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Catchers, WAR/G, Min. 1,000 Games Caught

Posted by Steve Lombardi on August 20, 2011

If you used Play Index and ran a query listing all players who caught at least 1,000 games in the major leagues ranked by their career WAR, you would get this list.

But, if you then took the results and dumped them into Excel and then calculated the players' WAR per Game Played, and ranked them by that ratio, you would get this "Top 25."

Here is the chart:
 
 

Rk Player WAR/G WAR/pos From To G PA
1 Mickey Cochrane .03455 51.2 1925 1937 1482 6206
2 Johnny Bench .03304 71.3 1967 1983 2158 8669
3 Mike Piazza .03091 59.1 1992 2007 1912 7745
4 Thurman Munson .03050 43.4 1969 1979 1423 5903
5 Bill Dickey .03041 54.4 1928 1946 1789 7060
6 Roy Campanella .02979 36.2 1948 1957 1215 4816
7 Yogi Berra .02920 61.9 1946 1965 2120 8364
8 Gary Carter .02889 66.3 1974 1992 2295 9019
9 Jack Clements .02750 31.9 1884 1900 1160 4721
10 Carlton Fisk .02693 67.3 1969 1993 2499 9853
11 Ivan Rodriguez .02679 68.0 1991 2011 2538 10262
12 Gabby Hartnett .02526 50.3 1922 1941 1991 7297
13 Jorge Posada .02499 45.2 1995 2011 1809 7095
14 Bill Freehan .02441 43.3 1961 1976 1774 6899
15 Wally Schang .02379 43.8 1913 1931 1841 6423
16 Ed Bailey .02368 28.7 1953 1966 1212 4208
17 Darrell Porter .02278 40.6 1971 1987 1782 6570
18 Tom Haller .02264 29.3 1961 1972 1294 4519
19 Ernie Lombardi .02105 39.0 1931 1947 1853 6349
20 Ted Simmons .02052 50.4 1968 1988 2456 9685
21 Chief Zimmer .01945 24.9 1884 1903 1280 5078
22 Walker Cooper .01928 28.4 1940 1957 1473 5078
23 Butch Wynegar .01899 24.7 1976 1988 1301 5067
24 Smoky Burgess .01879 31.8 1949 1967 1692 5013
25 Javy Lopez .01856 27.9 1992 2006 1503 5793

I never thought that Thurman Munson had much of a Hall of Fame chance - despite winning the ROY, MVP, Gold Glove, World Series Rings and being an All-Star - because his career was too short.  And, that's probably still the case.  But, in terms of the games he did play, when he did play, according to WAR, he was one of the best catchers of all-time.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 20th, 2011 at 9:57 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

77 Responses to “Catchers, WAR/G, Min. 1,000 Games Caught”

  1. Why is this list just US born catchers?

  2. David Tobin Says:

    very interesting - need to review how WAR is calculated. Surprised former Marlin Charles Johnson on the list

  3. Owen - bad filter on my part. Mea culpa! I was using that on a previous sort and forgot to take it off. Let me re-run this and see if it changes anything. Good catch! (No pun intended.)

  4. Oh, it changes things! Edit to the post in progress.

  5. Updates done. It's funny, on the first chart - the bad one - I wondered why Posada didn't make the Top 25 (to myself). Now I know why! Thanks again Owen!

  6. David -

    Chas. gets pushed down to #26 when I updated the list to include non-US born players.

    Rk	Player	         WAR/G
    1	Mickey Cochrane	.03455
    2	Johnny Bench	.03304
    3	Mike Piazza	.03091
    4	Thurman Munson	.03050
    5	Bill Dickey	.03041
    6	Roy Campanella	.02979
    7	Yogi Berra	.02920
    8	Gary Carter	.02889
    9	Jack Clements	.02750
    10	Carlton Fisk	.02693
    11	Ivan Rodriguez	.02679
    12	Gabby Hartnett	.02526
    13	Jorge Posada	.02499
    14	Bill Freehan	.02441
    15	Wally Schang	.02379
    16	Ed Bailey	.02368
    17	Darrell Porter	.02278
    18	Tom Haller	.02264
    19	Ernie Lombardi	.02105
    20	Ted Simmons	.02052
    21	Chief Zimmer	.01945
    22	Walker Cooper	.01928
    23	Butch Wynegar	.01899
    24	Smoky Burgess	.01879
    25	Javy Lopez	.01856
    26	Charles Johnson	.01852
    27	Jason Kendall	.01827
    28	Johnny Kling	.01824
    29	Terry Steinbach	.01805
    30	Lance Parrish	.01796
    31	Jim Sundberg	.01789
    32	Earl Battey	.01779
    33	Elston Howard	.01757
    34	Sherm Lollar	.01707
    35	Man. Sanguillen	.01699
    36	Del Crandall	.01697
    37	Mike Scioscia	.01645
    38	Ramon Hernandez	.01596
    39	Andy Seminick	.01587
    40	Spud Davis	.01557
    41	Jason Varitek	.01539
    42	Deacon McGuire	.01481
    43	Duke Farrell	.01457
    44	Terry Kennedy	.01422
    45	John Roseboro	.01420
    46	Tim McCarver	.01404
    47	Clay Dalrymple	.01372
    48	Rick Dempsey	.01348
    49	Don Slaught	.01334
    50	Bob O'Farrell	.01306
    
  7. Steve, very nice discussion starter, in my opinion.

    I have long been interested in the minimum offensive performance necessary for a catcher to stay a regular in the lineup and in the proportion of offense vs defence a catcher is expected to have to be called good.

    This blog, I anticipate, will enable some intelligent discussion regarding catchers.

    I like the correcting effect of WAR/game. That is a nice touch to remove the longevity effect of cathchers who hung on too long.

