Reputation Index: Catchers

This is the point in the preparation for a book where we go back and do some lengthy edits. Every once in a while, when we go through the various tests we end up stumbling on a new one. I certainly wish I had thought of it before when I wrote the first book. We have been dabbling in MVP points for several posts and this is nothing new. Comparing those results with the top ten finishes in position player bWAR is relatively new. When we combine those two we get something we could call the “reputation index”.

In short, the MVP vote is not an accurate chronicling of how good the player was. It’s a chronicling of what the writers thought of the player at the time. Like with the index itself, it only makes sense when we compare these position by position. So, we are going back to the beginning (catchers in this case) and applying the test position by position. We would go into the chapters themselves and make the change. Here, we get to simply take a detour out of left field.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that catchers got more love in the MVP vote than they deserved. Ten catchers were voted in by the BBWAA. They shared 12 MVP awards in their respective careers. According to bWAR, they actually deserved one. So, it isn’t that they got more support than they deserved, but by how much. Some players got much more than they deserved, but a few were actually underrated. Like any other test, it isn’t the end all be all, but it is an interesting piece of the puzzle.

MVP Points

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Yogi Berra 7 0 4 3 57
Johnny Bench 5 1 2 2 38
Roy Campanella 3 1 0 3 36
Mickey Cochrane 2 3 1 2 33
Mike Piazza 2 3 4 0 31
Gabby Hartnett 6 2 1 1 27
Bill Dickey 4 2 3 0 25
Ivan Rodriguez 2 3 0 1 21
Gary Carter 3 2 2 0 19
Carlton Fisk 3 2 2 0 19

So, ask yourself this question: how likely is it that Yogi Berra was really among the top 25 players in the league 14 times? The problem with the reputation index is two-fold. First, baseball-reference only tracked the number of times a player was in the top ten in bWAR. That means we don’t know how many times each player finished between 11 and 25 in the league. Secondly, it was a top ten in the big leagues and not the individual league. We could conceivably double the second points total and get an approximate number.

Those are not the only issues. We are not including starting pitchers when there is always at least a couple included in the MVP vote. What we are looking for is a direct comparison of the way a position is perceived with the way these players actually finished. Berra played for the most successful team in professional sports history. They won five consecutive World Series titles and were practically a fixture in the World Series from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. It’s no wonder that all of the Yankee regulars got plenty of love in the MVP vote.

All of the top five players in the table above have similar stories to tell. Naturally, any of our statistical systems (fWAR and win shares included) would give those players a slight advantage. Teams that win get more wins when it comes time to divvy up the results. FWAR and BWAR are more virtual than the literal win shares formula, but even then we would expect those top five to have an inherent advantage. However, even with the inherent advantage we will find some different results.

BWAR Top Tens 

  Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Gary Carter 1 7 1 48
Yogi Berra 4 3 0 27
Mickey Cochrane 6 1 0 23
Johnny Bench 2 3 0 21
Mike Piazza 0 3 0 15
Carlton Fisk 0 3 0 15
Gabby Hartnett 5 0 0 15
Ivan Rodriguez 3 1 0 14
Roy Campanella 1 2 0 13
Bill Dickey 4 0 0 12

So, why Gary Carter? Simply put, getting in the top ten in bWAR is a lot about being good offensively and defensively. Carter was a legitimate Gold Glove performer during his prime. Two things happened to Carter in terms of reputation. First, the Gold Glove voters did not recognize him often enough for his fielding when he played. Secondly, he hung on way too long after he was no longer effective as a player.

The rest of the top five rounded predictably according to the actual MVP voting. Berra was consistently good and Cochrane was better in this test than in the index because he was really good for about a decade. The rest of the list is grouped together in a tight grouping. Catchers don’t often finish in the top ten since they normally don’t play much more than 120 games a season.

Does this mean that Carter really was the best catcher of all-time? That’s hard to say. I’ve heard from proponents for Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Yogi Berra. Each have points in their favor. If someone wanted to argue for Carter they certainly have some evidence now. Unfortunately, reputation index doesn’t tell you anything about longevity or consistency. It just tells you that Carter was the most unappreciated catcher of all-time.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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