How do you assess the chances of a catcher who has the worst patch of his career by far at age 30-31 and immediately follows it up with the best 2 year patch of his career by far? Will the real Javy Lopez please stand up?
Javy was signed by the Braves as an amateur free agent the day after his 17th birthday. Like Posada, he spent a long period in the minors- a year in rookie ball, two years in A ball, and a year each in double A and triple A. When he arrived in the majors in 1994, the Braves already had 4 consecutive division titles under their belts, and he was weaned into the lineup slowly. Posada was "blocked" by Joe Girardi; in Lopez' case, it was Damon Berryhill, another member of the League of Unmemorable Catchers. Lopez immediately hit with power, and for a good average, while flashing a fine throwing arm. His transition to the majors was undoubtedly made easier by the Braves' superb and experienced pitching staff.
Lopez followed up his career year in 2003, with a solid .316/.370/.503 campaign for Baltimore in 2004, and had over 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career. At this point, he has caught 1238 games in the majors.
What are Lopez' chances of a Hall of Fame career? Choosing comparables is difficult. He has the light-early use career pattern of Posada, Fisk and Hartnett with the performance levels of Freehan and Carter. Freehan is considered by many to be a viable Hall of Fame candidate, and I'd say that Lopez is roughly where Freehan was at this stage of his career (a little ahead on performance, a fair bit behind on playing time). If Lopez can continue at his career level for another 500 catching games, I think that he'll sneak into the Hall. I'd say that his chances are maybe 40% of doing that.
Here's the chart of comparables:
Player G AB H HR W BA OBP SLUG G. CAUGHT(AT 33) OPS+
Lopez 1306 4582 1331 237 318 .290 .341 .502 132 115
Fisk 1174 4198 1186 169 427 .283 .356 .471 92 125
Hartnett 1357 4420 1285 176 484 .291 .364 .491 129 124
Carter 1828 6586 1769 291 722 .269 .342 .456 135 120
Freehan 1703 5836 1527 195 614 .262 .341 .413 113 113