With or Without Yo(gi)

January 13, 2017
 
Jorge Posada had a long and successful career with the New York Yankees. In my last article I argued that his career was worthy of a plaque in the Hall-of-Fame. A central part of my argument was that the Yankees, during Posada’s career, were an exceptionally successful team, certainly the best team in my lifetime, and a contender for the best team in baseball history. As Posada had a fine career playing a key position on that team, it seems appropriate that we should give him credit for that success.
 
But does he really deserve credit?
 
A reader pointed out that Jorge Posada’s Yankees did much better when he didn’t play than when he did. If Posada was a great player, wouldn’t the Yankees record be a lot worse when he wasn’t in the game?
 
This is true. The Yankees did have a better winning percentage when Posada didn’t play than when he did:
 
‘95-'11 Yankees
W-L
Win%
With Posada
1060-769
.580
Without
576-327
.638
 
 
 
That’s a big gap, actually. A .580 team is a 94-win team, which is pretty decent, but a .638 winning percentage is a 104-win pace.  And we’re not dealing with small samples….we’re looking at hundreds of games.
 
The stat is accurate. It’s also totally lying. It’s a deceitful statistic. And it’s especially deceitful when it is applied to a player like Jorge Posada.
 
Can you guess why?
 
It’s the games.
 
A player’s win-loss record counts all of his games, starts and non-starts. If a player comes in as a late-inning replacement, that counts as a game, even if he didn’t really influence the outcome of the game. And if he leaves in the first with a banged up knee, that counts too.
 
This handicaps all players. Most players will end up having a lower winning percentage in games they played than in games they didn’t play.  If your star player is having a rest day, when are you going to bring him in? When does he get an at-bat?
 
When the team is losing. Or a tie, maybe.
 
If you’ve got Willie Mays resting the bench and a two-run lead late in the game, you’re going to let Willie rest. But if your team is down two runs, Willie better be getting loose. A baserunner and he’s going to bat.
 
This influences the W-L record of all players, but it hurts catchers more than anyone else, because they miss more games.
Think it through. A good first basemen starts almost every single game. Miguel Cabrera, old and creaky,  played 156 games as a starter this year, two games as a substitute. Albert Pujols, older and creakier, played 151 games as a starter, one as a substitute.
 
A good, robust catcher will start on the bench one game a week, every single week of the season. Buster Posey played 138 games as a starter, eight as a sub. Yadier was 143/4.
 
Over the course of their careers, a good corner infielder will have about 3% of their games come as a pinch-hitter. A good middle infielder or outfielder will be in the 5-6% range. But a good catcher will be at 10%.
 
This is why all catchers seem to have a disproportionately low winning percentage to their peers: a higher percentage of their ‘games’ are contests when they’re coming into losing situations. Miguel Cabrera might get one game a year when he a) starts on the bench, and b) comes in to try and salvage a close game. Buster Posey will do that seven or eight times a year.
 
So while this is correct:
 
‘95-'11 Yankees
W-L
Win%
With Posada
1060-769
.580
Without Posada
576-327
.638
Overall
1636-1096
.599
 
 
 
It doesn’t tell the whole story:
 
Starter/Sub
W-L
Win %
As Starter
988-654
.602
As Substitute
72-155
.385
 
The reality isn’t that Posada’s presence cost the Yankees a ton of wins…the reality is that the ‘Without Posada’ math comprises rest days when the Yankees were able to win without him in the lineup, while the ‘With Posada’ counts a lot of games when he made pinch-hitting appearances to try and salvage a win. 
 
*             *             *
 
It is my belief that the position of ‘catcher’ is the single most important position on the diamond, and I think that good catchers have tremendous influence on the success of their teams. This seems, in my head, to be self-evident. I realize that it isn’t self-evident…I realize that I have a long road to convince anyone else of this…but it seems evident to my self. Catchers are important.
 
How can we test a theory like this? 
 
One way we could test this is to look at a bunch of great players at various positions, and check their team’s W-L records when they played. Let’s do that.
 
