Jorge Posada has been better than most Hall of Fame catchers

19 10 2011

The opening night of the World Series seems like a good time to consider Jorge Posada‘s case for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posada, starting catcher for four World Series champions, belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think he will get there. As Yankee catchers go, he doesn’t have as strong a case as Thurman Munson. Just as the baseball writers kept Munson out, they will keep Posada out.

Of the “core four” Yankees from Posada’s time, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are automatic Hall of Famers whose credentials are so strong they overcome the anti-Yankee bias. Posada is more like Andy Pettitte, worthy of the Hall of Fame, but likely to fall short.

Posada has not retired yet, but it’s likely we’ve seen most, if not all, of his outstanding years, so I think we can evaluate him as a Hall of Fame contender.

For catchers, you have to throw out the milestones that play into consideration for players at other positions. No catcher has hit 500 homers or 3,000 hits. (You can’t count Craig Biggio, who moved to second base before he had 500 hits). So it’s more an assessment of the total package that matters. You really have to measure a catcher against his contemporaries and/or against other Hall of Famers.

As I noted in an earlier post, Munson absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame on both counts. He was one of the two best catchers of his time (Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter played longer, but only Johnny Bench was better when Munson played). He died in a plane crash while active, and his career statistics are closely comparable to Roy Campanella and Mickey Cochrane, two Hall of Fame catchers whose careers were curtailed tragically. But even when you compare him to Hall of Fame catchers whose careers weren’t shortened by tragedy, you see that Munson was clearly better than several and easily belongs in that group.

For Posada, the case is easy to make when comparing him to Hall of Fame catchers, but tougher when comparing him to his contemporaries.

Comparing contemporary catchers

Among Posada’s contemporary catchers, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodríguez were clearly better, and both will probably make the Hall of Fame (unless suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs keeps Rodríguez out). Joe Mauer hasn’t played as long as Posada (and may move out from behind the plate), but with three batting titles and an MVP award, he is seven years into what appears to be a Hall of Fame career.

It would be unusual for three, or especially four, catchers from Posada’s era to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He will stand at least third in line among his contemporaries, fourth if Mauer stays great long enough.

It’s not without precedent for four catchers from an era to make the Hall of Fame: Five whose careers overlapped for seven years in the 1930s are in the Hall of Fame: Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Rick Ferrell, Gabby Hartnett and Ernie Lombardi. But the Hall of Fame has been especially generous to players from the 1920s and ’30s.

I don’t think the tougher voting today is deliberate racism, but the simple fact is that the Hall of Fame has many more players from the 1920s and ’30s, when it drew its players only from white Americans, than it ever will from later years. Think of it: Five catchers from 16 teams made the Hall of Fame in the all-white 1930s. With African-American, Latino (Posada is from Puerto Rico) and Asian players on 30 teams now, we can expect two or three.

No catcher who played most of his career in the 1960s is in the Hall of Fame (Yogi Berra ended his career in the ’60s and Bench started his in 1967, but in 1966, baseball actually didn’t have an active catcher who was bound for Cooperstown). From catchers playing in the 1970s, only Bench, Fisk and Carter are in the Hall of Fame. For the ’80s, only Fisk and Carter. Voting for old-timers will add a few, but no decade since baseball was integrated will match the five catchers who made Cooperstown from the all-white ’30s. The numbers change with other positions, but the pattern is the same.

No other catchers of Posada’s time beyond the four I’ve mentioned will get any serious Hall of Fame consideration. Biggio, a certain Hall of Famer, was a catcher his first four seasons, but he didn’t start playing like a Hall of Famer until he moved to second base, so I don’t consider him as a catcher and neither will the voters. His catching will be just an interesting note in his story.

Jason Varitek had some nice hype, but he trails Posada significantly in each Triple Crown category, both in career totals and single-season highs, and he wasn’t as durable behind the plate. Jason Kendall is fifth all-time in games caught, with a slightly higher batting average than Posada, but hardly any power. Javy López had a couple outstanding offensive seasons, but didn’t last as long behind the plate as Posada. None of them has a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Comparison with Cooperstown catchers

The only catchers in the Hall of Fame with more World Series championships than Posada are Berra and Dickey. However, championships don’t count at all in Baseball Hall of Fame voting. I’ll blog on this sometime: If you played a key role in an NBA or NFL dynasty, you’re going into the Basketball or Pro Football Hall of Fame. But championships don’t help borderline Hall of Fame candidates in baseball (or some borderline Yankees would be in the Hall of Fame). As I’ve noted before, the Yankees have far and away the most championships,  but two teams have more Hall of Famers.

So I don’t think Posada will make the Hall of Fame. And I don’t think his case is as compelling as several other Yankees’. But it’s still a strong case:

You always know that you’re making a weak case for someone when you start comparing him to the weakest players at his position who are in the Hall of Fame, but Posada measures well against the whole field, ranking in the top half in many offensive statistical measures and only at the bottom in stolen bases (two, but what catcher made the Hall of Fame on his stolen bases?).

