Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Hall of Merit > Discussion
Hall of Merit
— A Look at Baseball's All-Time Best

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Johnny Bench

Eligible in 1989.

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 15, 2006 at 07:10 PM | 49 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Related News:

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 15, 2006 at 07:13 PM (#2212565)
Okay, we already know he has a spot warmed up for him in the inner-circle section of the HoM, but does he also go in the Pioneer wing for the Johnny Bench Batter-Up? ;-)
   2. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: October 15, 2006 at 07:46 PM (#2212597)
Or for being the host of the Baseball Bunch?

He's about my 27th ranked catcher. NOT!
   3. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 15, 2006 at 07:51 PM (#2212602)
Or for being the host of the Baseball Bunch?

Nah, that's past my time, so it doesn't count. Besides, that would mean that Tommy Lasorda would have to go in as the Dugout Wizard. :-D
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: October 15, 2006 at 09:27 PM (#2212669)
I still have Bench's Topps rookie card.
Too bad he was paired with unremembered Ron Tompkins - within a year later, I had bent the Bench card in half since Tompkins wasn't worth remembering.
Ouch.

It likely will surprise many that Bench only played 79 pct of his games at C, along with 9 pct 3B (!), 7 pct 1B, and 5 pct OF.
And yes, as I recall he was as bad a 3B as you might expect. Do the numbers also show that?

13-time All-Star.
Top 5 in Slugging Pct 5 times.

I guess the more entertaining exercise would be, if he had played all his games at other positions, where else would he have been HOMertorious? (without a general catching bonus, obviously, and without the specific bonus of being such a great catcher).

Is there a danger that people will mistakenly submit 1988 ballots in a week with these new guys on them? I wonder if there's enough clarity to who's eligible when..
   5. TomH Posted: October 16, 2006 at 11:38 AM (#2213622)
The Bench vs Berra (vs maybe Piazza) battle for best-ever MLB catcher is an interesting poser. Berra somewhat better bat, Johnny has a big edge on tossing out runners, both had great post-seasons. I have them neck-and-neck, so wouldn't care if I got stuck with either one. Of course overall I'd take Josh Gibson.
   6. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 16, 2006 at 11:48 AM (#2213628)
Of course overall I'd take Josh Gibson.

...and it's not even close, IMO.
   7. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 16, 2006 at 01:04 PM (#2213645)
Berra somewhat better bat, Johnny has a big edge on tossing out runners, both had great post-seasons.


Berra played in an era where the stolen base was far less important, though, so I don't know how much of an advantage you can honestly credit to Bench here.

Of course overall I'd take Josh Gibson.


No doubt.

-- MWE
   8. DavidFoss Posted: October 16, 2006 at 02:36 PM (#2213718)
Berra played in an era where the stolen base was far less important, though, so I don't know how much of an advantage you can honestly credit to Bench here.

I agree you can't fault Berra (if there is a fault there) because of the era issue, but the fact is that a catcher with a large amount of CS is a very nice thing. It generates a lot of free outs for his team and makes me wonder why the other team even bothers to elect this type of strategy. Now, if they other team elects to stop trying and plays station-to-station against the Reds, then I agree its not much of a bonus. But if they keep trying and Bench keeps racking up free outs for his team, then that's a nice thing that he should get credit for.
   9. DavidFoss Posted: October 16, 2006 at 03:00 PM (#2213740)
That brings up a good question. How great was Bench defensively? I've read about the revolutionary one-handed stance with the quick release and the great arm, but what were his CS totals and CS%'s and how do they compare to his peers? Was he as good as I-Rod was in his prime?
   10. sunnyday2 Posted: October 16, 2006 at 03:04 PM (#2213747)
Well, if they stop trying to steal bases because of any catcher's arm, that is a value that attaches to that catcher, too. Of course, it's pretty hard to quantify.
   11. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 16, 2006 at 03:26 PM (#2213766)
FWIW Berra's rep as a catcher had much more to do with his knowledge and his quickness than it did with his arm, which was never considered all that great. Of course as has been noted, base stealing in the AL of Berra's time was pretty much a lost art, save Luis Aparicio, so it's a bit like saying that Wee Willie Keeler didn't hit that many home runs.
   12. TomH Posted: October 16, 2006 at 04:03 PM (#2213803)
It would be interesting to find if teams that had a Bench or I-Rod in thier prime allowed fewer hits with runners on first abse; which could be attributed to the pitchers' lower need to pay attention to (or be less distracted by) the baserunner. Just thinkin'.

favorite Johnny Bench stat:
in the post-season from 1970-1976, 42 games total, he stole 6 bases and was never caught. If his 7 teammates had been as good, that would be 48 SBs, or more than one per game.
he allowed TWO steals in the 42 games. That is a pace whereby opponents would total 7 stolen bases for a 154-game season. Consdering that they played teams like Philly, Oakland, Pittburgh, NYY, all who ran pretty well, that just astounds me.
   13. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: October 16, 2006 at 04:23 PM (#2213822)
It would be interesting to find if teams that had a Bench or I-Rod in thier prime allowed fewer hits with runners on first abse; which could be attributed to the pitchers' lower need to pay attention to (or be less distracted by) the baserunner. Just thinkin'.

Just a guess, but I think that Reds opponents would have more hits not fewer. If the opposing baserunners did not steal due to Bench's arm, then they would remain at first base, where they would be held on by the first baseman. As documented by Tango et al. in The Book, holding the runner on has a very positive effect on the batting averages of lefty hitters. In this way, preventing the steal may actually be counterproductive not only because lefties will get more hits but because of this example. Let's say there's no outs and a runner at first who chooses not to test Bench. Now a normally fieldable grounder through the enlarged right-side hole will be extremely likely to yield first and third with no outs, whereas the successful steal would end up with a runner at third but one out.