Here’s a list of the top-25 catchers, centerfielders, and third basemen according to career WAR, along with their team’s win-loss percentage:
 
Name
Win %
Name
Win %
Name
Win %
Johnny Bench
.559
Willie Mays
.550
Alex Rodriguez
.538
Gary Carter
.532
Ty Cobb
.529
Mike Schmidt
.525
Ivan Rodriguez
.511
Tris Speaker
.551
Eddie Mathews
.542
Carlton Fisk
.521
Mickey Mantle
.575
Wade Boggs
.518
Yogi Berra
.603
Joe DiMaggio
.640
George Brett
.537
Mike Piazza
.514
Ken Griffey Jr.
.482
Chipper Jones
.580
Bill Dickey
.613
Al Simmons
.535
Adrian Beltre
.522
Ted Simmons
.472
Carlos Beltran
.495
Brooks Robinson
.566
Gabby Hartnett
.534
Andruw Jones
.584
Ron Santo
.477
Mickey Cochrane
.628
Reggie Smith
.530
Scott Rolen
.518
Joe Mauer
.488
Jim Edmonds
.538
Miguel Cabrera
.520
Gene Tenace
.504
Duke Snider
.529
Paul Molitor
.518
Bill Freehan
.516
Kenny Lofton
.556
Harmon Killebrew
.499
Jorge Posada
.580
Max Carey
.497
Graig Nettles
.512
Lance Parrish
.503
Richie Ashburn
.463
Buddy Bell
.476
Ernie Lombardi
.428
Willie Davis
.543
Darrell Evans
.497
Wally Schang
.460
Kiki Cuyler
.539
Robin Ventura
.550
Thurman Munson
.546
Jimmy Wynn
.452
Sal Bando
.548
Darrell Porter
.501
Chet Lemon
.517
Stan Hack
.538
Jason Kendall
.472
Larry Doby
.577
Ron Cey
.553
Roy Campanella
.621
Mike Cameron
.563
Ken Boyer
.495
Jim Sundberg
.487
Sam Rice
.514
David Wright
.500
Sherm Lollar
.494
Cesar Cedeno
.491
Bob Elliott
.511
Brian McCann
.520
Edd Roush
.529
Heinie Groh
.513
Russell Martin
.554
Fred Lynn
.502
Joe Sewell
.523
C Total
.524
CF Total
.530
3B Total
.523
 
There are a few guys missing from these lists: I cut a number of players who I didn’t think ‘counted’ for the position. Do I need to list them?
 
Alright. Joe Torre shows up as a catcher, and played more games at catcher than he did at any other position. I didn’t include him because a) he played many more games as a corner infielder than he did as a catcher, and b) his best years were the years he wasn’t catching. I didn’t list Brian Downing because his best years were as a DH. I didn’t include Bresnehan because I didn’t have certain splits for him. Too old.
 
In center, I cut Robin Yount because he played more years as a shortstop. And I cut Andre Dawson because he was mostly a right fielder. Tommy Leach got the Bresnehan treatment…too old.
 
Third base had a lot of cuts. I kept A-Rod but cut Edgar Martinez (a DH), Dick Allen (1B), and Tony Perez (1B). Tommy Leach showed up on this list and was still too old. So was Home Run Baker. 
 
It doesn’t matter. The results show that the great centerfielders (.530 winning percentage) tended to win a bit more than the great catchers (.524) or the great third basemen (.523). The winningest player is Joe DiMaggio (.640), followed by Mickey Cochrane (.628). The worst player was Schnozz, followed by the Toy Cannon.
 
This isn’t surprising, right? I think most of us, if we had to pick which position would have the most winners, would pick centerfield. Centerfielders seem like winners….Mickey and Duke and Willie.  DiMaggio. Speaker. Beltran.
 
And it’s not surprising that DiMaggio is pretty far out in front of everyone else. He’s a great player, and he’s a Yankee. It’s not surprising that he’s out in front of the pack.
 
But as I noted with Posada, catchers are unfairly punished by their higher percentage of pinch-hitting appearances. Among this group of seventy-five players, catchers have a higher percentage of substitute appearances than centerfielders or third basemen:
 
Games
As Starters
As Subs
Catchers
90.7%
9.3%
Centerfield
93.4
6.6%
Third Base
95.8%
4.2%
 
So what if we looked at this list, but only looked at each player’s win-loss percentage as a starter? How would that change things?
 
