Jorge Posada for the Hall

December 7, 2016
 
Bill once noted that the difference between sportswriters and sabermetrics is that a sportswriter starts their analysis with a position on the issue, while a sabermetrician starts with the question itself.
 
I’ve tried to hold to that ethos. I have tried, for the most part, to pursue the question instead of picking a corner and defending it to the death. I believe that the second mode of thinking is the better, more righteous path. I believe that true knowledge comes by asking questions, not by shouting declaratives.
 
You know where this is going, don’t you?
 
I’m dumping that ethos, just this once. For this article, that spirit of noble questioning is getting the boot. We’re taking a break, me and ‘the eternal question.’ Just for once, I'm  going full sportswriter. I’m breaking Bill’s cardinal rule and starting with a position, and I’m going to defend that position as loudly as I can. 
 
Jorge Posada should be in the Hall-of-Fame.
 
He is not a borderline candidate. He is not a ‘maybe.’ He is absolutely, unquestionably qualified to get a plaque in Cooperstown, and anyone who disagrees with this is an idiot.
 
Jorge Posada. Hall-of-Famer.
 
*             *             *
 
Just a brief aside before we get to the subject: I’ve decided to abandon the BJOL HOF voting that we’ve been running for a few years. I’m sure a few of you have been wondering when that would get posted, so I thought I’d offer some comments on why I’m giving that up.
 
Part of the reason I set that project up…maybe the main reason…was because I knew that the BBWAA ballot was going to be insanely crowded in the coming years, and I just didn’t want to look at it year after year. I knew that the BJOL readers were in agreement about Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell, and I didn’t want us to have to talk about them because those were the players that the BBWAA were talking about. I wanted us to have our own conversation.
 
While I enjoyed the voting, I don’t think I successfully encouraged a conversation to take place. That’s partially a formatting think, and partially because of my own inability to provide alternative spaces where those conversations could occur. In the article’s comments, people just posted their ballots, which was great, but we didn’t really get a conversation started.
 
At about the same time I started the BJOL HOF, one of the early readers on the site, Bob Gregory, was doing his own parallel Hall-of-Fame project…he was calling his project The Gallery of Renown.
 
I think, in retrospect, that the outline of his project was better than mine. Certainly, the GOR was a lot more carefully planned: my project was just a lark that went on for a bunch of years. More importantly, Bob’s project did a better job of fostering conversations than mine did. Partially, this was because Bob put a lot of effort into generating those conversations: I can remember many weeks, as the GOR got off the ground, when the message board would be crowded with fifteen ‘GOR’ articles with Bob’s name in the by-line.
 
Bob Gregory passed away this year. I didn’t have the fortune of meeting him in person, but I knew him from our many conversations over on the message boards of the site. He was a passionate baseball fan and a generous contributor to our community. He was also a man of remarkable courage and grace, and someone whose writing enriched my life. I’m sorry that he is no longer with us. I certainly miss his voice.
 
The Gallery of Renown was Bob’s pet project, and I’m very pleased that Terry (Ventboys) has taken over the project in Bob’s memory. So has Daniel. I’d like to be on board with that effort: I think it’s a fitting way to honor a man who gave a lot to this site, and I don’t want my own smaller endeavor to get in the way of it. I’m going to participate in the GOR, and I encourage all of you to do the same.
 
 Besides, the Gallery of Renown is a better name than the BJOL HOF.
 
*             *             *
 
Okay….back to the backstops.
 
Do me a favor: forget everything I posted in that opening paragraph. Ignore the title of the article, too. Just pretend that you know nothing about what I’m talking about. Clear your mind.
 
We’re going to look at two players.
 
You have no idea who these players are, so in the interest of anonymity I’ll call them ‘George’ and ‘Will’. You can make a political pundit out of that name…Will George. Let’s give him glasses. I bet he likes baseball.
 
Let’s look at Will and George. We’ll just look at them as hitters, and ignore all the other pesky stuff.  
 
Name
G
PA
Will
162
620
George
162
628
 
Oh…I should clarify how we’re looking at these two men. We’re not going to look at career numbers. We’re going to look at these guys on a per-162 game basis. Their careers, shortened to a single-season’s performance.
 
