are coming in from the bench, it probably doesn't matter who is catching. If the pitchers are veterans who are essentially calling their own games, I don't think it matters either.

If you have a bunch of young, promising rookies, maybe it makes more of a difference, but I think that difference is pretty slight. I remember Joba shaking Posada off last season, so it's not like even a super duper green rookie is just going to throw what the catcher tells him to throw.

As you point out, the success of a pitcher is probably a lot more dependant on the execution of the pitches rather than who is calling them.

I think Posada must be kinda a dick. I know he projects that assholishness, (Alex refers to it as 'red-ass,' I believe) and I suspect he's not a calm reassurring guy if you're a pitcher and you're in a jam.

I would imagine he's more like,

"we got ourselves into this mess, now we better damn well get ourselves out of it!"

than

"you're a good guy, you have a good fastball, trust yourself and then later we can go out for cuppycakes."

I also don't see Posada as the kind of guy who will feed the egos of the more Prima Donnaish of Yankee pitchers.

In the end, I think it's a lot more qual than quant.

2008-04-08 09:10:24
3.   Mattpat11
I always thought there was something to this. These guys (and Cone) were good pitchers that always seemed to want to pitch to anyone else.
2008-04-08 09:16:35
4.   dianagramr
0

Is that a "Depeche Mode" reference I see?

2008-04-08 09:17:11
5.   Sliced Bread
I seem to remember a snappy Depeche Mode club ditty called "Your Own Personal Catcher."
Depeche, and their snappy ditties...

eh, Posada's fine, and didn't he help Moose a few ST's ago, rework his grip on a pitch he was tipping?

Moose will miss Po's bat if Molina's his guy, but if he can duplicate last night's work, he won't need much run support.

2008-04-08 09:17:48
6.   Sliced Bread
4 ah, ya beat me to it by this much!
2008-04-08 09:22:33
7.   liam
1 i agree with both ideas there.

(1) mussina shakes off everyone. thats what you get when you graduate from stanford. lets call it an heir of confidence.

(2) read the same thing on BP, and there has been much more evidence suggesting the same thing presented by many sources. i think that one of the articles ive read says that this evidence even exists in the minors, but in the minors, most games are called from the bench.

you always hear peter gammons suggesting that if varitek ever went down then the redcoats might have won the revolution, but with all the evidence stating the contrary, you have to wonder.. posada is one of my favorite players, if not my favorite player, but i admint that i have always wondered if he called a good game as well.

another thing to note is how well posada did with the revolving door pitching staff that the yankees have had for the past season or two. i think that he has to have some skill at calling the games.
2 a dick? i think he's just plain tough. the guy doesnt wear batting gloves, and we all know the rumors on how he gets his hands ready for ballgames.

2008-04-08 09:23:58
8.   liam
and yes, that makes you tough.
2008-04-08 09:25:22
9.   Schteeve
7 I use dick as a term of endearment. People who are a little dicky, tend to be more honest, productive, and reliable than people who will b.s. you just to preserve the facade of being "nice."
2008-04-08 09:28:46
10.   Rob Middletown CT
It's hard to know what effect catchers have when:

- lots of stuff gets called from the bench
- pitchers have the final say in what they throw (usually, anyway)
- the catcher can call the right pitch in the right spot and the pitcher can miss
- the catcher can call the wrong pitch/wrong spot and the batter can pop it up

Mussina pitched well last night b/c he had filthy breaking stuff and he pitched inside just enough.

2008-04-08 09:30:24
11.   ms october
2 "I also don't see Posada as the kind of guy who will feed the egos of the more Prima Donnaish of Yankee pitchers."

I agree - something we will never know, but is this more of a personality/comfort type issue or a strategy/calling pitches issue?

I am going to pay more attention to this, but I think Jorge works really well with Wang.

2008-04-08 09:33:04
12.   ms october
oh and since we are on the topic of ctachers - one of my favorite exchanges from the yes booth was when they were talking about mike defilice was going to be in aaa to work with all the rays young pitchers and how he could be a good coach one day and someone (i think kay) said he was a sal fasano type - poor mike defilice
2008-04-08 09:37:08
13.   unmoderated
john flaherty has dead eyes and small lips. he freaks me out when they show him on the broadcasts.

that said, he's a smart guy and good in the booth. i'm sure he would be a great coach, but not manager.

he'd come out to the mound in the 7th inning of a tie game, two outs, runner at third, trying to calm down the starter... and the pitcher would look into those dead eyes, crap a brick, and give up a single up the middle.

2008-04-08 09:38:49
14.   Schteeve
13 Sounds like John Flaherty might actually be a creation of Jose Guadalupe Posada.
2008-04-08 09:40:13
15.   weeping for brunnhilde
Don't know about Jorgie, Emma, but I'm a huge fan of Flaherty in the booth, for the reasons you cite.
2008-04-08 09:45:30
16.   yankeemonkey
Yeah, Flaherty + Singleton in the booth = win.