We’d get this:
 
Name
Starting W-L %
Name
Starting W-L %
Name
Starting W-L %
Johnny Bench
.575
Willie Mays
.559
Alex Rodriguez
.542
Gary Carter
.544
Ty Cobb
.541
Mike Schmidt
.529
Ivan Rodriguez
.515
Tris Speaker
.560
Eddie Mathews
.548
Carlton Fisk
.536
Mickey Mantle
.591
Wade Boggs
.532
Yogi Berra
.631
Joe DiMaggio
.641
George Brett
.540
Mike Piazza
.528
Ken Griffey Jr.
.486
Chipper Jones
.585
Bill Dickey
.634
Al Simmons
.548
Adrian Beltre
.519
Ted Simmons
.498
Carlos Beltran
.501
Brooks Robinson
.566
Gabby Hartnett
.570
Andruw Jones
.582
Ron Santo
.479
Mickey Cochrane
.639
Reggie Smith
.543
Scott Rolen
.517
Joe Mauer
.498
Jim Edmonds
.543
Miguel Cabrera
.520
Gene Tenace
.528
Duke Snider
.578
Paul Molitor
.522
Bill Freehan
.530
Kenny Lofton
.555
Harmon Killebrew
.515
Jorge Posada
.602
Max Carey
.504
Graig Nettles
.531
Lance Parrish
.513
Richie Ashburn
.474
Buddy Bell
.479
Ernie Lombardi
.487
Willie Davis
.548
Darrell Evans
.509
Wally Schang
.499
Kiki Cuyler
.554
Robin Ventura
.550
Thurman Munson
.550
Jimmy Wynn
.483
Sal Bando
.552
Darrell Porter
.523
Chet Lemon
.514
Stan Hack
.549
Jason Kendall
.474
Larry Doby
.595
Ron Cey
.559
Roy Campanella
.642
Mike Cameron
.556
Ken Boyer
.503
Jim Sundberg
.494
Sam Rice
.519
David Wright
.502
Sherm Lollar
.530
Cesar Cedeno
.497
Bob Elliott
.523
Brian McCann
.544
Edd Roush
.544
Heinie Groh
.522
Russell Martin
.571
Fred Lynn
.512
Joe Sewell
.531
C Total
.543
CF Total
.540
3B Total
.529
 
While the great centerfielders and the third basemen show a modest gain by dropping off their pinch-hitting appearances, our collection of catchers jumps out to the front of the pack.
 
And more interestingly, DiMaggio gets a lot of competition. Here are the six players with a Starting W-L percentage over .600:
 
Name
Starting W-L %
Roy Campanella
.642
Joe DiMaggio
.641
Mickey Cochrane
.639
Bill Dickey
.634
Yogi Berra
.631
Jorge Posada
.602
 
Larry Doby (.595), Mickey (.591), and the two Mr. Joneses of the Atlanta Braves (Chipper (.585) and Andruw (.582)), round out the top-ten.
 
I’m surprised by this list, frankly. I would’ve figured that most of the top players would be Yankees, but #1 and #3 didn’t wear pinstripes. And while it doesn’t shock me to see the Maddux Era Braves get a couple names on the list, I had no idea that Larry Doby’s teams won so many games. I think we can put to rest any notion of Doby being a marginal Hall-of-Famer.
 
We’ll get to Campy in a bit.
 
A dozen players have losing records as a starting player. They are:
 
Name
Starting W-L %
Jason Kendall
.474
Richie Ashburn
.474
Buddy Bell
.479
Ron Santo
.479
Jimmy Wynn
.483
Ken Griffey Jr.
.486
Ernie Lombardi
.487
Jim Sundberg
.494
Cesar Cedeno
.497
Joe Mauer
.498
Ted Simmons
.498
Wally Schang
.499
 
Catchers get the bulk of this group (6), then CF (4) and 3B (2). The next guy on the list….surprisingly….is Carlos Beltran (.501). It doesn’t help to start your career as a Royal, though his reputation as a winner has certainly transcended those early years in the wilderness.
 
I did three positions, and seventy-five players…it’s not an exhaustive study by any means. It’s just meant to stat a conversation. If you look at players by their career win-loss records, catchers don’t look impressive. But if you look at them as starters, their importance to team success seems a bit clearer.
 
*             *             *
 
Getting back to Posada.
 
Posada’s career overlapped with two other career Yankees who have their own cases for Cooperstown: Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. One knock on Posada is that his overall winning percentage of .580 doesn’t measure up to Bernie Williams (.584) or the flawless Jeter (.593). 
 
But what if we look at their record as starters? What if we ignore all of the games when Posada got called in as a pinch hitter? Who won more games that they played through?
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Jorge Posada
1995-11
988-654
.602
Derek Jeter
1995-14
1623-1109
.594
Bernie Williams
1991-06
1181-821
.590
 
Jorge comes out on top. The Yankees had a better record in his starts than they did when Jeter or Bernie started. It’s lot better, actually.
 
And….it turns out that this holds for all the good catchers. They always beat their teammates in winning percentage, if you just look at starts.
 
