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I promised to look at Alfonso Soriano's career next, but after sober second thought, it seemed to me that his mark will be made as a power-hitting #3 hitter rather than as a leadoff hitter. We really need another year or two to see how he does at it, before examining his Hall chances.

So, instead, I thought that I would take a look back at my Hall Watch series of 2 years ago to see how the players are doing. We will start with the catchers- Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada, and Javy Lopez.

Ivan Rodriguez

In 2004, at age 32, Rodriguez had a big year hitting .334/.383/.510 and led the Tigers to a 29 game improvement in the standings. I compared Pudge with Ted Simmons, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter and concluded:

"Pudge’s career path is more favorable than any of his peers here. He’s hitting as well as ever, if not better. My guess is that he’ll follow the Yogi career path and catch between 250-300 more games. However, his slow steady improvement with the stick will, in my opinion, lead to a productive end of career as a DH. Pudge’s career line, using the Green projection method:

.297/.350/.488, 375 homers, 1450 runs scored, 1550 runs driven in

With his defensive skill, he’s basically achieved Johnny Bench’s career already. When he’s done, I don’t think that there will be any question who the greatest catcher is."

After a less impressive year in 2005, Pudge had a fine year in 2006 leading the Tigers back to the World Series. His bat has fallen off the last 2 years; this year's .300/.332/.437 performance was almost exactly league average hitting. His defence though remains outstanding. Each of the past 2 years, he has thrown out over 50% of runners attempting to steal. He also deserves some credit for the development of the Tigers' young pitchers- Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson and Zumaya.

He has now caught over 1900 games. Bob Boone and Carlton Fisk each caught 2200 games, and Rodriguez has a chance to catch them. I still think that he is going to be seen as the greatest catcher ever when he hangs up his spikes, although it may be that his end of career may be more like Boone and Fisk than like Yogi Berra. At this point, it does not matter much.

Mike Piazza

In 2004, I said that "There has not been a catcher who has hit as well as Piazza. Not even close". After an off year in 2005 and a .283/.342/.502 campaign at age 37, that is still true. He has now caught an additional 200 games, for a total over 1600. A catcher with good career length, who hits like Willie Stargell. That's Piazza. He is an easy Hall of Famer.

Jorge Posada

In 2004, Posada had hit .275 with power and 80 walks a season for 5 years running. I said:

"Posada needs to have 3-5 years like the past 5, and 2-3 respectable ones to have a Hall of Fame career. That is the Fisk/Hartnett route to the Hall. Javy Lopez, as we shall see next, is in about the same situation. My guess is that one of the two will make it, and if forced to choose, I'd say Posada."

Posada has now put in 2 more very good years, with last year's .274/.374/.492 a little better than 2005. His defence remains solid.

So, where is he? If his career ended now, he would be and should be on the outside looking in. But, he has now caught over 1200 games with an OPS+ of 122. I have been unable to find a catcher with those qualifications after his age 34 season who is not in the Hall of Fame. Ernie Lombardi is close. Bill Freehan, Elston Howard, Wally Schang and Walker Cooper don't make it. Can somebody find a catcher who's equal to Posada at age 34 on both counts and not in the Hall of Fame? Anyways, his closest comparable players now are Carlton Fisk, Roy Campanella, Mike Lieberthal and Gabby Hartnett. He's a lot more like the 3 greats than Lieberthal. I say that he needs 300-400 more games as a catcher, with a fairly gentle decline in offensive performance, to make it. At this point, the likely boundaries of Posada's career are Bill Freehan and Carlton Fisk. Freehan has a pretty good Hall case himself, and if Posada ends up with a more impressive career, he should get in.

Javy Lopez

In 2004, Lopez had come off a .316/.370/.503 year in Baltimore. At age 32 and with 1200 games under his belt, here is what I said of him:

"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."

After two poor seasons, you'd have to say that the odds are against Lopez. His first three BBRef comparables are Hall of Famers, but in truth, he's a lot closer to Lance Parrish than to Fisk, Hartnett and Campanella. He has made one comeback already, and he will need another one to have any kind of a shot at glory, and that at this point is fairly unlikely.