We’re not doing this, incidentally, to cover up some sizeable gap in the careers of these two men. Both had careers of the same duration: one guy player 1828 games, and the other guy played 1882 game. The same integers, with a couple at the back switched around. It’s just a bit easier to see them this way.
 
PA stands for plate appearances, not personal assistants. That would be a lot of personal assistants.
 
Name
R
RBI
Will
75
98
George
77
91
 
You hate these stats. I know you hate them. I don’t care. They’re even.
 
Hey….you know what else is even? The context that we’re looking at these two players. These aren’t their real batting stats: they are each player’s stats adjusted to a neutral run context. The always wonderful Baseball-Reference allows you to adjust a player’s career numbers to a neutral era, so that’s what we’re doing.
 
So what you’re looking at aren’t the actual stats of these two players, but their stats adjusted to a neutral context. Just want to point that out.
 
Name
Hits
Will
168
George
144
 
Ah…we get a gap between them! Our man Will collected 24 more hits a year than George. That’s a big difference. Let’s see where the gap is: 
 
Name
2B
3B
HR
Will
29
6
17
George
33
1
24
 
It’s not a gap in extra-base hits. George actually averaged a few more extra-base hits than Will, 58 to 52. So it’s gotta be the singles. Will should have a big edge in singles.
 
Name
1B
Will
116
George
86
 
That is a big difference. Thirty singles, even over a full season, is a lot. It correlates to about a thirty-point gap in batting average. The only way George can catch up to Will is for George to draw a bunch more walks…
 
Name
1B
BB
Will
116
58
George
86
81
 
…which he does. Will hits more singles, but George gets more extra-base hits and draws more walks.
 
Which means that their rate stats look alarmingly similar:
 
Name
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Will
.299
.368
.464
.832
George
.268
.368
.465
.833
 
Will has a gaudy batting average, but when you factor in walks and a few more extra-base hits, you’re looking at two equivalent hitters.
 
You have no idea who they are, right?

‘George’ is Jorge Posada. ‘Will’ is Bill Dickey.
 
*             *             *
 
You can do this with a lot of players. You can take Juan Pierre and jumble up his stats enough, and say that he looks like Ty Cobb. You can be really selective about the numbers, and if you work at it enough, you can show that Jack Cust was an equivalent hitter to Jack Clark, who was about as good as Will Clark.
 
But I didn’t have to search around looking through a lot of players to find one that fits. And I didn’t have to jumble the numbers any further than by just neutralizing them to adjust for the differences between 1930’s baseball and 2000’s baseball. All I did was think, for a second, which played in baseball’s long history was an obvious comparable to Jorge Posada. The first player I thought of was Bill Dickey.
 
It’s obvious why I thought of Bill Dickey first:  
 
-          Both men were career catchers. That’s reason #1. Catchers are just different than everyone else, and they just cannot be paralleled to guys at other positions.
 
-          Both men were career Yankees.
 
-          Both men won tons of baseball games. Bill Dickey played in eight World Series, winning seven. Posada, in the Divisional/Wild Card era, played in five World Series, winning three.
 
-          Both men were overshadowed by better, fancier teammates…Dickey lagged behind Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio, while Posada had Jeter and Rivera, along with a succession of superstars rolling into the Yankees clubhouse.
 
-          Both men played under HOF managers named ‘Joe.’ I don’t know that that matters too much, but it is a weird coincidence.  
 
-          Both men were overshadowed at their position. Dickey rated behind Cochrane and Hartnett, while Dickey never quite matched Mike Piazza’s ludicrous bat, or Ivan Rodriguez’s great defense.
 
-          Neither player ever really dominated their position. Dickey was a .300 hitter, but he was a .300 in an era of extremely high offenses. He never won a batting title, or came all that close. Posada hit a few dingers, but a lot of guys were hitting dingers in his heyday…he didn’t stand out.
 
Fun aside: while Dickey got a lot more MVP votes than Posada (finishing a distant 2nd on the 1936 ballot), Posada actually came a lot closer to winning an MVP: he finished 3rd in the 2003 vote, but it was one of those years where the votes were scattered widely: he got 5 first-place votes while the winner (A-Rod) got six. Carlos Delgado received five first-place votes, Ortiz got four, and Shannon Stewart landed on the top of three ballots. Ten guys actually received first-place votes in the AL race that year, and it ended up being something of a toss-up.
 