Here are Da Bums:
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Roy Campanella
1948-57
722-403
.642
Jackie Robinson
1947-56
819-496
.623
Duke Snider
1947-64
1045-764
.578
Gil Hodges
1943-63
1108-758
.594
 
I’m surprised by this one. I assumed that Jackie would have the better winning percentage. Campy and Jackie’s careers overlap directly, but Jackie had the benefit of a World Series year (1947) that Campy can’t count. But Jackie doesn’t come close to Campanella’s winning percentage. Jackie was one of the winningest players in baseball history, but he didn’t win as often as the Brooklyn backstop.
 
Duke Snider, surviving the club’s move to L.A., had the benefit of a couple additional World Series championships in 1959 and 1963, but his winning percentage doesn’t come close to Roy or Jackie, and trails Hodges.
 
Big Red Machine:
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Johnny Bench
1967-83
1150-849
.575
Pete Rose
1963-86
1926-1504
.562
Tony Perez
1964-86
1384-1110
.555
Joe Morgan
1963-84
1368-1122
.549
 
Bench comes out ahead, though Rose draws close because he switched to the Phillies at a good time. Joe Morgan probably gets knocked back by his early years in Houston.
 
Sorting through the Yankees is a nightmare, because there’s a lot of overlapping parts, but here’s the best I can do:
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Baby Ruth
1914-35
1454-937
.608
Lou Gehrig
1923-39
1316-801
.622
Earle Combs
1924-35
790-535
.596
Tony Lazzari
1926-39
1038-616
.628
Bill Dickey
1928-46
1021-590
.634
 
I’m rating them by ‘Years’ instead of winning percentage. Ruth is at the bottom, but it might be that the list isn’t counting the games he pitched, which he mostly won. He wasn’t a Yankee lifer anyway.
 
Dickey had a better winning percentage than Gehrig or Lazzari, with Combs trailing. Combs didn’t get to cash in on the early DiMaggio years.
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Joe DiMaggio
1936-51
1090-611
.641
Joe Gordon
1938-50
946-578
.621
King Kong Keller
1939-52
628-364
.633
 
DiMaggio is on top…this is the one time when a catcher loses to a teammate, although Dickey rates ahead of Keller and Gordon. Lots of wins in this group.
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Yogi Berra
1946-65
1188-696
.631
Mickey Mantle
1951-68
1337-925
.591
Elston Howard
1955-68
798-570
.583
Roger Maris
1957-68
736-576
.561
 
Yogi crushes the competition. He won a few World Series in the waning DiMaggio years, and kept on winning through the Mantle era. I included Elston Howard and Roger Maris just to see how they’d compare. The catcher wins.
 
Cochrane?
 
Cochrane played on two good teams: the Philadelphia A’s and the Detroit Tigers. He has a much, much, much better winning percentage than the other Hall-of-Famers that he played with on both teams.
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Mickey Cochrane
1925-37
888-502
.639
Jimmie Foxx
1925-45
1187-943
.557
Charlie Gehringer
1924-42
1165-1022
.533
Hank Greenberg
1930-47
766-598
.562
 
If you asked me what player in baseball history had the most influence on his team’s success, counting all contributions, I would be very tempted to pick Mickey Cochrane during his player/manager years.  
 
Babe Ruth was a far greater player, but he had a lot more minuses than Cochrane. He was a pain in the ass. He worried the manager. He probably roped his teammates into fun a bit too much at night. He could piss off teammates: Gehrig didn’t talk to him for years. He was an indifferent defender, which probably taxed the pitchers. He struck out a lot for his era. He sort of blocked out the sun for everyone else, which must’ve been exhausting. We all need sun.
 
Cochrane would hit a dozen homers in a good year, but he managed half his teams. He dealt with his pitchers. He guided young players to success, and motivated old guys to get their asses in gear. He never struck out….he wasn’t scary to pitch to, but he would’ve been exhausting. He played stellar defense. Reporters liked him enough to give him the MVP every chance they could.
 
We have stats like WAR which attempt to quantify a player’s contributions on the field, and translate them as ‘wins.’ I think it makes perfect sense that Babe Ruth would have the winningest seasons by the things that metric counts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cochrane, in his best years, was doing more to put W’s in the ledgers of his teams than Ruth was.
 
After that, it’s a little hard to find parallels. Carlton Fisk didn’t have an obvious parallel, and I can’t think of who followed Gary Carter from Montreal to New York. Bill Freehan was a little younger than Cash or Kaline. I suppose Nettles and Munson could be looked at. Piazza and Pudge don’t have clear overlaps.
 