Does anyone know what happened with Leiter? I really liked him too.

2008-04-08 09:48:42
17.   unmoderated
i like leiter, too.... but he forgot to talk sometimes. I think he's still in the booth, waiting to say something.
2008-04-08 10:03:21
18.   tommyl
The only circumstantial thing I can see is that I think Molina offers a bit of a better target, and earlier in the windup. Posada tends to move later in the pitcher's motion, though this might be a deliberate thing to not tip off the hitters.

I think its just about personalities and who you feel comfortable with. Considering most of the pitchers you mention (Cone, Andy, etc.) had spent significant amounts of time with Girardi as their catcher, they were more familiar and comfortable with him. I tend to think of it like moving, you love your old apartment and sometimes need to be torn away, but that doesn't mean the new condo you got isn't swanky too.

As for RJ and Moose. I don't recall Moose ever requesting a catcher. It tends to be that the backup is forced to catch him for some reason, and then the manager just tends to stick with it. RJ, was batshit insane so I can't really draw any conclusions from that.

2008-04-08 10:12:30
19.   Ace Rothstein
since all the discussion revolving around a catcher's ability to call a game is essentially moot, what about the ability for these 2 catchers to frame pitches. I've been impressed by molina's frame jobs thus far, and moose def benefits from that as a guy who wants to avoid the middle of the plate at all costs.
2008-04-08 10:16:12
20.   Zack
But Jason Varitek calls a good game! He prepares like nobody else in the game ever has. Duh! I mean, look at all he's done with Dice-K. Er, wait.

I believe the best term for Jorge is less "dick" and more "red ass." But either one.

I do find it hard to buy into the "calls a good game" theory, which usually seems to be thrown out there for the guys who can't hit very well but who need a justification for being on the team. I think it has a heck of a lot more to do with the quality of the pitcher and batter. Which is to say, sure, if the catcher calls for a FB down the middle to Ortiz and the pitcher throws it, its a bad pitch call. But for the most part, it comes down to whether it was a good pitch and whether the hitter either is a good hitter or got lucky.

2008-04-08 10:16:36
21.   joe in boston
Off Topic - (sorry Emma) - WEEI in Boston is saying that Bill Buckner is throwing out the first ball today ! How great is that ?!
2008-04-08 10:16:41
22.   Ace Rothstein
I loved leiter. Its refreshing to have a sport commentator who only talks when he has something meaningful to say. The pitfall for all these guys, especially kay, is that they feel the need to fill the air with a constant flow of words, and that inevitably leads to saying stupid shit...
2008-04-08 10:16:57
23.   Shaun P
Emma, Steven Goldman tells your Flaherty story about pitch sequences and what not, but in his version, the name of the ex-catcher is Tim McCarver. He speculates that McCarver 'lost it', if you will, over time as the hitters and pitchers he had known were not playing anymore. I wonder if the same will be true for Flaherty. In the meantime, he's an excellent analyst.

The greatest game I have ever seen Mike Mussina pitch was the "Jeter-flip-play" game in 2001. FWIW, Posada caught him the whole game - and also homered for the only run of the game. I don't put much stock in the personal catcher thing.

What we need is a big Maddux fan to argue the other side. Maddux always seemed to have a personal catcher with the Braves - anyone who wasn't Javy Lopez.

2008-04-08 10:22:38
24.   NetShrine
Emma - some data on this that may interest you:

http://tinyurl.com/4zx46w

Regards, Steve

2008-04-08 10:23:55
25.   williamnyy23
I am not sure Molina teaming with Mussina is evidence that Posada calls a bad game. For one thing, if Girardi really thought Posada wasn't a good pitch caller, wouldn' he pair Molina with a young guy like Hughes instead of a vet like Mussina, who really calls his own game anyway?

Also, maybe Girardi is thinking that if he forges a personal catcher relationship, it would be best to use a pitcher less likely to be prominent in the post season. This way, he doesn't have to deal with the prospect of losing Posada's bat in the post season.

2008-04-08 10:35:36
26.   Schteeve
To sum this up by the way, if I'm a pitcher for the Yankees and my goal for each start is 1) For the team to win the game and 2) For me to get the win, and I am given the option of the following catchers

a) Posada
b) Molina
c) Flaherty
d) Girardi

I pick Posada every single mother lovin' time. Because if I don't I'm insane. Jorgie's bat gives me the better chance to win than the possible alternatives. And winning is the goal, right? Right?

2008-04-08 10:41:11
27.   Bagel Boy
A few issues here, I think:

1) All players are too psychological. But pitchers are especially so. They think things are especially under their control (for good reason). So there's a strong tendency to control the catcher - who's receiving and how they do it. If given even a slight choice, I'm sure they'd prefer the vet.