Anyway, it turns out that Posada and Dickey, at least as hitters, were more alike than even I assumed they’d be. Though Dickey has bigger numbers, a lot of that inflation is due to the high-scoring era that he played in, and the gaps between him and Posada on the batting average front are balanced out by Posada’s edges in walks and extra-base hits.
 
This doesn’t tell us that Posada was quite as good as Bill Dickey. The only thing it shows is that our intuitions are sometimes right. Sometimes they can be a shortcut: I didn’t have to start with the question: "What player is most like Jorge Posada," and then run through a billion spreadsheets to get an answer. I could just guess (the very obvious comparable to Posada is Bill Dickey) and check (when adjusted for the differences in eras, they are almost uncannily similar hitters).
 
Hey…saved me some time.
 
*             *             *
 
I am tempted, here, to post a bunch of numerical columns proving that Jorge Posada wasn’t just a good player, but in fact one of the best players on a team crowded with best players. I am tempted, too, to point out that the WAR metric seems to undervalue catchers, both year-to-year and by career accomplishment, and that Posada, rated against other catchers, does pretty good by the metric.
 
But I get tired of arguments based on math. It gets old. You want me to tell you why WAR demonstrates Posada’s worthiness? You want to me to tell you what Win Shares says? I’m not interested in doing that.
 
The reason I’m not interested in doing that is because it is a profoundly narrow way of understanding a complex thing. What is the Hall of Fame? Who does it exist for? Who deserves honor there? What are we meant to celebrate….greatness? What’s ‘greatness’, really?
 
We’re going to answer those questions with a WAR tally? Really?
 
Look: we’ve made great strides in our little corner of the baseball universe. We have done tremendous work. But those strides have absolutely narrowed our vision. I think WAR is perhaps the single best analytic measure that’s ever been created in baseball, and I also think that it’s very imperfect. I think that a lot of us who write or think about baseball have been a little too reliant on that brilliant stride forward. It’s a little like using the atomic bomb to regulate world politics…it’s impressive that we’ve invented it, but maybe we should consider diplomacy, too.
 
I say ‘a lot of us’ are guilty of using WAR like a cudgel. I’m guilty of it. I don’t want you thinking I’m standing on some moral high ground. I’m in the swamp with the rest of you.
 
My only point is that it blinds us.
 
In 1934 Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown. He hit 49 homers and drove in eleventy-billion runs. He had a WAR that would make Mike Trout jealous. That same year, Lefty Gomez won the pitcher’s Triple Crown: he went 26-5 with a 2.33 and 158 strikeouts.
 
The AL MVP Award went to a catcher who hit two homeruns. Gomez finished 3rd in the vote. Gehrig finished fifth.
 
We think that's a stupid selection. The current attitude, among those of us in saber-land, is that ‘most valuable’ means ‘the best player.’ Mike Trout is the most valuable player because he’s the best player. Suggesting that ‘value’ is different than ‘quality’ is libel to get you a hundred down-votes on the comments section at FanGraphs.
 
We’re arguing about consensus on what value means. But what we’re really arguing for is simplicity. We want an easy answer, so we’ve simplified the question. ‘Most valuable’ becomes ‘Best’ because we don’t want to tangle with the many possible interpretations of value. We don’t want to have to consider things that we cannot count. We don’t want to admit to the stuff we don’t know.
 
I think that the 1934 AL vote is one of the great triumphs of the MVP award. I love that Mickey Cochrane won the MVP over Gehrig. I think that’s brilliant. The voters gave credit to Cochrane’s work as the manager of the Tigers. They gave him credit for mustering his team into the World Series. Mickey Cochrane wasn’t within a country mile of being a better player than Lou Gehrig, but it seems imminently reasonable that the writers viewed him as the more valuable player, even if they were crediting him with things that had nothing to do with playing.  
 
That wouldn’t happen today. Today, the MVP goes to the one guy who leads the league in WAR, or to the one guy who comes close to the lead, and plays on a winning team.
 
I don’t know that this is any better. I don’t know that we do a better job of thinking broadly about what the MVP means than those writers in 1934. I think, in many ways, that we’re thinking about this less than we should.
 
*             *             *
 
How does this come back to Posada?
 