*             *             *
 
I was going to end things there, with a few nice paragraph about Jorge Posada, who is almost certainly going to drop off the BBWAA ballot sometime this week. And then I realized that the numbers were still lying.
 
This was an absolute, last-minute realization. This was a governor’s pardon as the sheriff is reaching for the switch. It dawned on me as I was giving a final read-through article, just looking for typos. I’m sure some of you figured it out a bit earlier than I did.  
 
Let’s go back to Da Bums:
 
Name
Years
Starting W-L
Win %
Roy Campanella
1948-57
722-403
.642
Jackie Robinson
1947-56
819-496
.623
 
Why does Campy have a better winning percentage than Jackie Robinson?
 
Because he played fewer games than Jackie.
 
Think it through. If Jackie Robinson starts all 154 games in a season, but Roy Campanella makes 130 starts, Campy’s W-L record is going to have a big advantage. Every Campanella start would have Jackie and Campy in the lineup, whereas Jackie would 24 starts where it’s Jackie and a backup catcher. Which team is better: a team with Jackie and Campanella, or a team with Jackie and Rube Walker?
 
Campanella has a better winning percentage than Jackie because almost all of his starts were Campy and Jackie games, while Jackie Robinson played a lot of games without Campanella.
 
This is why Posada is ahead of Jeter, and why Bench is ahead of Rose. It’s why Cochrane is ahead of Foxx and Gehringer and Greenberg: all of his starts were starts with Cochrane and Foxx, or Cochrane and Gehringer. The other players didn’t have the same benefit.
 
So while a player’s overall W-L record is unfairly biased againstcatchers, a player’s starting W-L record is unfairly biased towards catchers. Neither one tells us a hell of a lot about the value of the position, or the correlation between having a good catcher and winning games.
 
So we’ve come full circle. Sigh.
 
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com
 
 
 

COMMENTS (27 Comments, most recent shown first)

DaveFleming
C'mon Kaiser: you just compared Mickey Cochrane to Phil Rizzuto, Ed Stankey, and Dick Groat. You think I'm taking things too far?

It was just a thought experiment: if we were able to combine Mickey Cochrane's countable contributions on the field with the stuff we don't have a good feel for (all the defensive stuff a catcher does), and the stuff we can't count (his work as a manager, his calling of pitches, how effectively he ran practices, etc.), and if we combined Babe Ruth's (amazing) countable contributions to the stuff we can't count (the fact that he could be a pain in the ass), which guy comes out on top?

It's a conversation to have at the bar: there's no need to fret that the progress of Western Civilization has taken a regretful leap backwards, just because someone had the gumption to speculate on something unknown and unknowable. Breathe a little, will ya?
9:08 PM Jan 18th
 
KaiserD2
Rereading Dave Fleming's original post, I have to ask how far 35 years of serious sabermetrics have actually taken us. During the first 3/4 of the 20th century sportswriters loved to argue that some lesser player, whether Cochrane, Phil Rizzuto, Eddie Stankey, or Dick Groat, was really the key to his team's success. Now Dave isn't going that far, but the idea that Mickey Cochrane did more to win games for his team than Babe Ruth is worthy of Arthur Daley. Cochrane's teams did so well thanks in part to him--he was with Dickey one of the two best catchers of his era and they both were very comparable to Yogi Berra in overall impact--but much more to five genuine all-time greats: Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Charlie Gehringer. And Ruth may have had his bad moments, and he eventually caused real trouble by wanting to replace Joe McCarthy, but except in 1925 and in the last years of his career I'm not aware of any player or manager who was unhappy about having him on the team. And with good reason.

David K
7:25 AM Jan 18th
 
KaiserD2
Well, a lot of people would argue that in one way or another, catchers do unmeasurable things that allow pitchers to get more people out, quicker. Or, conversely, to make it harder for them to get people out. The most obvious thing that could be, I think, would be to have a good, or bad, relationshio with the umpires. We now have the data that would allow us to see if there are more bad calls with certain catchers behind the plate than others. This also would take in the "framing" issue. Of course, what I'm saying here is that we might indeed be able to [i]measure[i] this additional contribution that a catcher could make. More generally, I think it would be extremely difficult to evaluate the overall contribution a catcher makes to pitching effectiveness, unless perhaps you had a team where two guys split the catching about evenly. But even a sample size of half a season, in my opinion, wouldn't be all that reliable.

