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The Hall of Fame Index: Catchers

The Hall of Fame is a passion of mine as you can see by my bio. It is a passion that a number of fans share and the baseball Hall of Fame is easily the most prestigious of all of the Halls of Fame in professional sports. It creates more debate and causes more arguments than any other of its kind. The Hall of Fame index was never meant to solve these debates, but to give them a little more structure.

 

When looking at the current crop of catchers currently active it can be easy to confuse the situation by looking at catchers from the 19th century (admittedly only one), catchers from the Negro Leagues, and catchers elected by the Veterans Committee. These players only cloud the picture. So, we will focus on only those catchers elected by the beat writers. As we will see when looking at other positions as well, the results tend to be more uniform and easier to interpret.

 

The idea behind the index was to look for what we might call gaps in the data. So, we are not looking for a specific number, but differences in the data. As Justice William Blackstone said, “we’ll know it when we see it.” The Index is broken down into two parts: career value and peak value. Career value is taken by adding up total bWAR, fWAR, and WARP. Peak value takes those same numbers from the player’s best ten year stretch. As you might imagine, there are reasons for this methodology that I get more into in the book. The idea is to get a cross-section of the sabermetrical community on each player. First, we will look at the current Hall of Famers before we introduce the current players.

 

Career Value

 

  bWAR fWAR WARP Total
Johnny Bench 75.0 74.8 69.1 218.9
Carlton Fisk 68.3 68.3 72.4 209.0
Gary Carter 69.9 69.4 65.3 204.6
Mike Piazza 59.4 63.7 79.7 202.8
Ivan Rodriguez 68.4 68.9 57.3 194.6
Yogi Berra 59.4 63.7 67.4 190.5
Bill Dickey 55.8 56.1 56.0 167.9
Gabby Hartnett 53.4 53.7 53.5 160.6
Mickey Cochrane 52.1 50.6 51.3 159.0
Roy Campanella 34.1 38.2 38.4 110.9

The first rule in the index is to understand its limitations. This table would seem to indicate that Johnny Bench is the best catcher in baseball history. The problem is that the index was never designed to tell us that. It tells us who is fit for the Hall of Fame based a comparison with other players we know were fit for the Hall of Fame. Six of the ten Hall of Famers range between 190 and 219 in terms of career value. That’s a pretty tight distribution.

 

Three more range between 159 and 168. Then, we get the curious case of Roy Campanella. Campanella did not make his debut until he was 28 because of the color barrier. Most historians believe he would have made his debut between three to five seasons before that under more normal circumstances. Conservatively, we could add at least 40 wins to his career value total. That would put him comfortably in line with the others and he might have garnered a fourth MVP award. Then again, that gets us into peak value.

 

  bWAR fWAR WARP Total
Joe Mauer 50.1 46.0 48.7 144.8
Brian McCann 29.9 35.9 57.7 123.5
Yadier Molina 33.9 33.8 47.0 114.7

 

None of these guys is quite there yet, but looking at where they are at shows us how much they still need to do. Obviously, these are three different players. Mauer has been moved off of catcher and is currently treading water in terms of value. However, one could argue he has done enough to earn the call. We may not know that until we take a look at the peak value numbers.

 

Peak Value

 

  bWAR fWAR WARP Total
Mike Piazza 54.0 59.1 73.1 186.2
Johnny Bench 59.4 59.0 56.0 174.4
Gary Carter 60.9 59.0 54.5 174.4
Yogi Berra 47.0 50.7 53.4 151.1
Ivan Rodriguez 47.4 60.3 37.8 145.5
Mickey Cochrane 47.0 45.4 46.2 138.6
Bill Dickey 42.4 41.8 42.1 126.3
Carlton Fisk 41.7 40.1 40.1 121.9
Roy Campanella 34.1 38.2 38.4 110.9
Gabby Hartnett 35.6 36.4 36.0 108.0

 

You will notice that the rankings shifted some as we move to peak value. We could stick with just career value, but players accrue their values in wildly different ways. Mike Piazza shoots to the top because most of his value came in those ten seasons. When we are talking fame, that matters. So, we could assert that when he was at his best he was better than Bench when he was at his best. Similarly, Mickey Cocbrane also jumps off the charts.

 

The modern guys have already cemented their peak values. This is crucial because it allows us to go with a direct comparison to the Hall of Famers without playing the what if game. For instance, guys like Gabby Hartnett lose a ton of points in the peak value department. All three of the current guys are just as good as Hartnett and Campanella in terms of peak value.

 

Campanella officially played ten seasons and so his peak value and career value are the same. It would safe to assume he would have added to the career value with four or five more prime seasons, but he also would have added to his peak value as well. That’s pretty stout given the fact that he won three MVP awards in those ten seasons.

 

  bWAR fWAR WARP Total
Joe Mauer 45.0 43.5 46.9 135.4
Brian McCann 27.7 33.2 53.5 114.4
Yadier Molina 31.8 32.1 43.6 107.5

 

There is a reason why they have to wait five seasons to get on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. Mauer has turned into a marginal player at best, so few would think of him as somehow the equal to someone like a Mickey Cochrane or Bill Dickey. That being said, he did win an MVP award and put up numerous seasons that looked a lot like the seasons that Mickey Cochrane put up during his prime.

 

McCann and Molina are a little more subdued during their prime. Their value is based on playing above average to good baseball for a long period of time. If they manage two or three more of those seasons they just might be good enough. As it stands now you can see in the final rankings below where they stand.

 

  Career Peak Total
Johnny Bench 218.9 174.4 393.3
Mike Piazza 202.8 186.2 389.0
Gary Carter 204.6 174.4 379.0
Yogi Berra 190.5 151.1 341.6
Ivan Rodriguez 194.6 145.5 340.1
Carlton Fisk 209.0 121.9 330.9
Bill Dickey 167.9 126.3 294.2
Mickey Cochrane 154.0 138.6 292.6
Joe Mauer 145.3 135.4 282.7
Gabby Hartnett 160.6 108.0 268.6
Brian McCann 123.5 114.4 237.9
Yadier Molina 114.7 107.5 222.2
Roy Campanella 110.9 110.9 221.8

 

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