Jesus….I don’t know. Do I have to bring everything back to the start? Can’t I just ramble on and then call it a day?
 
I guess the way it relates is this. The wide-angle view of Jorge Posada’s career is much more compelling than the narrow view, and I’d urge you to consider his career through that wider lens.
 
The narrow lens is this: Jorge Posada tallied a career WAR of 43.8, which rates him 440th all-time, right next to Amos Otis. On this
year’s BBWAA ballot, Posada ranks 18th in career WAR, below such luminaries as J.D Drew and Mike Cameron. That is not impressive.
 
The wide lens is this: Jorge Posada was the catcher for the most recent Yankees dynasty. He had fifteen years when he saw significant playing times, and his team made the playoffs fifteen times….every single year. He wasn’t just a catcher: he was one of the best of his era. He couldn’t hit like Piazza, but he was a far better defensive player. He didn’t compare to Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish, but he out-hit Pudge by a wide margin (121 to 106 in OPS+). 
 
It is common, when people talk about Jeter Era Yankees, to discredit the accomplishments of individual players by saying that they got lucky with their teammates. Bernie Williams wasn’t really great…he just had good teammates. Same holds for Posada.
 
I have never found this a particularly convincing argument. You don’t get to be the catcher or centerfielder for the richest team in baseball by luck: you earn that. And you better keep earning it, or you’ll be replaced. Jorge Posada was good enough to keep his job for a decade and a half: to me that reads like the organization believed he was an integral part of the team’s success.  
 
How much did he really contribute to the success of those teams? I have no idea, and neither do you. Neither does a metric like WAR. WAR measures a player’s contributions with the bat and in the field, and attempts to understand those contributions within the context of other players in the league. That is a tremendous leap forward in our understanding. We can learn a lot from WAR.
 
But it obviously doesn’t tell us everything. In the case of Jorge Posada, and in the case of catchers in general, I think there are wide swaths of contributions and costs that WAR simply cannot access.
 
Actual wins matter. This seems like a taboo statement in an era where we care more about a team's Pythagorian W-L record than we do about their actual tally of wins and loses. Wins are the check that brings our far-reaching metrics back in line. If WAR tells us that the Cubs were the best team in baseball in 2016, we can buy it. But if WAR tries to make the case that the Padres were really great last year...well...that's going too far down the rabbit hole. 
 
I have always found it a fascinating parallel that the one team that has dominated baseball over the last century happens to be the one team that has dominated the catcher's position more than any other team in the live ball era. A list of the twenty best catchers in major league history will invariably include five Yankees: Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, and Posada. That's at least interesting, isn't it? That has to tell us something, doesn't it? 
 
All of those Yankees catchers played second- or third-fiddle to bigger stars: to Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio, to Mantle and Maris, to Reggie and Jeter and Mo. Maybe all those catchers were supporting players, but it seems interesting to note that the rare years when the Yankees struggled were usually years when the team didn’t have a reliable backstop.
 
Jorge Posada had fine teammates, but we make our own fortune in this life. Posada didn’t luck into his gig as the primary catcher for the best dynasty team I’ve ever seen. He earned that job, year in and year out.  
 
I am not certain of much, but I’m certain of this: our best yardsticks and equations, admirable as they are, have only scratched the surface of the true effect that a player like Jorge Posada has on a team. We are not yet perfect, and until we become perfect we should be hold lightly how much we think we know, and recognize the limits and borders of our shared vision.
 
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.  
 
 

COMMENTS (30 Comments, most recent shown first)

kgh
It is disheartening to see Posada fall of the HoF ballot after his first year of eligibility.

9:40 AM Jan 19th
 
DaveFleming
Well...you can probably see the flaws in that argument on your own. If we all missed recognizing Freehan as a candidate, that doesn't mean we should ignore Posada based on that precedent. This is the inverse of the argument that if Player X is in, Player Y should be in, too.

And I do think that Freehan has his supporters...and a legitimate case. He had a better career than a few catchers already in Coop.
12:59 PM Dec 10th
 
mrbryan
I would think the case for Posada would be more convincing if Bill Freehan were in the Hall of Fame, or if he was discussed frequently as being deserving of being in the Hall of Fame. They caught almost the same number of games (1581 for Freehan, 1574 for Posada). The offensive stats favor Posada, but not very heavily once one adjusts for the scoring context, and Freehan was a five-time gold glove winner. Freehan, though, popped up on the ballot once, got 0.5 percent of the vote, and was gone. I don't see why Posada deserves better.
9:18 AM Dec 9th
 
DaveFleming
That's a good point about Piazza: his poor defensive reputation mostly lies in his inability to hold runners on, or throw them out. But there's at least some evidence that he was a good pitch framer, or that he called a decent game.