    WAR for catchers may be somewhat weak on the defensive, game-calling aspect of their job, as I have pointed out in previous blogs.

  8. Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall.

  9. Steve L., nice work! I'm now looking at the career WAR of the top 50 through their age-32 seasons, which trims off the "hanging around" segments, and Munson is 9th in career WAR and 10th in WAR/G -- still among the elite. Only HOFers (and Ted Simmons -- there you go, Steve #8) above him.

  10. I thought at first this might be a post about Joe Mauer but I see he's still over 200 games short of qualifying for the list. But if he did qualify I calculate is WAR/game to be a mind blowing 0.0444 and that includes the 13% of his games where he was a DH and thus received negative dWAR credit. That's as big a difference between him and the current leader (Cochrane) as there is between Cochrane and the 14th place player (Freehan).

    And I say: Bill Freehan for the Hall of Fame!

  11. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Simmons and Munson both belong in the HOF; and the latter at least will make it {just look at how long it took to get Schnozz Lombardi in, and Munson checks out considerably ahead of him in most categories}.

  12. Steve -- Very interesting angle!

    Could you produce a table that splits out the offensive and defensive WAR values? I'm very curious to see how many of the "surprising" rankings depend mainly on dWAR, a number that I would consider somewhat less reliable than oWAR.

  13. Gee -- another worthy Tiger overlooked by the HOF voters!

    So Freehan ranks 15th in career WAR among catchers, and 14th in WAR/game -- but was one'n' done in the HOF voting. Quelle surprise!

  14. Oohhh Thurman Munson at #4 FTW.

  15. Richard Chester Says:

    It's nice to see Wally Schang on the list. He seems to be a forgotten and unheralded catcher. I always felt that he was the best catcher until Hartnett, Cochrane and Dickey came along.

  16. Steve, you fail to consider one important factor about Munson--because of his untimely death, he didn't play out the string in later days as a less effective player as virtually every other player did, and therefore his career WAR consists almost entirely of peak. That articifally pushes him up a list like this.

  17. Andy - who is to say that Munson would have had a decline phase? When he was killed, his shoulder and knees were shot. That's why he was playing RF. And, he missed his family - also his son required him being around more - that's why he got the plane. Maybe he would have retired after 1979 or 1980? He was not the type of player, or family man, who was going to hang around, play PT, and suck, for a half-decade or so, if that's all he could do.

  18. FWIW, Roy Campanellam due to his untimely accident, didn't get to have a decline phase either - and he's in the HOF.

  19. Steve, unless there's documentation or Munson told you that himself, it's pretty tough to believe it's true. Lots of players talk about early retirement but few actually do it. If you want to be fair with regards to Munson, set an age cutoff that matches Munson's final season age and look at how he compares then. My guess is he drops down quite a few spots. And anyway if he wasn't going to play catcher, or at all, anymore, then why should we value his comparatively short career so highly? That's like valuing a pitcher with a 130 ERA+ over 1000 innings more than a guy with a 120 ERA+ over 3000 innings, when the latter is clearly more impressive.

  20. John Bowen Says:

    One thing I've noticed is that career WAR for catchers is significantly lower than for other position players.

    60 is considered a rough cut-off for HOF enshrinement.

    And yet, just 5 catchers (Bench, Pudge, Fisk, Carter, Berra) meet that particular benchmark.

    By comparison, there are 12 3B, 12 SS, 11 1B, 13 2B, and 35 OF.

    Kinda makes me think that the positional adjustment for catchers is a bit off.

  21. Munsons's 79 year showed the beginning of a possibly significant decline phase. And, it wasn't just his numbers-if you watched the games, you could see his on-field performance just wasn't as sharp. It was remarked about in the press at that time. That wasn't really the time of tremendously long multi-year contracts, so Munson might have hung around for a shorter period than, say Carlos Zambrano.

  22. I don't know how you can say Campanella didn't have a decline phase...3 out of his last 4 seasons had an OPS+ of 88 or less as compared to his peak of around 140 from 1950 to 1953.

    Munson dropped to 95 in his final season at age 32.

  23. Nash Bruce Says:

    @10,19: It's been the white elephant in the room, even when they signed Mauer to the huge deal last year, that he would someday need to be moved from behind the plate, to save his body, in order to save his bat. Unfortunately this year seems to have sped that timetable up considerably, as he has been really beat up, (when he has even been able to play) and has played some 1B, for the first time in his career. So I'm wondering, given what he has accomplished in his career, if his body never really recovers, and he adds many years to his career as an average hitting 1b, with little power, is he in the HOF?

    Certainly if he were to die today, I'd have to say that his induction would be a first-ballot slam-dunk, unanimous, even.

    I think that I have seen some form of this discussion somewhere before, the common theme being, "how much control is a player allowed to have over his legacy?" For example, Sandy Koufax didn't hang on and have a decline phase-and, his dominant phase only lasted a few years. He got out, while he was in the prime of his career, at least statistically.
    If Mauer hits .270, with little power next year, his body is beat up, and he retires, citing injury problems, rather than padding his career with a decade of average, or even so-so seasons? Is he a HOF?
    What if Mattingly had retired after '89, because of his back? Dale Murphy after '87, to go serve the Mormon church overseas? Gooden after '88, with a 91-35 career record?

  24. In light of recent developments with Mauer, I actually wrote a post already, going up tomorrow, about catchers playing right field...

  25. @16, that's the same reason Shoeless Joe Jackson is #3 on the all-time batting average list, he never had the "opportunity" to decline.

  26. @23, Nash. The ten year rule for eligibility really has value.