2) For the 1997 through 1999 playoffs, Torre's reliance on Giradi was detrimental to the team. Luckily it only hurt them one year but he should have been much better about telling his pitchers to deal with it. That failure in leadership made Jorge into a borderline HOF when he should be a no-doubter at this point. Jettisoning Girardi appears to be the first attempt to Torre-proof the roster.

3) Mussina is going to call his own game regardless. I don't really think it matters who his receiver is. Unit is the same way. If anything, you'd think they'd be more worried about giving Hughes or Kennedy the better signal caller, if that interpretation is correct. Instead, they gave the most crusty vet the privilege of Molina.

4) Jorge is known so much for his bat, it's reasonable to ask or think he must fall short elsewhere. Call it the inverse catcher phenomenon. Most catchers aren't known for their bats, and so everyone assumes they must be a great receiver. Varitek has shifted solidly into this camp (with Gammons help) even as his defense is average at best.

5) Occam's explanation: Jorge needs a rest every five games. Having the backup scheduled, lets him know when he'll be playing while always giving Jorge that rest.

2008-04-08 10:42:13
28.   Knuckles
I don't think the game calling matters from catcher to catcher, as much as the comfort level does. A mid-30s backstop like Jorge needs regular days off, so why not let the backup get into a rhythm with one particular SP? In particular, a vet who's been around long enough to call his own game. In terms of age and team longevity, that's Moose.
2008-04-08 10:46:06
29.   Schteeve
26 To add on and address the issue that Posada or any "older" catcher needs a regular day off, it would seem logical to pair your poorest offensive catcher with your best pitcher. You thereby offset the risk of scoring fewer runs by priming your team to allow fewer runs.
2008-04-08 10:46:36
30.   Bagel Boy
One more:

6) If there's any reason to give Moose his Molina, it's his slowness to the plate. Molina helps to control the running game better since Moose is more vulnerable here than the other pitchers on the staff.

2008-04-08 10:53:55
31.   Shaun P
There's also Moose's (alleged) prickliness about changing his routine. Knowing that Molina is "his" catcher him might help in this regard, even if just psychologically.
2008-04-08 11:42:19
32.   dianagramr
5

When that song first came out, I made up a parody called "Your Own Personal Pizza"

2008-04-08 12:23:52
33.   Jeb
My two cents: Last night Mattpat11 pointed out in comment number 92 that "Moose is shaking off alot". I wonder if Molina is more amenable to being shaken off than Posada is? Maybe that homer that Moose gave up was tipped off ala Crash Davis (just kidding).

Seriously though, maybe Moose knows his own stuff right now better than anyone and prefers Molina to Posada because Molina let's Moose run the game more.

One thing about about Jorge that has me concerned -- everyone seems to be stealing on him.

2008-04-08 12:47:15
34.   NetShrine
dianagramr

FWIW, when I sing-a-long with that one, I use "Your, own, personal, Hey-Zeus." Try it some time.

2008-04-08 13:39:31
35.   dianagramr
33
Posada's SB/CS stats year-by-year:

SB CS CS%
1997 40 10 20%
1998 48 32 40%
1999 75 29 28%
2000 70 34 33%
2001 94 37 28%
2002 76 31 29%
2003 72 28 28%
2004 67 25 27%
2005 90 39 30%
2006 64 38 37%
2007 102 32 24%
2008 4 2 33%

2008-04-08 13:40:30
36.   dianagramr
YEAR SB CS CS%
1997 40 10 20%
1998 48 32 40%
1999 75 29 28%
2000 70 34 33%
2001 94 37 28%
2002 76 31 29%
2003 72 28 28%
2004 67 25 27%
2005 90 39 30%
2006 64 38 37%
2007 102 32 24%
2008 4 2 33%
2008-04-08 16:32:48
37.   Jeb
35 36 The Royals ran wild on Jorgie today swiping 4. He didn't throw out a single runner. In fact, the yanks pulled him for Molina who DID throw out a runner.

So now for 2007 he's thrown out 2 and allowed 10 steals. So now he's throwing out 16.7% of the baserunners who attempt to steal, thus further illustrating my admittedly early season point that I'm worried about jorge's effectiveness at throwing out runners.

2008-04-08 16:34:34
38.   Jeb
38 correction. He's thrown out 2 and allowed 8 to steal (not 10) so they're stealing on him at an 80% clip. Excuse my prior math error.
2008-04-08 18:51:36
39.   Jeb
Brother Pete says that Jorge has a dead arm and may go on the DL.
2008-04-09 08:51:40
40.   Raf
23 I'd take the almost perfect game vs the Red Sox over the "flip-play" game against Oakland. Posada caught that game as well.

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