Written for BronxPinstripes.com 11/10/16
There are only 17 catchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame (HoF). Two potential additions are on the ballot for the first time this year. The New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada and the Texas Rangers’ Ivan Rodriguez, who played briefly for the Yankees in 2008. Rodriguez, nicknamed “Pudge” after Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, is a shoo-in to be elected to the HoF. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he made it on the first ballot. Posada, on the other hand, has a tough road ahead. That being said, he was one of the best hitting catchers among his peers.
The Posada-to-the-Hall debate has been talked about by Yankees fans since long before Posada retired following the 2011 season. Those that say he belongs in the Hall point to his offense. Those that are against it, talk about the defensive struggles he had at times. And, of course, there is the comparison to other catchers that are in the Hall or look like they will be one day. But, there’s more to it than just that.
Among the pool of other first-year HoF nominees, are Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero. Ramirez has two strikes against him for PED use and has no shot at the moment to be voted in. Guerrero has offensive numbers that are worthy and before his legs and feet slowed him down, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. He’s not likely to gain entry on his first attempt due to the number of deserving players that have been on the ballot prior to this year.
Among those holdovers with the best chance of gaining the 75% required vote are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman. Bagwell finished with 71.6% of the vote last year and should gain entrance into the Hall this year. Raines, in his 10th year on the ballot, should already be in the Hall. He received 69.8% of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Under the current guidelines, this is the last year Raines can be on the ballot. After that, it would take the Veteran’s Committee vote (also 75% needed) for him to gain entry. (The Veterans Committee votes on all players that have dropped off of the ballot, as well as executives, managers, broadcasters, etc.)
Hoffman, the San Diego Padres long-time closer, is in his third year on the ballot after having received 67.3% of the vote last year. While the media and fans like to point out his failings in some big spots, Hoffman is the only closer besides Mariano Rivera to reach 600 career saves. He deserves to be in Cooperstown.
The last catcher elected to the HoF was Mike Piazza, who was inducted just this year. Prior to that, Gary Carter (2003) and Carlton Fisk (2000) were the only catchers inducted since Johnny Bench went into the Hall in 1989. While it’s difficult to compare catchers from different eras due to schedules, quality of equipment, travel, modes of travel, day and night games, removal of doubleheaders, etc., we’ll give it a shot.
We can still take a look how Posada stacks up against the players of the modern and near-modern eras. First, we’ll whittle down the list by removing Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey, both of whom played in the Negro Leagues, and whose statistics are unavailable.
Deacon White played more games at third base by far so we’ll take him out. Buck Ewing (1897), Roger Bresnahan (1915) and Ray Schalk (1929) were done playing before the 1930’s so we’ll remove them, too.
That leaves the 11 inductees – Bench, Piazza, Carter, Fisk, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Cochrane, Rick Ferrell, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett – to compare Posada to, as well as Rodriguez and Ted Simmons, who is no longer on the regular ballot.
First, some defensive numbers. Below is the % of Base Runners caught stealing/league average. Posada threw out runners at a 28% pace, the second-lowest percentage, with only Piazza’s 23% below it. However, to put it in perspective, the league average during Posada’s career was just 30%. When you take that into consideration, 28% is not bad. When compared to the league average, the numbers for Campanella, Hartnett, and Rodriguez are simply off the charts.
Posada’s overall ability to handle his pitchers and call a game was called into question at times. There were rumors that some pitchers didn’t want him behind home plate, but no teammate or former teammate came out publicly and said so. Posada had run-ins with Orlando Hernandez, but he did make El Duque a better pitcher and kept him focused.
Mike Mussina reportedly had an issue, but in the Yes Network-produced Yankeeography on Posada, Mussina was complimentary of Posada’s ability to be on the same page with him. Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci pointed out in a column that Posada helped Mussina out in Spring Training in 2006. Posada homered off Mussina after he found Mussina was tipping off his changeup. “Moose” adjusted and was successful with the pitch.
Except where indicated, the numbers that follow are the player’s complete offensive totals, not just their statistics for the games in which they caught. Again, Rodriguez is a no-brainer. His numbers are impressive, including the most career total bases and hits. Rodriguez also was a member of 14 All-Star teams, won 13 Gold Glove Awards, and was the AL MVP in 1999 when he hit .332, 35 HR, drove in 113 runs and stole 25 bases.
Simmons appeared on the ballot just once, in 1994. Because he only received 3.7%, he dropped off future ballots (5% is required to remain on the ballot for the next year). Simmons was a switch-hitter and was one of the best pure hitters of his day. He hit 248 home runs, drove in 1,389 runs, laced 2,472 hits, scored 1,074 runs and had career splits of .285/.348/.437 in parts of 21 seasons. He was also an eight-time All-Star.
Posada was a five-time All-Star and though he didn’t win any defensive awards or an MVP (he finished 3rd in 2003 – 30 HR 101 RBI – and 7th in 2006 – hit .338), he does have five World Series rings. He was a major part of four of those World Series wins. Rodriguez earned a ring when the Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in 2003. Simmons reached his only World Series in 1982, but lost in seven games to the team he played most of his career with, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Posada finished his career with 1,664 hits, which puts him behind this group and Rick Ferrell.
Base on Balls
Wins Against Replacement (WAR)
Obviously, the WAR metric wasn’t around until recent years, but sites like Baseball-Reference.com have tracked the pre-War era. The list below is the season average WAR for each player. Posada sits in the 10th spot. Simmons just missed out at 2.39. His average minus his first two seasons – in which he only appeared in seven games – was 2.64. Applying the same logic to Posada’s numbers increases his WAR to 2.85.
Posada missed out on the Top-10 but caught 1,544 games, which is 11th all-time among this group.
BBWAA voters also need to take into account the things that don’t show up in the numbers, like leadership in the clubhouse and on the field. Yankees fan will always remember how Posada stood up for his teammates when the Boston Red Sox Pedro Martinez went “head hunting” during the 2003 ALCS. His managers, teammates, and opponents realize Posada’s worth to the Yankees’ success during his playing days.
“We have a clubhouse of a lot of prominent people. Jorge Posada takes a backseat to no one.” – Joe Torre
“He understands what it takes to win and what it takes to play for the Yankees.” – Mike Mussina
“He’s a guy who has asserted himself as a superstar, both offensively and behind the plate.” – Tim Hudson (Oakland A’s)
Another possible obstacle to Posada’s path to Cooperstown are the players he played with. Derek Jeter and Rivera will be on the ballot in the coming years and are automatics for the Hall. There are also those who believe that some players wouldn’t be as great or noteworthy on other teams. That is something that has been about Jeter.
The feeling here is that Posada’s chances are about 50/50, with perception playing a big factor. Will the members of the BBWAA talk to Posada’s teammates, managers and coaches, and opponents or will they go based solely on what they have seen/heard through the years? Posada’s best shot to gain entrance to the HoF may likely come from the Veteran’s Committee somewhere down the line. Before that comes to pass, Simmons needs to be inducted first.