A catcher's contribution to the half of each game when a team is playing defense go well beyond what they do in terms of passed balls, or framing, or throwing out runners. There's pitch calling, there's how successfully they communicate with the pitchers and the manager. There's how they read the batters in the box, and how they read the situations that unfold in a game. There is their judgement of the pitcher: how good are they at picking up when a certain pitch isn't working one day ('Moose's curve is hanging'), and how quickly do they adjust to that? How good of a sense do they have of a pitcher's fatigue? How good are they at remembering the varying strengths and weaknesses of the opposing hitters?

I think, for a lot of these categories, just sticking around helps. You get a better sense of what your manager wants to do, and what your pitchers are like, the longer you play with them. I think there's just a tremendous value added to having a Posada or a Tek or a Posey or a Yadi catch a team year after year, but that value isn't anything we can convincingly measure.
7:03 PM Dec 8th
 
MWeddell
Regarding Piazza, while one can objectively see that he was poor at throwing out runners attempting to steal, there is not a consensus that he was a terrible catcher. See for example the end of this article: www.billjamesonline.com/should_mike_piazza_be_in_the_hall_of_fame_/
3:59 PM Dec 8th
 
DaveFleming
I think Yadier will end up being one of those player whose career is judged very differently in twenty years than it is now. I would not be surprised if there is a massive re-assessment of his career when we get a better grasp of defensive metrics.

On the subject of Posada's defense: I am certainly in agreement that he wasn't lights-out as a defensive player, though I feel like it's worth noting that he wasn't really terrible, like Piazza. He managed to be a primary catcher until his last year with the Yanks, which suggests that he wasn't killing them on the defensive side.

My larger point is that there is a whole world of contributions to a team that catchers add that we have no way of counting, or really knowing anything about. If a catcher is bad at enough of those factors, the team will replace him. That holds doubly true for a team with a billion dollar budget. The fact that Posada wasn't ever really pushed off his position, at least for me, seems like a big challenge to the notion that he wasn't a good defensive player. Yeah, he wasn't good on passed balls, and maybe he didn't call a great game, and maybe he had trouble with holding on to high pitches...but I think that if those limits were really costing the team, or if they weren't being offset by some positive contribution Posada was making, he would have been dealt away, or at least pushed to first base or OF.
2:52 PM Dec 8th
 
MWeddell
Kudos on DaveFleming's last comment. I felt like I learned something not just about Posada but about that style of argument for other players possibly brought into the game as pinchhitters.
9:22 AM Dec 8th
 
steve161
Could not agree more with Dave's assessment of the importance of the catcher and the impossibility of measuring it, but it's a better argument for Yadier Molina than it is for Jorge Posada.

My lasting mental image of Posada is of his pitch calls being shaken off by Andy Pettitte.
9:11 AM Dec 8th
 
DaveFleming
On the very small point that Posada's teams had a lower winning percentage when he was in the game than when he was out of the game...this is factually true, but we shouldn't read into it too much.

All catchers have a lot of games in which they are brought in to pinch hit. If a catcher has 142 'games' in a season, probably 120 of those will be starts, with the rest being late-inning substitutions.

When Posada started in a game, the Yankees W-L percentage was .602, which is almost exactly the same as the team's overall W-L record (.604).

It's his substitute appearances that skew the numbers, and make him look bad. The team had a winning percentage of just .385 in games that Posada entered as a substitute. You can probably guess why: the team would be bringing him in when they were behind, hoping he'd spark a comeback. That's why his W-L record looks worse than the team's overall W-L record.


