I’m a debater. I want to think, to learn, and to try to find truth. I don’t care if I “win” the debate. To me, the winner is the person who has the right answer after the debate is over. And if both parties are working to find truth, there’s a good chance the parties can agree on the answer. I really mean that. If you can convince me that you have the right answer, I am very happy to change my mind. I don’t lose any ego points when I do.
Not long ago I started a discussion with a reader, Michael, about the value of the DH position, the specifics of which aren’t important here. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know the discussion has been incredibly interesting. I bring all of this up for a couple of reasons. One is to publicly thank him for a thought-provoking discussion. The other is to make a point – I’m very confident that I’m right, he’s right, or the truth is somewhere in between. In other words, we’re really close. And even if we never agree, we’ve narrowed to what the answer could be.
As far as catcher rankings go, I’m frustrated. I just don’t know how “right” we are. I don’t even know how to know. And that makes me super uncomfortable.
So enjoy the second part of our catcher discussion, and if you want to read areas where I feel more confident, check out absolutely any other post in this series.–Miller
Catcher – 21-40
Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?
Posey is one 6.0 WAR season away from reaching my Hall of Miller and Eric in/out line. Other than his injury decimated 2011 campaign and his seven-game cuppa coffee in 2009, Posey has never finished a season below 3.9 BBREF WAR. He’s on the old side of thirty now, a time in their lives when many catchers’ bodies betray them, and/or a career of toil erodes their abilities. The following is a list of every retired catcher who earned from 28 to 48 BBREF WAR through age 30 (Posey reached 38) and what they went on to do. It’s sorted by their WAR through age 30:
THROUGH 30 | AFTER 30 NAME PA WAR | PA WAR ====================================== J TORRE 6188 47.8 | 2614 9.8 T SIMMONS 6450 45.0 | 3235 5.4 M PIAZZA 4075 41.6 | 3670 18.0 M COCHRANE 4861 40.8 | 1347 11.4 T MUNSON 4819 40.4 | 1086 5.7 Y BERRA 4945 37.5 | 3414 21.9 B EWING 3744 36.3 | 2028 11.4 B FREEHAN 5240 36.2 | 1660 8.6 B DICKEY 4411 35.6 | 2654 20.2 C FISK 3483 34.9 | 6370 33.6 D PORTER 4933 32.1 | 1637 8.8 J KENALL 5283 30.7 | 3419 11.0 L PARRISH 4674 30.1 | 3123 9.4 J SUNDBERG 4148 29.8 | 2751 10.8 R BRESNAHAN 3916 29.7 | 1460 11.2 G TENACE 3597 28.3 | 1930 18.5 -------------------------------------- AVERAGE 4673 36.1 | 2650 13.5 VS pre-31 57% 37% B POSEY EST 4260 38.3 | 2428 14.2
So here’s a High/Realistic/Low series of estimates for Posey’s career based on the information in this table.
THROUGH 30 | AFTER 30 | CAREER NAME PA WAR | PA WAR | PA WAR NOTE ===================================================== HIGH 4260 38.3 | 3780 26.8 | 8040 65.1 BASED ON TOP-3 AVG REAL 4260 38.3 | 2428 14.2 | 6688 52.5 BASED ON GROUP AVG LOW 4260 38.3 | 1817 7.0 | 6077 45.3 BASED ON LOW-3 AVG
If Posey hits on the high scenario, he’s going to end up with a career total that with my adjustments looks like Dickey’s, Hartnett’s, or maybe Piazza’s, and ends up among the top dozen catchers ever.
If Posey reaches the realistic scenario, he’s going to end up looking in my system like Joe Torre, Wally Schang, or maybe Mickey Cochrane. In that case, he’s over the line and probably just outside the top fifteen.
Finally, if Posey sags to the low estimate, his career total in my system will end up near Roy Campanella’s, Thurman Munson’s, or Jim Sundberg’s. He’s likely in that scenario to make it juuuust over the in/out line and to be quite similar to Munson’s career.