I do think that the point of sabermetrics is to measure things. Now another conclusion of my book is that the role of luck in baseball is underrated. Luck in the form of missing or exceeding your Pythagorean projection over a season averages about 4 games a year--that is, the same as having, or not having, one more superstar on your team. But rather than look for mystical or emotional factors to explain those deviations, I'd rather just look at them as luck.

If we can't measure it, I wouldn't cast a vote for the Hall of Fame based on it--no. I would pose this question: can you think of any player, catcher or other, who has a great reputation for his "intangible" contributions who played mostly for losing teams? And if the answer is no, doesn't that tell you something? There are plenty of great hitters and pitchers who played mostly for losing teams (although the pitchers almost never get the recognition they deserve.) I will say this: in terms of what we can measure, the Hall of Fame standards for catchers have to be a lot lower than for anyone else to get any of them in at all. (At least if you're looking at how many extra games teams won because they had them.) I did not try, in my book, to say where that line should be. The Hall of Fame is not the main issue in the book, although I could not resist pointing out a number of people whose selection was, to say the last, dubious, and several others--much to my surprise--who have been kept out despite being overqualified.

Fire away!

David K


7:03 AM Jan 18th
 
steve161
David, you seem to be saying that the only contribution to saving runs that a catcher makes are things that can be measured. Do you really believe that? Does anybody?
7:44 PM Jan 17th
 
KaiserD2
I am very dubious about the premise of this article, although there is one very sound and interesting conclusion embedded in the data.

When you say that Posada--or Tony Lazzeri, or Phil Rizzuto, or Bernie Williams--should be in the Hall of Fame because their teams were so successful, what you are really saying, I think, is that they belong in the Hall because their teammates were so good. Now quite a few people are in the Hall for that reason, including a great many pitchers. I have been giving a presentation this year comparing five pairs of pitchers. In each case, the worse pitcher is in the Hall, because he happened to play for excellent teams, improving his won-loss record.

Meanwhile, the outcome of any particular game has such a high random component to it that I don't think that comparing the winning percentages of catchers--the percentages of their teams in the games they played in--is meaningful either.

However, it is not surprising that the best center fielders show better winning percentages than the best catchers. That is because the best centerfielders are much more valuable players than the best catchers. Willie Mays had 16 seasons with 4 or more wins above average. That, as it turns out, is the definition of how good you have to be to be the best player on a pennant-winning team. Johnny Bench holds the record for number of >4 WAA seasons by a catcher--with 3. (This is all based on my own modifications to the baseball-reference.com calculations which will be explained in my book. They don't include position adjustments.) The reason, clearly, is that catching is so physically demanding that even great hitters at that position don't stay great very long. Jorge Posada had 1 such season, in 2003. He certainly helped the Yankees but that was the only year in which one could argue that he was a critical factor in winning the pennant. They needed better players than he to do that, and they had them.

Incidentally, regarding position adjustments--very few teams, as I said, ever won a pennant without at least one 4 WAA player (even now it's relatively rare to reach the playoffs without one), and no team whose best player was a catcher with 2-3 WAA ever won a pennant.

There is another interesting issue relating to catchers that I don't think has gotten enough attention. On defense there is very little that a catcher can do to save runs. He can, in high stolen-base eras, create significant numbers of extra outs by throwing runners out. But with respect to catching popups and fielding bunts, there aren't enough chances in the course of the season for superiority to prove out. Now sophisticated analysis may prove that some guys are better at "framing" than others and earn some strikeouts that way. But I'm not aware that that has happened yet.

When a team has a "great pitching staff," we often assume that the catcher was a great receiver. But for most of the history of baseball--the steroid era is an exception in this respect--a team with a "great pitching staff" was usually a team with solid, slightly above average pitchers that played in a good pitchers park, and had great offense.

Catching is very hard, but catchers are very rarely a critical variable in a team's failure or success. And I definitely believe, as Bill James once wrote, that any catcher who shows real promise as a great hitter should be switched to some other position.

David Kaiser​
7:14 PM Jan 17th
 
ajmilner
Richie Ashburn's career W/L record was in games he started (by my calculations) was 978-1087, or 109 games under .500 -- and slightly over half of that deficit was the result of his final season alone, when the 1962 Mets went 18-74 in games he started. With the 1948-59 Phillies he was essentially at .500 (875-888), which was Herculean compared to the 1938-42 era Phils.
7:07 PM Jan 16th
 
DaveNJnews
Excellent piece. Thanks for giving me a different way at looking at something.
12:51 PM Jan 15th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks for the shout out, Tom Tango! I really appreciate it.