I guess I did pretty well with the catchers. But, believe me, there were a few projections at other positions which look pretty ridiculous. Next week, we'll have a look at how I did with the first basemen, and turn our gaze to Todd Helton who we passed on last time.
Hall Watch 2006 Update-The Catchers | 11 comments | Create New Account
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Magpie - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 05:14 AM EDT (#157216) #
I guess I did pretty well with the catchers.

I'll say.

So I am, somewhat reluctantly, fitting the notion that "Ivan Rodriguez is the greatest catcher of all time" into my mental universe. I fear that it's not quite taking, but it does demand consideration. At their respective peaks, I'll accept that Rodriguez' defense is comparable to Johnny Bench. But Bench at his best was a pretty stupendous offensive force. Bench was nowhere near as consistent as Pudge, but the heights he hit were pretty clearly higher.

For the greatest catcher ever in terms of overall career value, Berra is really the only other man with a case. Yogi was quite clearly a superior hitter - Rodriguez has been good, but Berra was better. Their defense is much harder to assess, obviously. Pudge throws as well as anyone who ever played the position (which means he throws as well as Bench) -  whereas while Berra was fine, no one was much interested in stealing bases in the 1950s. Rodriguez is getting credit now for his work with the young Detroit pitchers, and so he should - but this was not  regarded as one of his strengths earlier in his career. Not that he may have had much to work with in Texas. But Berra's ability to coax outstanding work out of pitchers (the ones who were not named Whitey Ford, who was legitimately a great pitcher), a bunch of guys who were never any good at all except when they were working with Berra, remains one of the secrets to the Yankees amazing run in the 1950s, and one of the Great Mysteries of Baseball History.

So I think I'm sticking with Yogi. For now.

As for Piazza, I had my Piazza moment this summer when I discovered I actually had to take seriously the prospect that a career catcher might hit 500 career home runs (Piazza's now 81 short, and he turned 38 last month.)  I still can't quite believe it. He's probably not going to get there, of course, but the fact that the conversation is even possible...  it's simply astonishing. And he's spent his entire career in some of the worst hitter's parks in the game, too. What an amazing player he has been.
Mike Green - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 10:16 AM EDT (#157218) #
I promise to look at Rodriguez vs. Bench and Berra in great depth when Pudge retires.  I will give a taste of my thinking though now.  In my view, Ivan Rodriguez is the best defensive catcher who has ever played the game.  Full stop.  Better than Bench.  Better than Carter. 

Bench obviously looked more impressive gunning out runners, but he wasn't as effective at it, even during his best years 1970-1976, as Rodriguez was during his peak from 1996-2002.  Bench threw out 220 out of 467 prospective basestealers, or 47%.  Rodriguez threw out 256 out of 480 prospective thiefs or 53%.  Basestealers in the National League during Bench's prime were 2% less successful on average than those in the American League during Rodriguez' prime.  Contrary to our (or at least my) memory, significantly more thefts were attempted in the American League of Rodriguez' prime than of Bench's.  If one looks at over their careers, it is simply no contest.  Rodriguez has now sustained that level of defensive greatness into his mid 30s.  Bench had lost his much of his defensive ability due to injury by age 32 and was converted to third base the following year. 

It is true that,at his peak, Bench's combination of offence and defence was better than Rodriguez'.  That's probably true of Campanella as well

In addition to throwing superbly, Rodriguez moves well behind the plate, positions himself well and handles pitchers well.  Rodriguez is the Ozzie Smith of catchers.  He hits somewhat better, although Ozzie was a good hitter especially for a shortstop, and Rodriguez in my view has saved his teams as many runs with his glove to this point as Ozzie had at age 34.

The Rodriguez/Berra discussion is a very interesting one, perhaps like comparing Ozzie Smith to Alan Trammell or Barry Larkin.  As Yogi last caught 70 games in a season at age 34, it is probably better to save this comparison for Rodriguez' retirement.

ayjackson - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 10:48 AM EDT (#157220) #

If Lopez or Posada make it to the Hall, I'll spit.  It may be irrational, but my gut says no.  Maybe too much importance is being placed here on the position they play.  They should not only be amongst the best at their position, but they should be comfortably mentioned alongside the greats of the game.  Though I'll admit, I've not given a lot of thought to these matters before.