11:25 PM Dec 7th
 
JackKeefe
Others have mentioned it, but Posada was not a good defensive catcher. Posada led the league in passed balls twice, and came in second five other times, and it was not like he was trying to catch Hoyt Wilhelm. Posada had a particular problem catching the high fastball, and he had a reputation for being one of the worst pitch framers of all time. At the beginning of his career he platooned with Joe Girardi, who had no stick but was at least solid defensively, and by the end of his career he was more of a DH than a backstop. He threw well enough, and he seemed to call a good game, or least he had a good rapport with his pitchers, but if Posada was going to be that mediocre defensively, he needed to hit like Piazza to merit HOF consideration, and he didn't.
8:42 PM Dec 7th
 
337
"You gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls."[
7:02 PM Dec 7th
 
astros34
Here's my contribution to not-picking at this excellent article:

" Both men were overshadowed at their position. Dickey rated behind Cochrane and Hartnett, while Dickey never quite matched Mike Piazza’s ludicrous bat, or Ivan Rodriguez’s great defense."

I think the second "Dickey" is supposed to be "Posada."
6:21 PM Dec 7th
 
DaveFleming
Here's an anecdotal little story that I thought about after I posted this, and wished I had put in. Just a little story.

I've played on a fast-pitch softball team since I moved down here. It was a lower-grade team associated with one of the Wellington clubs: you have a high-level teams that compete in international tournaments, and then a few lower grades. We were the 'social' grade, though occasionally we'd end up playing with (and against) guys from higher grades. We'd play every Saturday.

For the first three years I played on the team, we didn't win. I don't think we ever made the playoffs, or ever finished with a winning record. At the end of the year you have a party in the club rooms where everyone drinks and trophies are handed out, and the managers of the teams talk about how the team did. Our manager would get up and say we had a good time. Looking ahead to next year. Who's getting the next round.

Fourth year? We didn't lose a game. We ran the table on the league. Ended the regular season at the top of the table and won through the playoffs. The final was a blowout.

What changed?

The guys on the team didn't really change...not really. Actually, a few of our better players didn't play nearly as much. Our best player something of a down year, and some of our other best players just couldn't make it to as many games. If anything, we were putting out a lesser team than we had in years past.

What changed...really...is that we got a catcher.

For the first three years, we didn't have a catcher....we sort of rotated through a string of guys, exerting pressure on whoever we could convince to do the job. Damien, you're catching. Damien's not here? Joe, grab a mask. Joe and Damien are fishing....looks like Cox is our catcher.

In that fourth year, one of our lesser players just said "Hey guys, I'll be the catcher." He was terrible at it, at least at the start. He had this new, shiny glove, and he could not catch the ball. We had a lot of strikeouts where he's drop the third strike and have to throw to first. We gave our opponents a lot of free base runners that way, but we won our games. And he got a little better at catching, and then our pitcher got better.

Was that the difference? If I asked anyone on the team, I doubt that they'd pick 'getting a steady catcher' as the reason we went from scuffling to winning. Our catcher wasn't anything of a hitter, and it's not like he turned into Johnny Bench behind the plate. He just answered a question we had been fumbling with for years.

But it did change our team. The guys who would come to the game wondering whether or not they'd get forced into catching didn't have to worry about it. The manager didn't have to finagle someone into the gear. The pitcher knew who he was going to warm up with before the game started. All of us, collectively, stopped having to worry about it.

* * *

I think that one of the under-discussed reasons for the Yankees success is that they have almost always been able to answer the question of who is catching. I think of the catching position as a sort of domino for a team: once you can answer THAT part of the team, other things fall into place. Is 'domino' the right word? You figure out a catcher, and then you can figure out other stuff.

And the catcher's position has tremendous value to how a team operates. Jason Varitek wasn't one of the five best Red Sox on the '04 or '07 teams in terms of on-field production, but he was almost certainly one of the five most valuable guys on those team. He was the conduit between the manager's office and the pitchers. He was the guy calling the balls and strikes. He was the guy recording information that no one else on the diamond can see, and relaying that information to his teammates and his manager.

We don't credit catchers with that aspect, because how on earth could we? What are we supposed to count? How do we include it in our equations for WAR?

We can't count it...but it still matters. It matters that Jorge Posada was the guy that Torre could pencil into the catcher's slot for the Yankees, just like it mattered that Francona knew that Tek would be the guy behind the plate most of the time. They provided a continuity to their teams that went far beyond being the name on in the lineup card.

That stuff is overlooked these days. These days, we're too busy sorting through spreadsheets to think about what it means for a team to have one catcher who they can rely on, game after game and year after year.