Any way you cut it, barring an horrific collapse this year, he’s going into the HoME. It’s only a question of by what degree he exceeds the in/out line.—Eric
One of the bigger surprises I’ve come across since starting in-depth research on the game’s best players is that Russell Martin has a chance to be a deserving Hall of Famer. Not a good chance, but a chance. Even at age-34, he put up yet another 2-win season (with my adjustments) in only 91 games in 2017. That’s the good news. The bad is that his only real value aside from position is in the DRA part of his defense. As you enter your late 30s, defense doesn’t pick up. In a best case scenario, he gets past Jason Kendall, Jorge Posada, and Jim Sundberg, which would put him immediately behind HoMEr Bill Freehan. That likely won’t be enough to get him in. What may be enough is if we learn more about handling and find that his is even better than we think.–Miller
He’s probably something like the Jim Sundberg of his era. Martin’s bat seems to have given out, but he’s still an average regular catcher. It’s not going to be enough with his low peak to get him over the line, but he’s much closer than anyone would have guessed.—Eric
Many Cardinal fans are 100% certain he’s a defensive genius, the likes of which we may never have seen. I disagree but still like the 35 year old. By straight WAR, he has only two seasons at more than 3.2. My adjustments help but don’t move the needle a ton. There’s likely not enough peak here to make him a HoMEr unless there’s a lot more left than we’d normally expect from a player his age. He’s averaged 2.15 adjusted WAR over the last three campaigns. If he somehow manages 2 over the next five, he’ll only move up three places, assuming Martin keeps climbing. If he only has two such seasons, he’d flip places with Lance Parrish. That’s about it. He’s going to be a very interesting debate in a few years, one that I expect to be on the losing side of.–Miller
Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?
Yadi’s not a bad player by any stretch. But he has two seasons above 3.2 BBREF WAR. He’s by far the best Molina, however.—Eric
Based on much of what I hear on Twitter, I’m pretty far off on Yadier Molina. And Eric is waaaaaaay off with Yadi at #43. Word is that he’s already a Hall of Fame lock. Perhaps this word comes mainly from Cardinal fans. Likely this word comes from those who haven’t done the appropriate research. What seems certain is a career ending injury to Molina would bring about some real debates between Redbird backers and Eric in five years. With me too.–Miller
Where do we disagree with one another the most?
We’re looking at differences in these 20 based quite a bit on how much we’re willing to trust Max Marchi’s handling numbers. Eric has more trust than I do, so he prefers Tony Pena and Mike Scioscia by ten and twelve places respectfully. No biggie though. Neither is close enough to the HoME to spark debate.–Miller
Pena is pretty close, for me. One more All-Star season would have given us a lot to talk about. Pena’s the number one backstop in Marchi’s results. That’s 248 runs he saved through his work with his pitchers. Or 25 wins worth of runs—if you take them at face value. I don’t. I use them at half strength, so Pena receives 124 runs to the good. It so happens that Scioscia finished second in Marchi’s rankings with 210 runs. As you look down the list, some interesting names pop up. There’s Mike Piazza with 204 runs, providing additional evidence that he was an excellent defensive catcher except for defending the stolen base. Pudge Fisk finishes fifth, and there’s our friend Russell Martin in seventh place. Tim McCarver made a reputation as a smart handler of pitchers, and Marchi rates him as 116 runs better than average. The just mentioned Yadier Molina’s just 10 runs above average in this category, but his brother Jose was ninth with 150 runs saved. Benji, on the other hand, gave up 12 more runs than average. There are other surprises. Bill Freehan, given high marks for his work with Denny McClain and the 1960s Tigers finished 18 runs over par. Wish we’d found Marchi’s work before we elected him…. Some other leader-of-men types are among the worst handlers: Joe Girardi, Darren Daulton, Dan Wilson, Mike Lieberthal. This is all to say that my higher ranking of Pena depends considerably on this information, even at half strength. Imagine how bad those 1980s Pirates rotations would have been without him!—Eric
Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate?
Naturally, Roy Campanella thanks to the impact of the odious color line. But let’s turn elsewhere. We’ve written extensively about Ernie Lombardi, and it’s a near certainty in my opinion that Lom’s career, as currently presented by BBREF is overstated by as much as 4 to 7 WAR. They show him at +5 for baserunning and don’t assign GIDP value to his era yet. Once they (finally!) get around to turning the latest two or three rounds of retrosheet data into WAR, Lom’s WAR legs will buckle badly.—Eric
Maybe there are. Maybe we underrate an entire century at the position. From the start of the National Association through 1971 – that’s 101 years – there are only nine catchers who can boast at least 35 WAR. But there are 28 in the game’s history. I suppose it’s possible we don’t adjust the game’s catchers sufficiently for a good period of time. It’s also quite possible that there were some major down years for backstops, followed by some great years in the age of Carter, Bench, Fisk, Torre, Munson, Simmons, Sundberg, etc. Or maybe we adjust just right. You know how we say that relief pitching is incredibly valuable, though relief pitchers really aren’t? Maybe that was the case with catching for so many years. Perhaps none but the best catchers played enough to accumulate HoME-level value.–Miller
One week from today, we get started on the left fielders. Who’s it going to be, Teddy or Barry?