Hall of Fame Index: Catcher Tiers

We spent the first round of articles covering those that the BBWAA voted into the Hall of Fame and those that we think could be in the Hall of Fame. Now, it is time for us to go in a different direction. We are going deep data diving in the interest of tying up some loose ends. First, everyone has a favorite player we haven’t featured yet in our articles. So, we are going 50 players deep at every position in the interest of satisfying the “what about” nature of the discussion.

More importantly, this kind of data dive demonstrates how the index works and how it can refine the Hall of Fame discussion. Simple rankings don’t tell us nearly as much as when we look for gaps in the data. We will break every position into four tiers. The first tier always contains the most Hall of Famers and therefore we find that those outside the Hall of Fame stick out. These tiers are not divided equally. We look for gaps in data to determine our dividing line.

Tier 2 will have some Hall of Famers in it, but always far fewer than Tier 1. Those are not necessarily mistakes per se. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that help explain why a Hall of Famer is a tier 2 guy. When we move into tiers three and four we find the mistakes. Usually, they are Veterans Committee selections, but that is not always the case as we will see. In the following tables, Hall of Famers will be bolded with a “B” next to BBWAA selections and a “V” next to Veterans Committee selections. Italicized players are either active or not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Tier One

 CareerPeakTotal
Johnny Bench (B)221.2171.3392.5
Gary Carter (B)206.9172.5379.4
Mike Piazza (B)188.1167.8355.9
Yogi Berra (B)198.1152.9351.0
Ivan Rodriguez (B)205.2144.1349.3
Carlton Fisk (B)210.4120.0330.4
Joe Torre (V)182.9142.8325.7
Ted Simmons167.5140.3307.8
Bill Dickey (B)174.7131.1305.8
Joe Mauer165.5135.6301.1
Mickey Cochrane (B)157.7142.0299.7
Gabby Hartnett (B)172.1112.5284.6

The data usually speaks for itself. This will become plain when we get to the second tier, but suffice it to say there is always a significant gap between tier one and tier two. It won’t always be at a specific number like 300 as you can see here. It won’t always be after a dozen players. It varies by position. Considering that Joe Mauer just retired, you don’t get any more obvious than this. There is only one player here not in the Hall of Fame.

Is Ted Simmons the best player in baseball history not in the Hall of Fame? That’s a more difficult question to answer, but he is the most qualified catcher not in the Hall of Fame by a considerable margin. As a matter of course, he deserves much more attention than someone like Harold Baines.

Tier Two

 CareerPeakTotal
Jorge Posada139.1124.2263.3
Gene Tenace138.0123.5261.5
Bill Freehan143.0116.4259.4
Thurman Munson128.2127.0255.2
Buck Ewing (V)143.9109.2253.1
Buster Posey122.4122.4244.8
Jason Kendall130.2108.9239.1
Yadier Molina129.0108.2237.2
Roger Bresnahan (V)127.5107.6235.1
Lance Parrish132.598.5231.0
Wally Schang135.092.8227.8
Roy Campanella (B)113.7113.7227.4
Ernie Lombardi (V)131.492.3233.7
Darrell Porter126.197.0223.1

The index was never meant to be an exact science, but there is always a sizeable gap between tier one and two. So, even though Jorge Posada ranks right behind Gabby Hartnett, that does not mean he belongs in. It also doesn’t mean that Ewing, Bresnahan, Campanella, and Lombardi don’t belong in. We know Ewing and Campanella have compelling cases that will ultimately affect their index score.

Campanella lost several seasons to the color barrier and Ewing played his career in the 19thcentury when schedules were far shorter than today. Lombardi and Bresnahan have more difficult cases, but cases can be made for them. The trouble comes when people make the “if…then” argument. Players like that have cases that stand alone because of unique circumstances, so arguing that Wally Schang should be in because Ernie Lombardi is in becomes a quagmire. 

When we move to tier three we notice two things. First, the gap is noticeable between two and three, but it is a much smaller gap. Secondly, it is hard to argue for anyone in tiers three and four, but we will always see an occasional player that made it in anyway. We didn’t cover those players the first time around because there was no compelling reason to do so. Their careers have not been and should not be a basis for arguing for someone else. However, since many of them are fan favorites (and legitimately good players) we should tip our cap by giving them a cursory mention.

Tier Three

 CareerPeakTotal
Jim Sundberg118.395.7214.0
Russell Martin112.998.0210.9
Brian McCann111.598.2209.7
Victor Martinez106.6101.4208.0
Charlie Bennett109.495.9205.3
Sherm Lollar109.689.2198.8
Elston Howard98.992.7191.6
Javy Lopez99.291.7190.9
Tom Haller95.194.0189.1
Smoky Burgess101.979.8181.7
Mickey Tettleton94.786.8181.5

It’s actually unusual for us not to have any tier three Hall of Famers. With three current players near the top of the list we can see a good illustration of what a tier three guy looks like. All three current players (Victor Martinez just retired) have looked like Hall of Famers for short bursts. All three have had issues that have prevented them from approaching the neighborhood of guys like Joe Mauer. In the case of Martin, he just hasn’t been as consistent offensively. McCann has been good offensively and defensively, but he has never been great in either category. As we know, Martinez has spent the past several seasons as a designated hitter because he just wasn’t durable enough behind the plate.

As you might imagine, the other players on the list come with similar issues. The difference between tier three and tier four is that tier three guys usually only had minor flaws that prevented them from entering tier one or two. Tier four guys have major flaws that impact most players. The difference is that all of these players played at least ten seasons, so they all accrued some level of value.

Tier Four

 CareerPeakTotal
Tim McCarver96.979.5176.4
Manny Sanguillen86.687.8174.4
Walker Cooper93.379.7173.0
Jack Clements90.378.5168.8
Rick Ferrell (V)98.270.5168.7
Mike Scioscia88.279.7167.9
Ray Schalk (V)89.278.3167.5
Terry Steinbach90.676.7167.3
Ed Bailey84.781.5166.2
Tony Pena83.679.4163.0
Benito Santiago94.068.0162.0
Bob Boone101.359.3160.6
Butch Wyneger80.978.0158.9

When we say that Schalk and Ferrell are woefully unqualified for the Hall of Fame that isn’t meant as an insult. Most of us would love to have a modern-day clone as the catcher on our team. Neither would be the best catcher in their league, but they would certainly be in the upper half. Being in the upper half does not make you a Hall of Famer. However, if you are good at the right time you can contribute to some pretty special seasons from a team standpoint.

We reviewed Baseball’s Dynastiesin an earlier article and noted how many prominent catchers were on those teams. It’s likely that every dynasty covered in that book is represented by a catcher in one of these tiers. We are still talking about the top 50 catchers (that have played ten or more seasons) in the history of the game. You have to be pretty good to make this list. Undoubtedly, we may have left out someone near and dear to you. That’s unfortunately going to be the case whether the cutoff is 50, 75, or 100.

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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