Posada hit 275 homers, with a high of 30 in 2003, a higher career total than all but four of the 14 Hall of Fame catchers. (The table at that link does not include Al López, who’s ninth all-time in games caught and held the record when he was inducted into Cooperstown in 1977. While he made the Hall of Fame primarily as a manager, his plaque does cite his catching, so I include him to count 14 Hall of Fame catchers.) Hall of Famers Bench, Berra, Carter and Fisk hit more homers than Posada. Piazza and Rodriguez also have more homers. But the fact is, Posada hit more homers than 10 catchers already in the Hall of Fame.

Six catchers in the Hall of Fame drove in more runs than Posada (1,065). Again, not so impressive to make him an automatic choice (only one season with 100 RBI), but he still outproduced most catchers in the Hall of Fame.

Posada doesn’t have a strong batting average, .273, and he topped .300 only once (.338 in 2007). This is one of the few measures where he’s not in the top half of Cooperstown catchers. But that’s better than five Hall of Fame catchers — Bench, Carter, Fisk, López and Ray Schalk — and just three points lower than Campanella. So an average in Posada’s territory is not a detriment when considering a catcher’s Hall-worthiness.

In fact, here’s the list of Hall of Fame catchers with better career Triple Crown numbers in all categories than Jorge Posada: Yogi Berra. Piazza and Rodriguez also had better career Triple Crown numbers in all three columns than Posada. But that’s a short list. Without question, his career stats match up well with Hall of Fame catchers. Those stats alone would be enough to win a spot in the Hall of Fame for a non-Yankee.

Similarly, his on-base and slugging percentages are better than most Hall of Fame catchers. He’s just below the middle for hits and runs scored.

Awards provide some support for the Posada Hall of Fame case, but he didn’t win a lot of awards: five times an All-Star, five times a Silver Slugger. He never won a Most Valuable Player award (finished third in the 2003 voting, sixth in 2007). Bench, Berra and Campanella were multiple MVP winners. Lombardi, Hartnett and Cochrane each won one, but the other Hall of Fame catchers didn’t win MVP awards.

He was not a great defensive catcher, but he was good for most of his career, and he handled lots of successful pitchers, including the most successful reliever in baseball history.

Longevity matters to Hall of Fame voters and Posada caught 1,574 games, ninth among Hall of Fame catchers. Durability matters in evaluating catchers. Posada had eight seasons catching more than 130 games, one behind Carter, same as Fisk, one ahead of Bench and Berra, and more than all the other Hall of Fame catchers. Rick Ferrell, a mediocre hitter who’s in the Hall of Fame primarily for his defense, caught more than 130 games only three times. Ernie Lombardi never caught 130 games in a season. (The seasons were eight games shorter then, but Lombardi caught 120 games only twice.) Rodríguez, who holds the record for most games caught, had six seasons with 130 or more games caught. Same with Piazza. So only one catcher in the Hall of Fame, or likely to get there, was more durable behind the plate, handling a big catching load year after year.

Think about that: Only two catchers in history won more world championships than Posada. Only one Hall of Fame catcher was across the board better in the Triple Crown categories, and he stacks up well with the Hall of Fame catchers in all three categories and several more offensive categories. He was more durable behind the plate than nearly all the Hall of Fame catchers. It’s tough to picture a catcher who wasn’t a Yankee doing all that and not ending up with a plaque in Cooperstown. But I don’t think Posada will make it there.

Anti-Yankee bias is always a factor when a candidate such as Posada comes up for Hall of Fame voting. In addition to Munson, several other Yankees who are being denied entry to Cooperstown have stronger cases than Posada: Roger MarisDon MattinglyRon Guidry, and Tommy JohnGraig Nettles has a similar case (Allie Reynolds, too, though I haven’t written about him yet).

Given the strong case for at least two contemporaries and the strong and consistent anti-Yankee bias of Hall of Fame voters, I think Posada is a long shot to get the recognition he deserves in the Hall of Fame.


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13 01 2013
A champion like Bernie Williams would be a sure Hall of Famer in football or basketball « Hated Yankees

[...] already noted that Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada probably won’t make Cooperstown, but they would be strong contenders if baseball worked like [...]

2 11 2013
Wrapping up the 2013 season: Congrats to Red Sox, Mo, Pettitte | Hated Yankees

[…] The dynasty of the ’90s was built heavily on homegrown talent: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie […]

15 12 2013
Joe Torre should have made the Hall of Fame as a player | Hated Yankees

[…] as McCann will be for the Yankees, and he topped 30 homers four times, 40 once. If McCann matches Jorge Posada‘s years at the same age, this will be a great deal for the Yankees. Their 20s were pretty […]

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