  27. Andy - see this link and check out pages 220 through 222:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=kFmzbUgSassC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA220#v=onepage&q=knee&f=false

    Munson's body was shot in 1979 and he was saying that the game was no longer fun for him. And, remember, this was before arthroscopy surgery, HGH, stem cells, etc. Back then, the only hope was going under the real knife and there was no sure thing about recovery. Munson couldn't catch any more. And, with his shoulder, his power was gone. He wasn't going to play IB or the OF. Maybe he could have been a singles hitting DH - but, back then, esp in Yankee Stadium, Big Stein wanted power hitting lefties as DH.

    I have little doubt that Munson, if not killed, would have been out of the game before he was 35. He had real estate interests in Ohio and a family of small children. He saw himself as a business man - he enjoyed that.

    It didn't sound like he was enjoying playing baseball as a player who could not perform. That's why I think he would have hung them up in 1980...or soon thereafter.

  28. Nash Bruce Says:

    Andy, one, um, advantage?? of the Twins being so bad, is that they now have several positons, where Mauer would be a major upgrade over what they have there now. In fact, I saw recently that one of the coaches were joking(?) that "Mauer is very athletic. He could even play shortstop if he wanted to."

    Unfortunately, the bad thing is that Drew Butera is taking it upon himself, to try to resolve the question that Neil L. had(#7), as to the absolute minimum of offense that a catcher needs to provide. (Drew has to be past that point by now....)

    I'm in favor of Mauer's catching days being over for good. I still think that he's going to be a valuable player offensively. It would just be too bad that this day had to come so soon.

  29. @28, it's just "bad luck" that the Twins have such a good first baseman, blocking Mauer.

  30. Nash Bruce Says:

    Oh, man. There's a 10-year rule?? Never knew that.....sorry.
    --bangs head on wall--

  31. Steve L., I'll wear my ignorance on my sleeve about WAR by asking, is there a separate component of total WAR, for any player, not just catchers, due to baserunning such that total WAR is the linear sum of oWAR, dWAR and bWAR?

    And secondly, does the dWAR for catchers incude a factor for opposition baserunners thrown out, wild pitches allowed on their watch, and pass balls, compared to a replacement-level catcher?

    Interesting that there no Benito Santiagos or Tony Penas on the list, guys who were reputed to have cannons for arms when they were young. What about catchers with wheels like Craig Biggo?

    Offense is all-important in contributing to a catcher's WAR/G?! Mike Piazza's defensive liabilities have been well-chronicled in other BR blogs, yet he remains near the top of the list.

    Perhaps you can see where I'm heading with this ...... I am replaying my old tapes from another blog, but why do major-league GM's currently accept/expect such a low oWAR from catchers if the "greatest" all-time catchers were essentially sluggers?

    is dWAR such a minor contributor to a catcher's lifetime WAR, that defense should essentially be ignored in selecting a catcher?

  32. i'm surprised pudge and gabby hartnett are not higher on the list, especially hartnett. they were both good hitters and defensive catchers, and you'd think throwing out baserunners would be significant in WAR given how much they punish base stealers for CS (rickey had a negative running contribution in his 130 sb year due to his 42 CS). and hartnett's career wasn't that long either.

  33. Answering my own question from #19, here are the 51 catchers since 1901 to amass 1000 games at catcher by their Age 32 season (Munson's last), ranked by WAR/G:

    1 Mike Piazza 52.6 1258 0.041812401
    2 Gary Carter 62.8 1688 0.037203791
    3 Johnny Bench 69.7 1877 0.037133724
    4 Mickey Cochrane 48.9 1411 0.034656272
    5 Bill Dickey 45.8 1353 0.033850702
    6 Yogi Berra 48.6 1474 0.032971506
    7 Ivan Rodriguez 57.1 1758 0.032480091
    8 Thurman Munson 43.4 1423 0.030498946
    9 Ted Simmons 49.4 1801 0.027429206
    10 Bill Freehan 41.5 1583 0.026216045
    11 Darrell Porter 37.1 1545 0.024012945
    12 Jason Kendall 36.3 1545 0.023495146
    13 Gabby Hartnett 28.8 1228 0.023452769
    14 Manny Sanguillen 25.8 1108 0.023285199
    15 Jim Sundberg 29.2 1398 0.020886981
    16 Del Crandall 26.6 1308 0.020336391
    17 Javy Lopez 23.4 1156 0.020242215
    18 Lance Parrish 28.3 1399 0.020228735
    19 Butch Wynegar 24.7 1301 0.018985396
    20 Charles Johnson 22 1169 0.018819504
    21 Mike Scioscia 24.6 1324 0.01858006
    22 Earl Battey 20.3 1141 0.017791411
    23 Tony Pena 20.7 1207 0.017149959
    24 Bob OFarrell 18.7 1128 0.016578014
    25 Sherm Lollar 18 1121 0.016057092
    26 Rick Ferrell 18.5 1173 0.015771526
    27 Ramon Hernandez 18.6 1188 0.015656566
    28 Terry Kennedy 18 1190 0.01512605
    29 Benito Santiago 19.7 1343 0.014668652
    30 Tim McCarver 21 1492 0.014075067
    31 Bob Boone 14.7 1049 0.014013346
    32 Brad Ausmus 14.4 1041 0.013832853
    33 Ray Schalk 22.3 1657 0.013458057
    34 Jody Davis 13.9 1070 0.012990654
    35 Milt May 14.7 1142 0.012872154
    36 Muddy Ruel 14.8 1176 0.012585034
    37 Steve ONeill 17.4 1471 0.011828688
    38 Todd Hundley 12.3 1112 0.011061151
    39 A.J. Pierzynski 13.5 1237 0.0109135
    40 Frankie Hayes 14.2 1364 0.010410557
    41 Johnny Edwards 11.5 1127 0.010204082
    42 Ivey Wingo 11 1198 0.00918197
    43 Frank Snyder 12.2 1329 0.009179834
    44 Jerry Grote 10.7 1195 0.008953975
    45 Jimmie Wilson 8.9 1194 0.007453936
    46 Al Lopez 10 1406 0.007112376
    47 Del Rice 5.3 1064 0.004981203
    48 Cy Perkins 3.2 1096 0.002919708
    49 Jim Hegan 1.8 1091 0.001649863
    50 Rollie Hemsley 1.8 1115 0.00161435
    51 Luke Sewell 1.1 1103 0.00099728

    Munson drops down to 8th.

