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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jorge Posada and Catchers of his Era

What if I told you it was Posada and not Jeter that was the engine that drove the Yankee dynasty?

Last week when Jorge Posada went to Joe Girardi and asked out of the lineup, ESPN grabbed the story and ran with it. Regardless of how the organization felt about the situation, it's clear Posada is struggling. Going into that game was only hitting .165 and had lost his catching duties.  What do you do with a DH who can't hit?  The Yankees are trying to work their way around this situation while remaining loyal to one of the key cogs in their latest dynasty.  Who knows if Posada will start hitting but I'm guessing the Yankees have a deadline in mind in which they expect results or he'll be asked to retire/be released.
Anyway, all this hoopla got me thinking about what a great player Posada has been. Is he a hall of famer? My gut says no but with all those postseason appearances I wouldn't rule it out. Where does he rank in terms of catchers all time? That's a loaded question especially since his career hasn't ended (officially) yet. How does he rank among catchers of his era? That's a question that I'm not afraid to tackle. Using Baseball-reference's readily available data, I went and ranked catchers of the past thirty years in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR - quite possibly the best statistic there is in determining how valuable a player is in any given season).
Here's the top 10 in career WAR when only considering games from 1980-2010:

  1. Ivan Rodriguez 67.7
  2. Mike Piazza 59.1
  3. Jorge Posada 46.1
  4. Gary Carter 45.2
  5. Joe Mauer 38.7
  6. Jason Kendall 38.1
  7. Carlton Fisk 32.9
  8. Lance Parrish 30.5
  9. Terry Steinbach 27.9
  10. Javy Lopez 27.9
No real surprises on this list but there are a couple of observations I'd like to note. First, it's easy to forget what a great player Jason Kendall was in Pittsburgh. Lately he's been wandering around the league while barely hitting, just hoping to keep a job due to his "veteran presence."  Also, the fact that Joe Mauer is already fifth should help us recognize that we're watching a historical talent.  Jorge grades out very well here, coming in third behind two of the greatest at the position of all time.
This next list is career WAR divided by 162 games played.
  1. Joe Mauer 7.50
  2. Mike Piazza 5.01
  3. Gary Carter 4.58
  4. Ivan Rodriguez 4.39
  5. Jorge Posada 4.36
  6. Chris Hoiles 4.24
  7. Victor Martinez 4.07
  8. Brian McCann 3.89
  9. Carlton Fisk 3.43
  10. Darren Daulton 3.11
I chose to divide by 162 for a couple of reasons. First, since it's such a grueling position, catchers rarely play a full season.  Second it helps see how effective each player was when he did play. Mauer's 7.50 is an incredible number. For reference, it's widely accepted that a value of 8.00 is an MVP-type season. The fact that he is just short of averaging that for his career thus far is really amazing. Keep in mind that although he seems to be injured each season, Mauer hasn't yet hit his decline phase.  This isn't the case for Ivan Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk who each take a bit of a hit here because they were able to hang on for such a long time. On the contrary, Darren Daulton and Chris Hoiles are slightly buoyed since their careers ended prematurely due to significant injuries.  Again, Posada grades out pretty well falling only behind Gary Carter who is already in the Hall of Fame while Pudge and Piazza are locks (Mauer's looking better all the time). 
The final ranking I've used is what I call their peak ranking. I like to take a player's five best consecutive seasons to see how they performed when they were playing consistently at their best. Here's how Jorge stacks up using this measurement (again this is since 1980):
  1. Joe Mauer 38.6
  2. Mike Piazza 32.7
  3. Gary Carter 31.6
  4. Ivan Rodriguez 29.4
  5. Jorge Posada 24.5
  6. Jason Kendall 20.9
  7. Mickey Tettleton 20.8
  8. Chris Hoiles 18.8*
  9. Darren Daulton 18.2
  10. Lance Parrish 18.1
*Victor Martinez put up 17.7 from 2004-2008 but that includes his 2008 season in which he played in only 73 games due to injury. If you subtract that season and replace it with 2009 he earned 19.6 WAR.
**Carlton Fisk's five best consecutive seasons occurred from 1974-1978 where he accumulated 22.8 WAR.

Again, Posada comes in behind the top four catchers of his era.  I'm not sure if all this helps or hurts Posada's future Hall of Fame campaign but it does help shed some light on how he compares with other players at his position.  I think this proves he was never a top-tier catcher but instead he was consistently one of the better players in the American League, further establishing his significance in the last Yankee dynasty.
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