Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Jorge Posada a Hall-of-Famer?

Does Jorge Posada belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? He just turned 40, and it looks like the career statistics I’m about to cite aren’t going to increase by much. Aside from his recent tiff with manager Joe Girardi, he’s never had a hint of scandal about him, and is generally regarded as a good guy. Those factors will help, but they can’t make the difference unless the performance is there.

His lifetime batting average is .274, on-base percentage .375, slugging percentage .474, OPS .849, OPS+ 121. His career hit total is 1,654 – not good. He has 271 homers and 378 doubles – not Hall-worthy numbers, but then, he has been a catcher, so that needs to be taken into consideration. He's been an All-Star 5 times and a World Champion 5 times (or 4 times, as he really wasn't there for most of the 1996 season).

He's never won a Gold Glove, but once Sandy Alomar Jr. and the steroid-aided Ivan Rodriguez got old, Jorge was, for a few years, a legitimate contender for the title of best-fielding catcher in the American League. Certainly, as long as (the possibly steroid-aided) Mike Piazza was on the Mets, Jorge was the best-fielding catcher in New York.

For a single season, he's only batted .300 once. That was in 2007, when he hit .338, with his next-highest average being .287 in 2000. That's almost a Norm Cash 1961-like discrepancy. Only once, in 2003, and then just, has he hit 30 home runs in a season; but he's hit at least 20 in 8 seasons, and just missed in 2 others, which shows good consistency. Only once, also in 2003, has he had 100 RBIs, but there are 4 others in which he’s had at least 90.

Of all players who were primarily catchers, Jorge ranks 16th all-time in OPS+. He trails Piazza, 1880s Chicago White Stockings (forerunners of the Cubs) star Mike "King" Kelly, 1970s A's slugger Gene Tenace, 1880s Giants star Buck Ewing, 1920s A's and 1930s Tigers star Mickey Cochrane, his own former manager Joe Torre, Yankee legend Bill Dickey, Johnny Bench, 1900s Giant Roger Bresnahan, 1930s Cub star Gabby Hartnett, 1930s Reds star Ernie Lombardi, Yankee legend Yogi Berra, Yankee not-so-legend Cliff Johnson, Brooklyn Dodger star Roy Campanella, and former White Sock and Angel Brian Downing. Among players from the post-1969 Divisional Play Era, he trails Piazza, Tenace, Bench, Johnson and Downing, for 6th.

Kelly, Ewing, Cochrane, Dickey, Bench, Bresnahan, Hartnett, Lombardi, Yogi and Campy are in. Piazza, eligible in 2013, will make it in, unless he's proven to have used steroids before he gets in. Tenace, Johnson and Downing will never get in.

Based on that, it's hard to say that Jorge will ever get in. In fact, on the all-time OPS+ list, he trails some other Yankee stars who will probably never get in: Roger Maris, Bobby Murcer, Don Mattingly and Hideki Matsui.

Baseball-Reference.com, a website which is your friend whether you know it or not, has a Hall of Fame Monitor, on which a "Likely HOFer" is at 100. Right now, with what he's already done through this past Sunday afternoon’s game, Jorge is at 98, which means he's practically there. B-R also has a Hall of Fame Standards, which is weighted more toward career stats, and according to this the "Average HOFer" is at 50. Jorge is at 41, which means he has a little bit to go.

B-R also has "10 Most Similar Batters," which are weighted not just toward similarities of stats but also toward players of the same position, to make it easier to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges, or so to speak. According to them, the 10 batters most similar to Jorge are: Javy Lopez, Hartnett, Lance Parrish, Joe Gordon, Bill Freehan, Bret Boone (but not his father Bob Boone, who, unlike Bret but like Jorge, was a catcher), Benito Santiago, Bill Dickey, Vern Stephens and Lombardi.

Of those, all are retired. Hartnett, Gordon, Dickey and Lombardi are in the Hall of Fame. Parrish sure looked like he was headed for the Hall before injuries broke him down. Cases could be made for Lopez and Stephens. But Freehan and Santiago fall a bit short, and Boone is actually less worthy of the Hall than his father, who does deserve some consideration. So there's 4 of Jorge's 10 Most Similar Batters who are in the Hall, and 2 others who, at the least, deserve another look.

B-R can also look at 10 Most Similar Batters through the current age of the player in question. Jorge’s top 10 by that standard are Carlton Fisk, Hartnett, Parrish, Dickey, Santiago, Lombardi, Ken Caminiti, Gary Carter, Jason Varitek and Sherman Lollar. Fisk, Hartnett, Dickey, Lombardi and Carter are in – that's 5. Although I'm not sure that this helps Jorge much.

There are 17 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who were elected, primarily, as catchers: Bench, Berra, Bresnahan, Campanella, Carter, Cochrane, Dickey, Ewing, Rick Ferrell, Fisk, Josh Gibson, Hartnett, Kelly, Lombardi, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop and Ray Schalk.

Gibson, Mackey and Santop played their entire careers in the Negro Leagues, which means that, as good as they may have been (and some people have called Gibson one of the very best players, never mind catchers, ever), they were not playing major league caliber opposition every game. So that leaves 14. Bresnahan, Ewing and Kelly played their entire careers in the pre-1920 Dead Ball Era, which means they were playing something of a different game.

So that leaves 11: Bench, Berra, Campanella, Carter, Cochrane, Dickey, Ferrell, Fisk, Hartnett, Lombardi and Schalk. Of those 11, about how many of them can you say, "He wasn't as good as Jorge Posada"? Ferrell and Schalk got in mainly because of their fielding. So that's 2 out of 11. The other 9? While Jorge has played on more Pennant winners and more World Champions than all of them except Berra and Dickey, I can't say he was a better hitter, or a better catcher, than any of them.

Based on this, I'm thinking that Jorge Posada, unless he returns for the 2012 season and has a really good one, and maybe pulls out one more good season in 2013, will probably never make it to the Hall of Fame.

But he does deserve a place in the Yankees' Monument Park, and the retirement of his Number 20. Sorry, Bucky Dent, but, in spite of helping the Yankees win 3 Pennants and 2 World Series, at this point, you're going to be remembered for one swing of the bat. Jorge will be remembered for much more.

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