One of the things I’ve always loved doing is looking at all-time leaderboards. Even though I don’t care about the save statistic, it’s fun to watch Jon Papelbon pass Troy Percival for 10th place and chase down Jeff Reardon and Joe Nathan. Next year the much-maligned National will pass Dennis Eckersley. David Ortiz has a shot at Hank Aaron and 10th place on the all-time doubles list before he hangs ‘em up. And Clayton Kershaw is moving from 116th to 70th or better on the strikeout list this season.
Part of the fun of this HoME project has been creating all-time leaderboards with my JAWS-like stat called MAPES. It’s fun to say that Ron Cey ranks 24th ever among third basemen or that Billy Hamilton is the 7th best center fielder ever. I know that these are pretty debatable rankings, but they’re mine. So at least they’re fun to me.
This week we’re going to look at some of my MAPES leaderboards with active players, speculating where they might wind up. Eric and I do this every so often just because it’s fun. Hope it’s fun for you too. Today we’ll look at the battery. On Wednesday, it’ll be everyone else.
Joe Mauer: The Twin former catcher already entered the season 15th all-time at the position. And it appears he’s in the midst of a revival of sorts. Before we speculate as to where he’ll wind up, let’s explore whether or not he’ll even be called a catcher when his career ends. He needs fewer than 600 games at first base to be categorized there, and I kind of think he’ll make it. So let’s not consider Mauer’s ranking behind the plate. Rather, let’s look at him at first. You might be surprised that his all-time ranking as a first sacker would be ahead of John Olerud, Will Clark, Mark McGwire, and Jake Beckley – #24 all-time. Assuming health and a slow decline, let’s give Mauer remaining seasons of 5, 3, 3, 2, 2, and 1 WAR. If he does that, and this season looks like five wins is entirely possible, he will dart up my first base charts. He’ll pass Hall of Famers Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg, Willie McCovey, George Sisler, Ernie Banks, and Johnny Mize. If Joe Mauer can put up these six seasons to finish off his career, he’ll just nudge past Hall of Famer Frank Thomas for tenth best ever. Of course, Miguel Cabrera might have something to say about that. And it’s not exactly a sure thing that the oft-injured Mauer will remain healthy.
Yadier Molina: My catcher numbers are pretty funky. I may apply too many adjustments to make catchers look like non-catchers. If I do, I probably overrate modern backstops. On the other hand, there was a time when Yadi was the king of framing, and my numbers don’t do much to incorporate that. Molina is “only” 33, and he’s hitting about as well this year as he has since he was 30. Still, let’s say he only plays until 2018 and puts up a 3, 2, and 1 over the next three seasons. That would be enough to put him past Jason Kendall, Jim Sundberg, HoMEr Bill Freehan, Ernie Lombardi, and Gene Tenace. He’d reach a level where everyone above is either in the HoME or not yet eligible. And it makes sense that Yadi will put up more than 6 WAR the rest of the way.
Russell Martin: Is Martin a hidden HoMEr, or is he just a function of my catcher adjustments? I don’t know. What I do know is that going into this season, he was the 28th ranked catcher in history. That’s not something we’d really seen coming, right? The other thing that snuck up on me regarding Martin is his age. He’s 33 this year. And he’s really, really struggling. On the other hand, he has four years left on his contract including this year. If he goes 3, 2, 2, and 1 he’d be just a shade in front of Bill Freehan. I don’t see Martin at Freehan’s level, but I may be missing something.
Buster Posey: For some, all Posey needs, really, is to play for ten seasons, with reasonable health in the last three. He’s played at the All-Star+ level every year he’s been healthy. If we gave him just 3, 3, and 3 he’d only move from 30th to 28th though. The good news for him is that he’s only 29 this year and signed through 2021. Let’s imagine continued stardom and a graceful decline with 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 2, and 1 WAR through age 36. That’ll be hard to do but not unimaginable, right? If he were to do that, he’d wind up as the tenth best catcher ever, right between Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett. Dare to dream.