  34. I'll go ahead and toot this blog's horn on another thread...my comment here is the 1,143rd for posts made this week going back to Monday morning. That's a blog record.

    If you're curious, the most commented posts of all time here are:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/7632 with 418

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/9697 with 293

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/9619 with 246

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/7788 with 242

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/9310 with 206

  35. The Mauer game in RF was a bit of a fluke. The Twins had only nine position players available for that game. Cuddyer's been hurt (and they hadn't put him on the DL), Kubel has a one-day family matter to tend to (he's back) and Luke Hughes missed a plane (he PH for Butera in the 9th).

    Mauer would be more valuable in RF than 1B -- his arm wouldn't be wasted out there as it is at 1B -- but at the time of that game it was a fluke move. He hadn't been practicing for it or anything.

  36. Andy, as I mentioned in #9, only HOFers are above Munson -- and did Fisk not have enough games as catcher by age 32? I have him fourth, with 37.7 WAR in 1078 games for .03497 WAR/G. The question is, is the cutoff just above Munson, or just behind him: is the on the bottom rung of the HOF, or first on the doorstep looking in?

  37. Where have all the great catchers gone?

  38. John Autin Says:

    @20, John Bowen -- Do those numbers really suggest that the positional adjustment for catcher WAR is off? Or is it just harder for catchers to rack up as many WAR in a season or a career, as compared to other positions, because of the physical demands of the job?

    In a similar vein, one might note that the career WAR value of top long-career closers does not compare well with that of top long-career SPs. Does that say something about WAR's positional adjustment, or about the nature of the job? I think the latter.

    Back to catchers ... On a seasonal basis, I think the question of whether the WAR formula properly credits catchers is a sticky one.

    The main reason catchers usually have lower season WAR values than other position players is that they play fewer games. Some workhorse catchers do play almost every day, but seems reasonable to assume that such a workload somewhat erodes their per game value.

    So consider the difference in value between a typical starting catcher, who starts maybe 120 games, and a workhorse who starts 150 games. The workhorse plays those extra games because the team deems him more valuable in the lineup on those days, even at a reduced performance level, than the backup catcher, whom we might consider roughly equivalent to a replacement-level catcher. But even if he is more valuable than the backup, per game, for those 30 extra games, it's unlikely that he is as much better, per game, as he would be under a lighter workload.

    The WAR formula compares both the typical front-line catcher and the workhorse to the same baseline replacement-level catcher. In order to argue that the WAR formula undervalues the workhorse catcher vis-a-vis other positions, I think you'd have to argue that the WAR formula should compare him to a catcher of replacement-level ability who also had his performance eroded by catching 150 games. And I don't think that's reasonable.

    On a career basis, it's just a fact that catchers tend to be older than other position players when they first land a starting job, and tend to lose that starting job at a younger age -- thus, less opportunity to amass career WAR.

    If catchers are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, then perhaps the WAR standard for reaching the HOF (to the extent that WAR even plays a role in HOF voting) should be adjusted. But I don't think raw WAR values for catchers show any flaw in WAR's positional adjustment.

  39. Is Pudge done playing?

  40. @17..Sure Munson was declining by 1979 but to say he was arm and knees were shot is an overstatement. In 1979 over 90% of his games played were at catcher and he was still a plus defender. he even threw out 46% of potential base stealers which is higher than his career %. He didn't play any RF that year and, in fact, played the most RF of his career in his MVP seaso of 1976.

    @25...it's debatable whether or not Jackson's BA would have declined had he not been banned. it's entirely possible that his BA would have increased since he would have played several seasons in the live ball era. His only season in that era, 1920, he batted .382 which was his highest since 1912.

  41. @24
    Andy, that blog should be an interesting adjunct to the discussion here about catchers.

    @38
    JA, trying to grasp the essence of your post, I want to establish if you agree that catcher is the second most important single position on the team after pitcher, well ahead of shortstop?

    Should a good hitting catcher's bat be kept in the lineup almost every day by DH-ing him in the AL on his off-days and 1B-ing him in the NL, or is the nature of his workload such that he needs the day completely off, mentally and physically?

    Why is a player moved out of the catcher's position if his offense gets too good? And what does that say about we expect overall of catchers?

    Are there examples of players who couldn't hit well at other positions being converted into catchers in mid-career? If not, why not, if so many moves are made the other way.

  42. John Autin Says:

    @31, Neil -- On the relative weight of offense and defense in catcher WAR:

    I think the spread in offensive value is much greater than the spread in defensive value. I think there are very few seasons in which the difference between the top and bottom dWAR is even comparable to the difference between the top and bottom oWAR.

    I would say that Piazza rates so highly in WAR because, for most of his career, the positive difference between his offensive value and that of a replacement catcher was much greater than the negative difference in defensive value.

    Similarly, catchers like Tony Pena and Benito Santiago fare poorly in WAR because they weren't so good on offense, with career OPS+ of 84 and 93, respectively.

    It may also be that their defense was somewhat overrated. Both had a career CS rate of 35% -- good, not great. While it's not entirely fair to compare across eras, Pudge Rodriguez has a 46% CS rate.

