### In Defense of Jorge Posada

A.J. Burnett may not have explicitly stated he would feel more comfortable pitching to Jose Molina over Jorge Posada in the playoffs, but due to his abysmal performance against the Boston Red Sox on August 22nd, where over five innings he gave up nine earned runs and three home runs while pitching to Posada, the prevalent thinking is that Burnett is a significantly better pitcher when Molina is his battery mate. In fact, the popular opinion is so widely accepted that even New York Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, has fallen prey to it. Therefore, Girardi is removing Posada, the 7th most valuable hitter on the Yankees roster according to win probability added, in favor of Molina, who actually does more damage to the Yankees than he does to the opposing team when he bats, under the hope Burnett will perform better on the mound.

At first blush, Burnett's splits with Posada and Molina seem to support Girardi's thinking. Burnett has pitched fifteen starts with Posada behind the plate and eleven when Molina was making the pitching calls. With neither catcher did Burnett pitch deep into games, averaging just a little over six innings no matter which one of the two was receiving. However, there the similarities end. When Posada was his catcher, Burnett had a fielding-independent ERA of 4.84, but his fielding-independent ERA with Molina was over a run less at 3.68. This difference indicates that for every nine innings Burnett pitched, he gave up 1.16 fewer runs with Molina than Posada.

Furthermore, Burnett was a much better strikeout pitcher with Molina, striking out 10.10 batters per nine innings compared to striking out only 7.26 batters per nine innings. By striking out more batters, Burnett pitched to less contact, which helps explain why his gross product average (GPA) against [(OBP*1.8 + SLG/4); read like a batting average] is so much lower with Molina (.225 GPA to .263 GPA).

By now, you the reader probably agree with Girardi in thinking the Yankees have a better chance of winning if Burnett is allowed to pitch to Molina. I caution you against reaching that conclusion. We have already seen what the statistics say at first blush and now we must delve a little deeper.

The disparity between Burnett pitching to Molina and Burnett pitching to Posada is easily explained away by the quality of opponents faced. Burnett's pitching numbers with Posada suffer from the fact that Posada caught all four of Burnett's starts against the Boston Red Sox, the second most prolific offense in the regular season. In his four starts against the Red Sox, Burnett had an abominable fielding-independent ERA of 7.95, allowed the Red Sox hitters to have a .336 GPA against him, gave up 2.65 home runs per nine innings, and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.00. These four starts completely skew the true picture of what kind of pitcher Burnett is with Posada.

Once those starts are taken out of the equation, the truth is revealed, which is that Burnett is almost the same pitcher with Posada and Molina. His fielding-independent ERA drops to 4.02 in games caught by Posada, which is only .34 runs above his fielding-independent ERA with Molina. The only significant advantage that remains is Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings pitched; even without the Boston Red Sox games, Burnett still struck out only 7.31 batters per nine innings pitched. However, since the now removed Red Sox games accounted for 16 of the 46 walks he gave up with Posada catching him, the strikeout-to-walk ratios are not that dissimilar (2.10 K/BB with Posada to 2.66 K/BB with Molina).

Burnett is not a good enough pitcher with Molina to warrant Girardi's refusal to allow Posada to catch him. No matter who catches him, Burnett is still the same pitcher. What really matters in how he performs is which team he is facing. If the Yankees really want to ensure their postseason success, it might be best to simply disallow A.J. Burnett from pitching to the Red Sox should the occasion arise. As if Yankee fans didn't have enough reasons to root against the Boston Red Sox already, they have one more; the Red Sox are Burnett's kryptonite.

At first blush, Burnett's splits with Posada and Molina seem to support Girardi's thinking. Burnett has pitched fifteen starts with Posada behind the plate and eleven when Molina was making the pitching calls. With neither catcher did Burnett pitch deep into games, averaging just a little over six innings no matter which one of the two was receiving. However, there the similarities end. When Posada was his catcher, Burnett had a fielding-independent ERA of 4.84, but his fielding-independent ERA with Molina was over a run less at 3.68. This difference indicates that for every nine innings Burnett pitched, he gave up 1.16 fewer runs with Molina than Posada.

Furthermore, Burnett was a much better strikeout pitcher with Molina, striking out 10.10 batters per nine innings compared to striking out only 7.26 batters per nine innings. By striking out more batters, Burnett pitched to less contact, which helps explain why his gross product average (GPA) against [(OBP*1.8 + SLG/4); read like a batting average] is so much lower with Molina (.225 GPA to .263 GPA).

By now, you the reader probably agree with Girardi in thinking the Yankees have a better chance of winning if Burnett is allowed to pitch to Molina. I caution you against reaching that conclusion. We have already seen what the statistics say at first blush and now we must delve a little deeper.

The disparity between Burnett pitching to Molina and Burnett pitching to Posada is easily explained away by the quality of opponents faced. Burnett's pitching numbers with Posada suffer from the fact that Posada caught all four of Burnett's starts against the Boston Red Sox, the second most prolific offense in the regular season. In his four starts against the Red Sox, Burnett had an abominable fielding-independent ERA of 7.95, allowed the Red Sox hitters to have a .336 GPA against him, gave up 2.65 home runs per nine innings, and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.00. These four starts completely skew the true picture of what kind of pitcher Burnett is with Posada.

Once those starts are taken out of the equation, the truth is revealed, which is that Burnett is almost the same pitcher with Posada and Molina. His fielding-independent ERA drops to 4.02 in games caught by Posada, which is only .34 runs above his fielding-independent ERA with Molina. The only significant advantage that remains is Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings pitched; even without the Boston Red Sox games, Burnett still struck out only 7.31 batters per nine innings pitched. However, since the now removed Red Sox games accounted for 16 of the 46 walks he gave up with Posada catching him, the strikeout-to-walk ratios are not that dissimilar (2.10 K/BB with Posada to 2.66 K/BB with Molina).

Burnett is not a good enough pitcher with Molina to warrant Girardi's refusal to allow Posada to catch him. No matter who catches him, Burnett is still the same pitcher. What really matters in how he performs is which team he is facing. If the Yankees really want to ensure their postseason success, it might be best to simply disallow A.J. Burnett from pitching to the Red Sox should the occasion arise. As if Yankee fans didn't have enough reasons to root against the Boston Red Sox already, they have one more; the Red Sox are Burnett's kryptonite.

Labels: MLB