Catchers have short careers and numbers that are diminished by the demands of the position. They also contribute to the success of a baseball team in ways that we seldom notice and cannot quantify, so we just ignore it unless the player is so staggeringly great (Piazza) that we have to recognize them.

People are going to makes cases this year for players like Larry Walker and Vlad Guerrero and Fred McGriff. Almost no one, I think, is going to make the same case for Jorge Posada. I think that's a mistake.
5:27 PM Dec 7th
 
pgaskill
337: ;-)
2:01 PM Dec 7th
 
rstattler1
I agree with the premise here. I'm no less of a stats nerd than the average BJOL reader, but we do make this too complicated sometimes. The Hall should give extra consideration to the best players on greatest dynasties. It's the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance factor. That should be enough to get Posada (and Bernie Williams) in there.
1:58 PM Dec 7th
 
Brian
When Bill wrote years ago about how many runs Ozzie Smith saved, he did a detailed accounting of the Cardinals runs allowed and made an argument that the number was being greatly exaggerated. I think it was in the 1982 Abstract. I think we may be running into the same situation here, but from the other end of the spectrum. Can the Yankees have been as successful as they were with below average defensive players at the two most important positions? Well, yes, of course. Especially if the offensive contributions of the two players outweigh their defensive liabilities. But if the runs they supposedly allow gets to be too big a number, it becomes much harder to reconcile. If you are going to say Jeter cost the team 30 runs in a year defensively and Posada 30 runs as well, then it becomes hard to reconcile with the Yankees run prevention success. Not trying to say anyone is asserting those specific numbers, but just using a hypothetical to point out that there is an upper limit on how much these liabilities could have hurt the team.
1:47 PM Dec 7th
 
ventboys
I like Gary's (Fletch) analogy about metrics (like WAR and Winshares) and trees. The way I would express it would be that WAR is a tremendous tool for seeing the trees in a forest. To analyze the trees, though, you need a finer focus and the ability to see from several different angles.

WAR can be a useful tool in deeper analysis as well - do the close-in analysis and generate a number (a detailed tree, expressed according to a numerical convention), then pull back out where you can see that "tree" in relation to the other trees - but the user has to be careful not to assume accuracy - exactness - that the evidence does not support.

For example, the element of luck is everywhere, and it's possible no sample size can lower the luck factor below statistical significance. It would be a Nobel Prize-worthy mathematical feat just to calculate the luck factor itself to a level of accuracy worth using.

As a secondary analogy - not as good as the first one, but it goes with it - trees don't always look the same close up as they do from a distance. Using position adjustments creates most of these illusions, I think. Sooner or later some smart mathematician is going to figure out how to replace position adjustments, and Voros McCracken will be old news. Well, unless Voros McCracken is the guy who does it.
12:40 PM Dec 7th
 
337
I don't know how "brilliant" it is that "The voters gave credit to Cochrane’s work as the manager of the Tigers." Seems kinda dumb to me.
12:21 PM Dec 7th
 
shinsplint
Intriguing comparison, Dave. It reminds me of a post I did here comparing Edgar Martinez to Harry Heilmann, with the intent of illustrating Edgar's value compared to a HOF'er.

In regards to Posada not lucking into his role as the primary catcher for a great team, yes that shouldn't be downplayed. Players on teams like that have to always be prepared, as they play a lot of significant games. But I'm also reminded of when Bill mentioned that it's probably only on a team like the Yankees that Jeter's defense could be overlooked. His rationale was that on a winning team, it is assumed that they couldn't be successful if Jeter's defense was as bad as "they" say, so the focus becomes on his hitting and intangibles. I think probably one could say the same for Posada's defense. And Mickey Mantle's for much of his career, for that matter.
12:13 PM Dec 7th
 
chuck
I went through Posada’s game logs from 1997 through 2011, the time when he was playing significant time during the Yankees’ seasons, and logged the wins and losses when he was and wasn’t playing. I also counted as “wasn’t playing” any game in which he didn’t play at least half the game.

The overall NYY record during this period:
1465-961 (.604)
That’s an average of 98-64 in 162 games. A pretty remarkable run.

Games with Posada (and these include any DH games):
991-672 (.596)
That’s an average of 96-66 over 162 games.