    Looking at the career CS rate of long-career contemporaries of Pena and Santiago (I'll show the career numbers of the top 20 catchers in games played from 1975-2005):
    -- Pudge Rodriguez, 46%
    -- Jim Sundberg, 41%
    -- Bob Boone, 40%
    -- Rick Dempsey, 40%
    -- Lance Parrish, 39%
    -- Darrell Porter, 38%
    -- Terry Steinbach, 36%
    -- Gary Carter, 35%
    -- Tony Pena, 35%
    -- Benito Santiago, 35%
    -- Brad Ausmus, 35%
    -- Carlton Fisk, 34%
    -- Ted Simmons, 34% (surprise!)
    -- Mike Scioscia, 34%
    -- Terry Kennedy, 31%
    -- Mickey Tettleton, 29%
    -- Jason Kendall, 29%
    -- Javy Lopez, 28%
    -- Mike Stanley, 24%
    -- Mike Piazza, 23% (no surprise!)

    This is not a scientific approach, but I think it's fair to say that, with a few exceptions, there's just not a lot of real value difference between the higher and lower CS guys.

  43. Posada just missed the age 32 cutoff. He'd be around where Simmons is, I believe.

  44. I've long thought of Freehan and Schang as HOF-type players. Bill James ranked them #12 and #20 in the 2001 Baseball Historical Abstract. Schang was a regular, as he mentions, for six AL champions on three franchises. While it's clear those three franchises would have been great without him, I think it's hard to underestimate the fact that three dynasties would be happy to have him as their regular.

  45. John Autin Says:

    Following up to #42 re: the respective spread in offensive and defensive WAR for catchers:

    Among starting catchers this year (min. 70 games caught):

    -- The spread in WAR Runs Batting is 40 runs: Alex Avila leads at +26, Miguel Olivo brings up the rear at -14. The 2nd- and 3rd-best are +21 (McCann) and +15 (Santana); the 2nd- and 3rd-worst are both -7 (Arencibia and Suzuki).

    -- The spread in WAR Runs Fielding is only 16 runs: Wieters leads at +9, Thole [waah!] is last at -7. The 2nd- and 3rd-best are +5 (Montero) and +4 (3 players); the 2nd- and 3rd-worst are all -6 (4 players).

    Much bigger spread in the offensive spectrum.

  46. @42
    Thanks, JA, the data on opposition CS is really helpful to me in shaping my baseball catechism. Let me mull it over and refine my questions.

    So Pudge Rodriguez would stand alone as by far the best hitter near the top of the list? He in unique among catchers of the modern era.

    Clearly, then, things like pitch-calling, blocking pitches in the dirt, "inducing" strikes from umpires, mentoring young pitchers, and so on, are purely anecdotal and contribute nothing to the statistical value of the catcher.

    These things must be vastly overvalued by current baseball managerial minds because they must rely on such anecdotal evidence to keep trotting out inferior OPS+ players behind the plate.

    That's what I don't get. The disparity between the perception of how "good" a catcher is, in the overall sense of good, and how good his WAR/G is. Is it our own deep ambiguity about what a catcher is, a run-preventer or a run-producer? It is clear that a pitcher is expected to be a run-preventer.

  47. Richard Chester Says:

    @41

    To help gage the importance of catchers note that 5 of the top 15 names all played for Yankee championship teams.

  48. John Autin Says:

    Neill @46 -- I think the catcher position is one of the last areas in which management's gut feelings often prevail over quantitative analysis.

    As you said, certain aspects of the job are virtually unquantifiable. And I would argue that traditional baseball folks generally way overvalue the unquantifiable traits. That's partly a natural human tendency; most people want to believe that their insights are more important than anything a bean counter comes up with.

    But it's partly just stubborn resistance, clinging to old ways that prevailed for decades before quantitative analysis made inroads.

    Glaring examples of catchers who were grossly undervalued by the teams that had them and let them get away cheaply:
    -- Mike Napoli was traded twice this offseason, once as sort of a throw-in to a bad contract swap, and once for a generic reliever.
    -- Mickey Tettleton was given away by Baltimore for a no-name starting pitcher with a 5.53 ERA over the previous 2 seasons.
    -- Gene Tenace, who averaged 5.1 WAR in his last 4 years with Oakland, was let go as a free agent, and averaged 5.0 WAR in his first 4 years with San Diego. (OK, Finley wasn't going to pay anyone, but still, Tenace was generally undervalued, making just 1 All-Star team despite posting 3 of the top 18 catcher WAR years from 1973-80).

  49. Scott Taylor Says:

    Ted Simmons is an injustice. Equally puzzling is the fact that almost regularly I'll find myself in arguments with fans who think Gary Carter's HOF induction was a travesty

  50. So taking some of the "best" young catchers in the game today, Ramos with the Nationals, Thole with the Mets, Avila with the Tigers, Weiters, Lucroy, Arencibia, Posey and so on. By what yardstick are we measuring their current effectiveness and future potential?

    If WAR/G is to be believed, JA, they should concentrate on their hitting and not worry at all about throwing mechanics, footwork, glove positioning as a ball receiver or blocking the plate. They should aspire to be like Johnny Bench or Mike Piazza, not Jim Sundberg, Bob Boone or Rick Dempsey.

    @48
    "---I think the catcher position is one of the last areas in which management's gut feelings often prevail over quantitative analysis.---"

    John, I believe that it a very salient point to the discussion in this blog. Who influenced our perception of the 2011 prototypical catcher more, Johnny Bench or Jim Sundberg?

    As Cal Ripken was to the shortstop position, so Johnny Bench was to the catcher position?

    I realize the offensive context of the era shapes our view of what each position should contribute.

    If the current run-scoring drought continues, (ML RPG has declined for 5 straight years) perhaps the no-bat good-glove catcher will be seen as more valuable.

  51. John Autin Says:

    @50, Neil -- Taking your points in reverse order:

    -- My gut sense is that a very low scoring context would increase the true value of a good-hit/no-field catcher would go up, not down, and vice-versa for the opposite kind of catcher. I could be wrong there, and in any case, ballclubs might see it your way.