CC Sabathia: I have less confidence in my pitching numbers than in my MAPES totals for hitters. With that said, I have CC in the HoME right now, just a shade behind Andy Pettitte coming into the season and just a shade ahead now. But at 35 now and with just 0.63 WAR in the last three years combined, I don’t think there’s much progress to be made. I guess it’s even possible that with some poor pitching he’d fall back some, though not enough to hurt his HoME chances. I expect that he’ll retire at right about #60 among pitchers.
Clayton Kershaw: He’s the Mike Trout of pitchers. But in some ways he’s better. Going into the season, I ranked Kershaw 70th all-time, right behind Sandy Koufax. With my playoff adjustments (something I don’t know I shouldn’t include exactly as I do, yet something I haven’t quite determined how to adjust), he’s averaged 8.5 WAR the past three years. The guy is simply amazing. He’s a pitcher though, so it could be over tomorrow, I know. Let’s say it isn’t. Let’s give him ten more years at 9, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s not ridiculous. But where he’d wind up sort of is, just ahead of Bob Gibson as the eleventh best pitcher ever.
Zack Greinke: I already have Greinke at #81. He’s struggling in Arizona early on, but he’s just 32 and signed for huge money through 2021. Post-season work got him over 10 WAR twice by my numbers. Other than that, he has three All-Star type seasons and a couple of other good ones, but a ton of his case is on those two years. Let’s say he finishes his contract with something like 5, 3, 3, 2, 1, 1. Such a run would put him in the HoME with room to spare. He’d wind up between Don Drysdale and Wes Ferrell.
Felix Hernandez: As I watch Felix pitch this year, I worry that all of the innings may be catching up with him. He’s just 30, but he’s made 30+ starts every year since 2006. Let’s give him eight more years at 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, and 1. That would put him in league with Bob Feller, Rick Reuschel, Red Ruffing, and Juan Marichal. But maybe his arm will fall off. Maybe he only goes 5, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1. Even so, he’d be where CC Sabathia is now, ahead of eight HoMErs, including Sandy and Whitey.
Justin Verlander: He’s only 33, but he might be done. If we give him 2, 2, 1, 1, and 1 he almost gets into the conversation. But guys behind Tommy John, Dwight Gooden, and Mark Buehrle have a hard time making a real argument.
Cole Hamels: Being more of an AL guy than an NL guy, Hamels has sort of snuck up on me. Opening the season, he stood at #118 among pitchers, one slot behind Verlander. Unlike Verlander, I don’t think he’s done at all. He’s just 32, so let’s give him six more seasons through the age of 37. He hasn’t been below 4.7 WAR with my adjustments since 2009. Let’s make those six seasons 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and 1. I think he’ll perform better than that, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll get into the HoME with career MAPES between Jim Bunning and Bret Saberhagen.
Max Scherzer: I don’t think I realized that Scherzer is already 31. He has three straight years of 6+ WAR though. Let’s give him 6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, and 1 until he’s 39. Wow! That wouldn’t just barely get him over the line; it would get him past 17 HoMErs. What if he’s less good, something like 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 2, 2, 1, and 1? He’d still be in, right between Dave Stieb and Orel Hershiser. I don’t know that Scherzer can hold up until he’s 39, but I do think that getting into the HoME is quite reasonable if he does.
Jonathan Papelbon: Sure, I could write about David Price or Chris Sale to end this post. But I choose Paps. I know nobody likes him, but he closed for the Sox in the 2007 World Series, did the whole Riverdance goggles thing, and never kicked my dog (confession, I don’t have a dog), so I’m a fan. He’s not getting into the HoME because he’s no Goose Gossage. And he’s not getting into the Hall because he presents himself even less well than Goose does these days. But he can finish as high fourth on the all-time saves list. He has a ring, which neither Smith nor Trevor Hoffman has. And the Nats are good enough that he could find his way to a second one this year. He’s not going to deserve it, he’s not going to make it, but he’s certainly going to make for some interesting arguments eight or ten years from now. And there’s nothing wrong with that.