In an aside, Jeff Blair has taken a rather venomous swipe at Jeff Suppan and the religious right.  Here's hoping that JP isn't targeting Suppan in FA.  Though with his postseason performance, he's probably going to join the ranks of the overpaid.


AWeb - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 10:52 AM EDT (#157221) #

I've always wondered: has Piazza been so terrible (or perhaps more fairly, not good enough) defensively that his overwhelming advantage as a hitter over the rest of the catchers doesn't put him in the all-time best discussion? As a hitter, Piazza has a career OPS+ the same as Alex Rodriguez, better than Sheffield (who is the same age).

I've never had a good sense how much catcher defense is worth, but is it really that much?

Mike Green - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 11:12 AM EDT (#157224) #
It's widely agreed that catchers and shortstops hold the two most important defensive positions.  Most analysts, I believe, consider that shortstop's defence is slightly more important.  There have been shortstops (Rabbit Maranville) and second basemen (Bill Mazeroski) elected to the Hall of Fame essentially on the basis of their gloves, although Maz could hit a little. 

I know that Jorge Posada is not considered "one of the greats".  He gets 1/20 of the publicity of Derek Jeter, and 1/4 of the publicity of Gary Sheffield, but he is a great player.  Our perceptions (including my own) are often skewed.  That is why players such as Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and (I fear) Tim Raines do not get the recognition that they deserve.

Magpie - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 01:51 PM EDT (#157232) #
Basestealers in the National League during Bench's prime were 2% less successful on average than those in the American League during Rodriguez' prime.

Now - and here is a point in Pudge's favour - I presume you're using league totals. As it happens, Bench's own team, the Reds, were the best base-stealing outfit in the NL for most of Bench's prime. The guys Bench was dealing with weren't as good. So I crunched a few numbers!

In the 1970-76 period, NL teams excluding the Reds attempted 134 stolen bases every 162 games. They were successful 87 times (65%).
Bench permitted 43 stolen bases and threw out 38 runners attempting to steal. Overall stolen bases attempts against him were 60% of what they were against the other teams.

In the 1996-2002 period, AL teams excluding the Rangers attempted 142 stolen bases every 162 games, and were successful 98 times (69%).
Rodriguez permitted 42 stolen bases and threw out 48 runners attempting to steal. Overall stolen bases attempts against him were 63% of what they were against the other teams.

This is such a difficult question to look at - None But the Brave would even attempt to steal a base when Bench or Rodriguez were behind the plate. Bench played the majority of his games on artificial turf, which ought to help base stealers a little. Hell, the quality of base stealers from era to era is not particularly constant.

Such evidence as we can glean suggests that Bench had a slightly more intimidating impact on the opposition insofar as actually discouraging stolen base attempts. But Rodriguez was even better at taking enemy runners off the basepaths and sending them back to the dugout. Which is a far bigger deal. As great as Bench was at throwing out runners, Pudge has been even better.
Mike Green - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 02:39 PM EDT (#157239) #
Thanks, Magpie, for the significant refinements. 
Jim - Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 09:01 PM EDT (#157245) #
Posada ends up with a more impressive career, he should get in.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a 'big' Hall person.  I think that the Yankees of the late 90's are going to be very interesting to see how they are handled.  I have probably seen at least 1,500 Yankee games since the playoff run began in 1995.  Posada's career numbers are a bit tempered by the fact that Torre didn't let him loose and play him every day early in his career.  My eyes tell me that his defense is actually improving and 2006 was his best defensive season yet.  I am very statisically inclined and I take the idea of leadership and intangibles with a grain of salt.  Even with my preconcieved notions, Posada has been the probably the third or fourth most important Yankee over the past dozen years and has a value to the franchise which is greater then just his statistical output.   I think that Posada and Bernie Williams will be very interesting cases that will be debated well into the future, I know that in my mind they should be both be enshrined.
Mike Green - Friday, October 27 2006 @ 04:48 PM EDT (#157255) #
Incidentally, there is a fascinating piece on catcher defence by Tangotiger in the research section of retrosheet.  It doesn't cover Rodriguez' career and doesn't capture all of Bench's, but it does shine a valuable light on the situation.  Jim Sundberg and Rick Dempsey come out looking pretty well; that is, I suppose, not terribly surprising.

Hall Watch 2006 Update-The Catchers | 11 comments | Create New Account
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