    But I think the relative value of the two extreme types of catcher is more affected by the overall talent at the position at any given time, more than by the offensive context.

    -- I'm not sure of the intended dichotomy between Johnny Bench and Jim Sundberg. Bench was great on offense, and good to great on defense (depending on whether you go by reputation or dWAR). Sundberg was about average on offense, great on defense.

    In any case, I'm not sure any particular catchers have had a long-term impact on what a team expects from the position.

    Similarly (and although I don't mean to be so contrary), I think Ripken's impact is generally overstated. There were great offensive shortstops before him, even sluggers -- Arky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau, Ernie Banks, Rico Petrocelli, Robin Yount; Rogers Hornsby started out a SS; and of course, Honus Wagner. There were tall shortstops before Ripken -- Marty Marion, Buddy Kerr, Roy Smalley, Sr., Harvey Kuenn, Tony Kubek, Ron Hansen, Hal Lanier, Davey Concepcion and others were all 6' 2" or taller.

    Often, things are perceived as revolutionary that are really just cyclical.

    And how many current shortstops fit the Ripken mold, anyway? If the mold is HRs, then we have Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, sure. Who else? There are a few others who hit 20 HRs occasionally -- Alex Gonzalez (ATL), Jhonny Peralta, J.J. Hardy, even Juan Uribe -- but I have a very hard time seeing Cal in them. If the mold is a 140 OPS+ (a mark Ripken reached 4 times), we've had just 4 qualifying years by shortstops since 2008 -- Peralta and Reyes this year, and 2 years by Hanley.

    I'm sure teams would love to have a Ripken, but these things run in cycles. I've often heard it said that Ripken paved the way for a young, big, power-hitting SS to remain at that position, rather than be moved to 3B or elsewhere as he usually was in the past (as the story goes). I don't see a whole lot of evidence of lasting impact in that regard.

  52. Bruce Gilbert Says:

    I realize that Roger Bresnahan came up just short of 1,000 games caught (974), but where would he rank on these lists if he'd caught in just 26 more games?

  53. I don't like this switching of a catchers position because of his bat.Biggio was understandable because he was undersized and had great speed.Mauer should stick to catching,like Piazza to nearly the end,Kendall and Cochrane.

  54. John Autin Says:

    But Steve, Piazza hardly ever got hurt, so his teams never had to ask themselves if he'd be more durable at another position.

    That's the question facing the Twins right now with Mauer. He missed most of his rookie year with injuries, missed another big chunk in '07, missed the first month of 2009, and has had leg issues all of this year, playing barely half the schedule. And this is a guy who, at his best, is not just an elite hitter for a catcher, but an elite hitter, period, with a 142 OPS+ from 2006-10.

    Unfortunately, if he has chronic leg issues, it may be too late for a position move to do any good.

  55. Posada is HOF, not only is he the 13th most productive catcher ever according to this list, but he has won 5 rings which is more than most people on the list. I know in 96 he only had something like 15 at bats in post season but i think he needs to be in. One of the premier players at his position when he played.

  56. Happy Jack Chesbro Says:

    Charlie Bennett (954 games at catcher from 1878-1893) has 38.0 WAR lifetime,

    With 1062 games total, he is at the top of this list if it is slightly expanded, (0.03578 WAR/G).

    Bennett is even more overlooked than Ted Simmons and Thurman Munson.

  57. Neil and JA, I'd add that catcher is just about the only position where other players (the pitchers) play a relevant role in roster selection and who is in the starting line-up. A lot of the truly great pitchers request personal catchers, regardless of those catcher's hitting abilities. From the pitcher's perspective, he is by far the most important person in the game, and his needs should take priority over mere offensive production. So, a Javy Lopez is going to get fewer at bats than his hitting might justify, because Greg Maddux didn't like throwing to him. That shouldn't affect WAR/G, although it will impact his cumulative WAR. You'd have to look deeper into the numbers to see if Maddux, et. al,. faced better opposing pitchers and hence gave the disfavored catcher the opportunity to sit out on a day when he was least likely to be offensively productive

  58. Johnny Twisto Says:

    The main reason catchers usually have lower season WAR values than other position players is that they play fewer games. ... On a career basis, it's just a fact that catchers tend to be older than other position players when they first land a starting job, and tend to lose that starting job at a younger age -- thus, less opportunity to amass career WAR.

    Exactly. Look at the total WAR by position over a multi-year stretch. I don't know exactly what you will find, but I will guess the positions are fairly close. It's not a positional adjustment which limits individual catchers' WAR, it's their playing time.

    ***

    Steve L., I'll wear my ignorance on my sleeve about WAR by asking, is there a separate component of total WAR, for any player, not just catchers, due to baserunning such that total WAR is the linear sum of oWAR, dWAR and bWAR?

    Neil, I don't see that this was answered, but I'm not sure I understand it. Baserunning is included as an element of WAR (and shown in each player's WAR table). If that's not what you're asking, can you rephrase?

    does the dWAR for catchers incude a factor for opposition baserunners thrown out, wild pitches allowed on their watch, and pass balls

    Yes. See http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/total_zone.shtml
    "Catcher data looks at stolen bases allowed, caught stealing, errors, pickoffs, passed balls, and wild pitches. I split the data by pitcher handedness (otherwise a catcher will look better if he catches more lefthanders than normal.) Once again, everything is compared to league averages and converted to runs."

    why do major-league GM's currently accept/expect such a low oWAR from catchers if the "greatest" all-time catchers were essentially sluggers?