And thanks, Chuck, for being the impetus for the article. I wrote a version of this article in December, hoping to get it out before I went off on a holiday, but it disappeared off my laptop. In that initial version I mentioned you by name, but I forgot to give you credit when I re-wrote the damned thing. I'll get you next time.

And thanks for flushing out some more numbers, Chuck and OBS. I'll take a look at them when my kids are distracted.


2:07 PM Jan 14th
 
OldBackstop
re: starting pitchers and Posada. I was thinking back, and I recall that there was a dustup with AJ Burnett, and Molina was named his personal catcher for at least awhile.

So I created the formula (M - P * C / T) >= 6, where T = team games, P = games started by the pitcher, C = games started by the catcher, and M = mutual starts by the pitcher and catcher.

It shows some unusual pairings that would have affected Posada's W-L record. For instance, in 2006, on a team that won 97 games, Cory Lidle got nine starts, and had the worst winning percentage and ERA for any Yankee with that many starts. But Sal Fasano started seven of those games. Jorge started 30 games for Mike Mussina, who only had seven losses.

I have researched Yankee personal catchers back to 1927, according to the above formula, calculated pitcher, catcher and battery starts, and compiled my work into a table. I then colored it with a soft teal, backdated it to 2011, and loaded it on to some site called:

www.mikemav.com/xbl/PC_NYA.htm

Thank me later.


1:55 PM Jan 14th
 
Gfletch
I agree that statistics don’t measure everything, and certainly there are things that happen on a baseball field and on a baseball team that we don’t even have measurements of. But looking at the winning percentage of a team and how it changes when a player is either in or out of the lineup…well, that’s just one of those, “We suspect something might be going on here, let’s see if it shows up by doing this, or doing that, or doing…?”

And of course, you always find some differences…but I can’t see that these differences are definitive as to individual player value to the team. Still a fun article to read (as usual), Dave, and thought provoking. One quibble as to methodology…wouldn’t it be more fair to compare differences between categories (as a starter, as a sub, etc.) rather than totals? You can improve a bad team, too, not just a good team…and vice versa?

11:52 AM Jan 14th
 
tangotiger
The cleanest way is to only look based on the starters, regardless of whether he came in as a sub.

You can do starter-as-C and starter-as-DH.

Alternatively, you can use win expectancy when he entered the game, and when he exited the game.
9:13 AM Jan 14th
 
337
Is there a simple way to find out five categories, not two?

1) CG by catchers
2) games which they started but left early
3) games which they only PHed (or PR, though this would be rare)
4) games which they PHed and remained to catch
5) games which they entered as a defensive sub

I realize that by dividing the games up like this, we would be entering small-sample-size danger, but we could flesh out the sample size by arriving at some totals for large numbers of catchers, presumably numbers that would yield the average rates for catchers in each category.

I would imagine that you could isolate the circumstances in which catchers w/l percentages take a dive because they're entering losing games late this way.

5:59 AM Jan 14th
 
chuck
Additional thought... trying to be as fair as I can to Posada here.
Perhaps that über-good team record in games when he didn't play reflects the strategy of giving Posada his off days when they had one of their top aces on the mound- the thinking being they wouldn't need as many runs that day, so they could afford to lose his bat in the lineup and give him a rest.
1:14 AM Jan 14th
 
chuck
Dave, perhaps I was the reader you referenced here. I did look at the team’s W-L record with and without Posada. But I did go through the game logs and only counted as “with” Posada those games in which he either played the whole game or had at least 5 innings.

All the other games- his partial games where he played the smaller portion, had an overall record of 70-115. So, yes, if one were to include that in Posada’s record the stats would be deceiving in creating a worse record for him.

But as it stands, those partial games get lumped into the OTHER catchers’ records; is that fair to them? Those non-Posada + mini-Posada Yankee games from 1997-2011 had a record of 474-289 (.621). If that 70-115 record is also not counted against the other catchers, then the purely non-Posada games would have this record:
404-174 (.699).
That seems kind of incredible, but it's what the math says.

From 1997 through 2011 New York went 1465-961 (.604) overall.
Now consider these splits...
911-574 (.613) in games with Posada playing the whole game.

BUT, in some of these, Posada was not catching at all, but was the DH.
In those games, the team went 86-74 (.538).
What to do with those? For purposes of this study, I'm throwing them out; he's playing the whole game... but not catching. That improves his record to:
825-500 (.623) when he caught the entire game.