Games without Posada (as mentioned, include those with less than 5 innings):
474-289 (.621)
That’s an average of 101-59.

Ouch. Well, it’s not apparent from this that he was indispensable to their success, despite his above-average performance. It’s possible that the higher winning pct. when he wasn’t playing might reflect some games where an ace pitcher had a personal catcher that was not Posada, though that wouldn’t garner him anything positive, either. It's also likely that there were a few games in the "without Posada" group in which he did appear and contributed to a win.
11:58 AM Dec 7th
 
Gfletch
Enjoyed the article, Dave. The arguments about WAR never end. Honestly, I have the same problem with Win Shares, or any method that attempts to sum up what we can measure about player productivity…not that the method isn’t useful, ‘cause I think it is (for ranking careers along a common scale). I just think that, unfortunately, both methods mostly obscure the details.

Actually WAR and Win Shares are also useful when examining large groups of players for the purpose of looking at more general questions. Because sometimes the details obscure the whole. Bill had an article where he used the old analogy of not being able to see the forest for the trees. WAR and Win Shares are good estimates of the size of the forest. But they tell you very little about the different kinds of trees there, about the terrain and how difficult it might be to log the forest, about the animals that live there, about size of the watershed…about a million different things.

I would be fine with Posada in the Hall of Fame. I am fine with comparing him to Dickey. I think of Dickey as a second wave HOFer…a terrific player just short of superstardom. Lots of room in my HOF for guys like that.

11:11 AM Dec 7th
 
ventboys
Great article, Dave - but I'm bummed that you don't want to continue your Hall of Fame series. I know some people get a little weary of all the Hall of Fame conversation, but I'm certainly not one of them. Your version of the Hall of Fame voting actually inspired Bob's version, not the other way around. Bob's GOR is like the American League to your National League.

Regarding Posada, I agree to an extent. I think, once you take the air out of his stats - PED era - and account for his good fortune in landing with the Yankees, he's not far from Munson and the group ahead of Elston Howard. He's a D in my particular analysis, and probably not a strong D, but he would be a worthy choice. I'd vote for him ahead of Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker, and he should probably rank ahead of Kenny Lofton ... but that sort of comparison is hard to quantify, hence it's hard defend effectively.
10:37 AM Dec 7th
 
OldBackstop
Jorge matches up well with The Dark Lord in the power categories, too.

Over 162, feeble church lady Derek averages 15 HRs, 77 RIBS, and an .817 OPS, Posada was 24, 94, .848.
10:20 AM Dec 7th
 
337
Also Berra didn't play second-fiddle to anyone. He was the Yankees' #1 star for most of the early part of his career, and a co-equal to Mantle and Ford for the second part. They had bigger individual seasons from time to time, but over that period he was as big a star as any Yankee.
9:37 AM Dec 7th
 
MWeddell
There is some evidence that Posada's defense was quite bad. For example: www.baseballprospectus.com/card/card.php?id=1602

I'm disappointed to see the end of the BJOL HOF. I'd participated in it nearly every year and it felt like this website's project, not a project dominated just by the message board regulars. It's hard to feel much connection to the other various hypothetical HOF projects unless one is part of the initial wave of participants. Not that I blame you, Dave, for stopping it if you've run out of enthusiasm for it.
9:07 AM Dec 7th
 
337
pgaskill: according to Henry Wiggen, "libel" is correct.
8:38 AM Dec 7th
 
337
Speaking for the idiots, and the Yankee-haters, did you mention defense anywhere? Dickey had a great rep (learned Yogi all his experience) while Posada did not.
8:37 AM Dec 7th
 
tangotiger
If you list your top 2 catchers all time, you'll find him in the top 5 here:
bbref.com/pi/shareit/V6zB9

If you list your top 5 catchers all time, he'll be in the top 10 above.

If you list your top 10 all time, he'll be in the top 20 above.

That's as good as you should want in a metric.
8:25 AM Dec 7th
 
pgaskill
Oops. Guess I should read the whole article before picking my picky comments to submit:

Imminently => eminently.

Still a great article as usual.
8:20 AM Dec 7th
 
pgaskill
Picky catch of the day: It's "liable," not "libel." Otherwise, great article as usual.
8:07 AM Dec 7th
 
 
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