    They're limited by the guys who are capable of catching. This is the reason for WAR's positional adjustment. Forget WAR, this is why fans understand that defensive positions don't hit as much as corner spots. The selection of guys who can handle the defensive positions is much smaller, so you're not going to find as many good hitters. On top of that, catching wears guys down and probably makes them hit worse than they otherwise would. So if you can find a catcher -- a guy capable of catching -- who can really hit, it's a great thing. And as JA said, the range among hitters is a lot more than among defenders at one position, so the great hitters will be worth more runs on the offensive than defensive side.

    is dWAR such a minor contributor to a catcher's lifetime WAR, that defense should essentially be ignored in selecting a catcher?

    No. I'll replay one of my old tapes as well and say that dWAR should include the positional adjustment. And if it did, you'd more clearly see that many of these catchers had a large percentage of their value on the defensive side. And a great deal of that value is just by virtue of being able to catch. Defense is a major contributor to a catcher's value, and those who can't do it don't get the opportunity to catch in the majors.

    Clearly, then, things like pitch-calling, blocking pitches in the dirt, "inducing" strikes from umpires, mentoring young pitchers, and so on, are purely anecdotal and contribute nothing to the statistical value of the catcher. These things must be vastly overvalued by current baseball managerial minds because they must rely on such anecdotal evidence to keep trotting out inferior OPS+ players behind the plate.

    It's possible they are overvalued. They *are* mostly anecdotal, mostly because they have proven very difficult to isolate statistically. It's probable that skill in these fields exists, but the differences among major league catchers are small enough to get lost in the noise of random variance. The guys who *can't* do the little things behind the plate get filtered out and moved off the plate in the minors.

    taking some of the "best" young catchers in the game today....If WAR/G is to be believed, JA, they should concentrate on their hitting and not worry at all about throwing mechanics, footwork, glove positioning as a ball receiver or blocking the plate.

    Definitely not. See above. If they don't do that stuff, they won't be catching.

  59. One of the more interesting posts in awhile. No specific comment yet beyond there's a lot to absorb here. Great way to slice the data to get a different look at players.

  60. More evidence that Posada belongs in the HOF.

  61. Posada's HOF credentials are compelling:

    11th all-time among catchers in WAR.
    13th all-time among catchers in WAR/G

    Anyone top 20 all-time at a particular position should be a HOFer, correct?

    Oh, and 5 rings don't hurt.

  62. It's interesting to consider the ways in which Posada being on the Yankees both helps and hurts his HOF candidacy. Obviously it helps tremendously in terms of exposure, and all the championships (for which he deserves partial credit) helps tremendously. But I also think that he gets marked down by some people since he has rarely been the best offensive player on the Yankees during his tenure. (A quick look at the franchise yearly leader in WAR shows that Posada led in 2000. It also shows that Scott Sanderson led with 3.7 in 1991---holy shit!) I do believe he actually suffers to some degree by being viewed as just another cog in a successful system--although clearly the benefit of his exposure outweighs this.

  63. Since 1997, Posada has 3 of the top 16 seasons in position-player WAR for the Yankees. (see here) That's not bad. But his next season is ranked at 33rd, and there are so many different guys mixed in with Posada among the top 16 seasons---A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, Cano, Bernie, O'Neill, and Teixeira.

  64. John Autin Says:

    JT -- In your excellent post @58, I'm thinking about your statement that many teams employ a weak-hitting catcher because "They're limited by the guys who are capable of catching."

    If we agree that the range of offensive value is much greater than that of defensive value at the position, doesn't that suggest that some teams may set the bar too high for defensive ability?

    I'm thinking out loud here, but ... Let's assume for the sake of argument that the WAR method provides a reasonably good measure of both offensive and defensive value.

    Now consider Mike Piazza. I think we can safely say that his defense was at or below the lower limit of what most teams would consider acceptable. If he hadn't been a great hitter, he would not have lasted long as a catcher; and even with his great hitting as a given, he still would have been moved to another position if he had been at all willing or able to play elsewhere. For sure, the Mets (and their fans and media) talked about doing it for years before actually pushing him to 1B in 2004, at age 35; unfortunately, his fielding there was awful, too.

    So it was only by virtue of being the best hitter ever at the position that teams allowed Piazza to remain a catcher. But was it reasonable for them to apply that standard? Look at his overall WAR ranking by year, compared to the next best catchers in his league (and again, assuming that dWAR provides a decent measure):

    1993 -- #1; +0.5 WAR to #2; +2.1 WAR to #3
    1994 -- #1; +1.4 WAR to #2; +2.6 WAR to #3
    1995 -- #1; +3.1 WAR to #2; +3.4 WAR to #3
    1996 -- #1; +1.1 WAR to #2; +3.3 WAR to #3
    1997 -- #1; +4.3 WAR to #2; +4.8 WAR to #3
    1998 -- #1; +0.5 WAR to #2; +2.9 WAR to #3
    1999 -- #1; +0.1 WAR to #2*; +1.0 WAR to #3*
    2000 -- #1; +0.5 WAR to #2; +2.4 WAR to #3
    2001 -- #2; -0.8 WAR to #1**; +1.9 WAR to #3
    2002 -- #1; +0.1 WAR to #2; +0.7 WAR to #3

    * In 1999, #2 Jason Kendall hit .332/.428/.511, and Mike Lieberthal hit .300 with 30+ HRs and doubles.
    ** Paul Lo Duca's one big year.

    For his 10-year prime, Piazza averaged 1 full WAR better than the #2 catcher in the league, and 2.5 WAR better than the #3 catcher.

    So, even if he had not been as good a hitter as he was -- even deducting 1 to 2 oWAR per year -- his team still would have had the #1 or #2 catcher in the league.

    Or to put it another way: Even if dWAR undercounted Piazza's defensive cost by a full 1 to 2 WAR per year, his team still would have had the #1 or #2 catcher in the league.