080-098 (.449) in games with Posada playing the majority portion of the game.
070-115 (.378) in games with Posada appearing in minority portion of game.
leaves...
404-174 (.699) in games without Posada at all.
12:55 AM Jan 14th
 
OldBackstop
Great article, Dave. You write pretty, like a moon beam or the rainbow on roast beef.

I wonder if great catchers might have an advantage in that they are slotted to catch the great pitchers more? That when you have the spot starter or the 5th kid you might be more inclined to start a backup catcher (perhaps because they played together in the minors, for instance?)
12:13 AM Jan 14th
 
tangotiger
Dave, excellent article. I responded here:
tangotiger.com/index.php/site/article/did-yanks-play-better-when-posada-did-not-play

If you can do that with all the catchers, it would be interesting.

Note a typo: 115 losses, not 155. The win% is correct.​
11:10 PM Jan 13th
 
flyingfish
That's "intellectual honesty." Damn, I wish we could edit these comments.
10:38 PM Jan 13th
 
flyingfish
Thanks, Dave. Anything that makes me think more carefully about baseball is good. :) Also, I appreciate your intellectual honestly in continuing to look at the problem after you thought you had the solution and then doing more analysis.
10:36 PM Jan 13th
 
DaveFleming
That's right, Flyin'Fish...the arc of my thinking was:

1. I wondered how the W-L of great catchers looked, and decided to check the W-L records of great catchers, and see how they compared to the W-L records of players at other positions.

2. I checked on it, and the results were underwhelming. Then I realized that catchers were getting penalized b/c of their higher percentage of substitute appearances.

3. I checked W-L records in starts, and I saw that the catchers moved ahead. For a little while, I was excited because I thought that this was proof that catchers had more influence than guys at other positions.

4. I checked out how some of the great catchers looked compared to their teammates, and saw that they did really well. I was even more elated. I thought I had it.

5. I realized that the catchers were looking (falsely) great for the same reason that they had looked bad in the first look: they were now benefiting from games missed (or their teammates/guys at other positions were being penalized by this).

So it went full circle. There's no final conclusion....but I hope that there's something useful gained in the process. At the very least, it's useful to remember that the days off that catchers get (and their pinch-hitting gigs) have the chance to skew our evaluations of them, if we don't think about it enough.
9:56 PM Jan 13th
 
MarisFan61
Dave: I realized the rationale (although I don't think it's very strong, because whatever positive reputation Beltran has, I don't think it's comparable to the others, not even Snider's although one could argue it isn't far behind) but......

All I said was that listing Beltran together with those others "seems more than a bit incongruous," and I think indeed it does.
9:31 PM Jan 13th
 
flyingfish
Dave: You seem to make the argument in the beginning and middle of your article that if you consider the best catchers' W-L records properly, i.e., as starters, then you have to conclude that they are more valuable than the best position players. Then, at the end, you argue quite convincingly that when you actually do that, you bias the results in favor of the best catchers because they start fewer games than the best position players, so they always have the best possible players around them while the best position players only have the best possible team around them say 75% or 80% of the time.

Did I get that right? If so, then what is the final conclusion?
9:23 PM Jan 13th
 
DaveFleming
In the original draft I put Beltran right after DiMaggio, just for you, Maris. I tossed in Speaker on the edits. They all have pretty solid reputations as winners, which was the context.
8:18 PM Jan 13th
 
MarisFan61
One other thing: With all proper recognition of Carlos Beltran as a very very good player, ending this sentence with him seems more than a bit incongruous:
"Mickey and Duke and Willie. DiMaggio. Speaker. Beltran."
7:31 PM Jan 13th
 
mrbryan
Snider didn't really have the benefit of the 1963 Dodgers championship, since he spent that year playing for the Mets, who really weren't going to help anyone's winning percentage.
7:20 PM Jan 13th
 
pgaskill
And another: Bresnahan, not Bresnehan.

Great article!
6:32 PM Jan 13th
 
shthar
thanks for solving the old 'bullpen catcher W-L%' conundrum.
3:06 PM Jan 13th
 
MarisFan61
Nice article. This thing of the pollution of catcher's won-lost records isn't widely known. I hadn't thought of it till it was noted on this site a little while ago. And very interesting how the 'W-L' records of the top catchers tend to rise above those of top players of other positions if the pollution is removed.
BTW, Lazzeri. :-)
I think the other spelling will pop out to the eyes of almost any long-long-time Yankee fan, and to many others too.
2:17 PM Jan 13th
 
 
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