In 2000, Eddie Epstein and Rob Neyer wrote “Baseball’s Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All-time.” The book is the definitive outlook on the game’s greatest teams. Fifteen teams were selected from the 20th century. Nearly half of those teams had a Hall of Fame catcher. Of course, I’ve mentioned this before, but no other single position is more represented in Cooperstown amongst the teams in that book.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the price of tea, but it should be no surprise that the 1998 Yankees were the last team covered in that book. In addition to the six Hall of Fame catchers, the other teams were represented by some darn good ones. Johnny Kling, Chief Meyers, and Gene Tenace have their champions in the baseball community. Elston Howard was a darn good one during his prime as well. Some people even champion Walker Cooper of the Cardinals as well.
This brings us to Jorge Posada of the latest Yankees dynasty. Dynasties have to have some serendipity on their side. You obviously have to have great players, but sometimes you need good players that happen to play great. Then, you get unsung players that come out of nowhere and have a great season. Every championship team has those guys. So, was Posada a great player, a good one that was great at the right time, or was he one of those guys that came out of nowhere?
The comparisons with Howard are probably apt, but Posada was a really good catcher for about a decade. For whatever reason, he likely will not muster the value needed to be seriously considered by the BBWAA. It was to the point where I did not seriously consider him when looking at the modern candidates. However, considering his place on one of the greatest teams in history, he deserves a longer look. Let’s start with the index.
It would be easy enough to drop it right here, but that would be disrespectful to a pretty darn good player. When you get to 260 in the index you are a very good player in the history of the game. There are those that would claim that good players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is a museum after all and if they were instrumental in the success of a good team then you can make that argument. The trouble there is that you have others that were also good players that didn’t have the opportunity to play on a good team. When you mention Howard you see a really good historical comparison.
Howard has fame because he hit .348 with 21 home runs for the 1961 Yankees. He is the perfect example of a good player having a great season at the right time. Posada was good for longer, but the career numbers above show he probably came up just a little short. Of course, the interaction between the career and peak value numbers show you that as well. Still, his 121 OPS+ compares favorably to the other catchers in the Hall of Fame. So, why are his numbers so lackluster. Fortunately for us, Posada played at a time when we had a better understanding of all that went into catcher defense. Below we look at the numbers that compose defensive runs saved since they were compiled in 2003.
The Fielding Bible system remains the most comprehensive system that is available to the average fan. Teams likely have more complex data to go by, but recent seasons have seen pitch framing data (strikes here) added since 2010. It is likely Posada would have been substandard going back to the late 1990s in that department. Add to that his deficiencies in calling a game (Adjusted ER) and you can see he has an uphill battle. He showed some ability to throw out would be basestealers, but he also was not good at blocking pitches in the dirt. The end result was that he was the worst defensive catcher in baseball in three out of his last four seasons as a regular catcher and once more in 2004. Again, we have no idea of what happened before 2003, but judging by the other numbers it wasn’t pretty.
This is usually where one of those old-school guys comes out and says, “well I’d like to see you catch in the big leagues.” I agree. I could never do it. This isn’t saying that Posada was a bad catcher. Good and bad are comparative in nature. We have to look at what value he brought to the table and that can only be done by comparing him with other catchers. So, he may have been a good catcher, but compared to the other catchers in the game he was not as valuable defensively.
Baseball-reference had him rated at -60 Rfield runs and Fangraphs had him rated him at -7 total zone runs. So, add in the -80 defensive runs saved and you can see that no one was a big fan of his work. So, yes, Posada was a really good hitter and you could compare him with his teammate Derek Jeter. The difference is that Jeter enjoyed a few more prime seasons.