    Would Piazza have been as valuable if he'd played a different position? Hard to say exactly, because we can only guess at his defense elsewhere. But his offense would not have stood out as much. Certainly, Piazza was a great hitter no matter what position you compare him to; but for those 10 prime years, his combined 154 OPS+ ranked 8th in all MLB, with Bonds at 196, McGwire 182, and a total of 20 players besides Piazza at 140 or higher (min. 2,000 PAs). But compared to other catchers with 2,000 PAs in that span, he was a colossus: Piazza 154 OPS+, Hoiles 121 (in half the PAs), Pudge 117, Posada 116 (in half the PAs), no one else above 108, and a median of 94.

    So I have to think that keeping Piazza behind the plate was the smart play. And I have to think that there are other potential catchers -- obviously not as good hitters as Piazza, but pretty darn good -- whose defense is currently considered unacceptable, but who actually would benefit their teams the most if they were kept at catcher.

  65. JA @64, I agree with you. When you have that kind of hitting talent in a guy who at least knows how to play the position, it's hard to move him off. And Piazza, unlike Carter, was able to maintain offensive productivity pretty much through his career, albeit not at the level of his prime.

  66. Piazza was not really bad defensively.He was poor at throwing out baserunners.I know the throwing is important but it isn't the only thing a catcher does.He did the other things pretty well.

  67. John Autin Says:

    @66, Steve -- I'll grant that Piazza was maybe average in other defensive aspects -- but he was so bad at throwing out basestealers that I have to call him a very bad defensive catcher overall.

    When you look at his stolen base stats, it's not just the poor 23% CS rate that stands out, but the sheer numbers of successful steals. From 1996-2003, he averaged 121 SB per year, almost 1 SB per game. You won't find another catcher in that era allowing anything like 1 SB per game over a period of years.

  68. yeah, posada is in

  69. Johnny Twisto Says:

    If we agree that the range of offensive value is much greater than that of defensive value at the position, doesn't that suggest that some teams may set the bar too high for defensive ability?

    I think this is true at every position though. The range of right fielder hitting is greater than right fielder defense. I think this has to be the case, since fielding is only part of defense -- of course pitching is the majority of it.

    And I agree that keeping Piazza behind the plate was probably the right thing to do. I don't remember any pitchers ever complaining about throwing to him. His pitching staffs were always among the best in the league. Measuring the cost of stolen bases is one of the simpler parts of assessing catcher defense. For as bad as his throwing was, Total Zone says his defense was only about 6 runs worse than average per full season. It's quite possible that all the things we don't really know how to measure, like framing pitches, "handling" a staff, etc, move him even closer to average. Nothing wrong with being a bit below average with with the glove when you have a bat like that.

    Of course, there were probably games when he drove his fans (and team) nuts. I remember a game around 2002 when the Yankees stole about 7 bases on him and most of his throws were bouncing somewhere around the pitcher's mound. I wonder if there were certain close games against running teams where the Dodgers or Mets were almost doomed to have an uphill fight because the opposition could get that big SB if they needed it. That's a micro-analysis which WAR or any broad look at catcher defense would miss.

  70. Strange tangent, I admit, but this debate reminds me of the one when Garry Templeton was traded for Ozzie Smith. Ozzie was already a wizard with the glove, and was a better base stealer than Templeton, but his OPS+ was 66. Templeton had hit over .310 three times, led the league in triples three times, won a silver slugger, and had amassed 17.8 oWAR in four full seasons and parts of two others, and had very good range-a better Range Factor than Ozzie (although no one was calculating it). I remember thinking the trade was bizarre (for St. Louis-why give up Templeton for a glove man?).

  71. I have long made the agrument that Munson belongs in the Hall. It's funny, if a player has a short career, then he is discounted for not playing long enough. But if a player hangs around a little too long, he is accused of padding his numbers. I wish we could make up our minds on this. All I know is that in the 1970s, the best catchers were Bench, Munson, and then Fisk.

  72. @38. catcher much more important than short. if i only had 8 guys, short is among the positions i would forsake. catcher: not in a million. reaching first base on strikeouts all over the place.

  73. sorry. @41. not 38.

  74. just a little rant.

    every pitch is a play. one type of play. when a man reaches base, another type of play has occurred. every action in the game should get plus, minus, or zero WAR value on to every defensive player active in the game as well as any baserunners/batters. an updated multi-layered, blendable WAR formula is needed to accurately quantify players' overall and real game contribution.

  75. Simmons should have been a 1st ballot HoF'er. He was better than both Carter and Fisk. (And I said that as a Boston fan!). Freehan also belongs, though he's no Simmons, he'd certainly make one of the better Vet's Picks.

    Near as I can tell, Simmons is hurt only by playing in bench's shadow and only reaching the post season once - a loss with '82 Brewers, and he was washed up just two years later. (Which is a really stupid reason to be ignored by the hall: You happened to play for mostly medicore teams during the same time as the greatest catcher of all time played for the 1970's Reds.)

    Freehan...? One of MANY Tigers who should be in but isn't. (Ask Any Tiger fan! LOL) Along with Cash, Trammell, Whitaker, possibly Lolich and (of course) everybody's LEAST FAVORITE discussion starter: Jack Morris.

    *ducks*

    Hey! Who threw that?!

  76. 75 I agree about Freehan too.Outstanding defensively by all accounts and we see him in the top 15 above.Schang is the kind of guy that gets left off because he didn't put up hr/rbi totals or ba that caught the sportwriters eyes.Surprised the veterans left him out though.I know EVERYONE can't be in but of the guys that are in but if Rick Ferrel is in I don't see how you can keep the guys we named out.Munson was another one,short career or not he belongs in.

  77. 75 Whitaker and Trammell I'm with you on as well.Have to look closer at the numbers of the other guys you named.Lance Parrish is another guy I need to look at.