This is also a good reason not to hit and run with a lefty hitter and a runner on first, IMO, or to bunt with a lefty groundball/singles hitter and a runner at first. Of course, there's lots of people who say the hit and run should never be used period....
   14. Mike Webber Posted: October 16, 2006 at 05:07 PM (#2213911)
That brings up a good question. How great was Bench defensively? I've read about the revolutionary one-handed stance with the quick release and the great arm, but what were his CS totals and CS%'s and how do they compare to his peers? Was he as good as I-Rod was in his prime?


Interesting question, here are 11 catchers that played about the same time as Bench, I threw in Tenace, the others are the catchers that caught the most games during Bench's career - obviously some start or end a little later but I think its fair to say these are his peers.

Stats are career numbers from Retrosheet, as straight as I could get them without losing my mind.

___G    ___INN      SB     CS    PkO    AVG    Sb%    Att/Gm    
1743    14489.0    610    471    62    .990    .53    .710    Bench
1114    9502.1    504    314    15    .986    .61    .789    Sanguillen
1348    10941.0    579    350    32    .991    .60    .791    Grote
1277    11108.1    533    427    38    .982    .53    .809    Munson
2225    18459.1    1108    731    76    .986    .58    .934    Boone
2226    18511.2    1302    664    20    .988    .66    .966    Fisk
1927    15900.1    1012    708    62    .993    .57    1.009    Sundberg
1506    12608.0    902    553    25    .982    .61    1.056    Porter
1769    15092.1    1188    611    32    .987    .65    1.092    Simmons
892    6678.0    515    290    14    .986    .63    1.104    Tenace
2056    17369.0    1498    810    51    .991    .64    1.222    Carter
1743    14489.0    610    471    62    .990    .53    .710    Bench
___G    ___INN      SB     CS    PkO    AVG    Sb
%    Att/Gm 


Bench had less attempts per game than the others, and narrowly edges Munson in caught stealing %. I don't know if Catcher PkOffs are usually included in CS%, but when Bench picks off 62 and Simmons picks off half that, there is value there and Bench should be credited for it.
   15. Catfish326 Posted: October 20, 2006 at 04:42 PM (#2219645)
Look at Munson right there with JB. Number 15!
   16. Daryn Posted: October 20, 2006 at 05:07 PM (#2219669)
I like Berra over Bench. Their respective contemporaries apparently did too -- Berra with 7 consecutive seasons in the top 4 in the league in MVP voting. But I'll be stumping for Irod in 2014, with his 3000 hits, 330 HR, 1400+ RBI, great defense and having led two young pitching staffs to WS championships.
   17. sunnyday2 Posted: October 20, 2006 at 05:10 PM (#2219672)
>Look at Munson right there with JB. Number 15!

And his nemesis, pretty boy Fisk, at the bottom of the heap!
   18. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 20, 2006 at 07:31 PM (#2219793)
Could someone explain why, in my edition of Total Baseball (5th Edition), Bench is credited with -80 fielding runs?
   19. sunnyday2 Posted: October 20, 2006 at 07:36 PM (#2219799)
>Could someone explain why, in my edition of Total Baseball (5th Edition), Bench is credited with -80 fielding runs?

Probably not ;-)
   20. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: October 20, 2006 at 09:09 PM (#2219879)
Might it have to do with catcher PO's which are viewed by FR as a positive but are pretty much just strikeouts? I think I remember reading something about that in the Win Shares book or maybe the NBJHBA.

Also,

Wouldn't stopping all stealing be a negative since most every team ends up in the red when it comes to stolen base runs?
   21. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: October 21, 2006 at 06:15 AM (#2220088)
I doubt it Mark, because I'd imagine you get a healthy increase in DP opps. when no one runs. That's definitely a hidden detriment to not ever running that doesn't find it's way into SB runs, but certainly makes a difference. I'm the Red Sox lack of speed was partial cause for Rice and Armas' enormous DP totals in the 80s, as one example.
   22. BDC Posted: October 21, 2006 at 12:10 PM (#2220121)
the revolutionary one-handed stance

Randy Hundley was the first major-league catcher to use that technique -- which he may well have borrowed from someone else, but which Bench definitely borrowed from him.
   23. GregD Posted: October 22, 2006 at 10:01 PM (#2221305)
Is it okay if a non-voter chimes in, since obviously no votes are at stake?

I think the answer on the Bench poor rating in Total Baseball is in fact that they counted catcher putouts highly, and the Reds didn't strike out that many people. You would think that a result like that--not just Bench as average but as one of the worst defenders in history--would make you rethink your system before going to press, wouldn't you?

My recollection--colored by my childhood in the Reds-viewing area of central Ky--was that Bench did in fact have a powerful arm. He was often described at the time as an athletic freak--hands big enough to hold 8 baseballs at a time, etc. And he had a very quick release, partly because he could spring up so well.

Watching Bench play third base was a sad experience. In an ideal world, Bench would have been moved to first as he aged, and he probably would have been an okay first baseman and punched up his career numbers, but the Reds didn't need a first baseman and didn't know what to do with him, so they basically just hoped he'd go away, which he eventually did.

I, too, had always thought Berra was better because he has those gaudy stat lines and the extra MVP. So I was shocked a few years ago to see that Bench has a higher career OPS+. 126 to 125, in similar PAs (a couple hundred more for Bench.) It's a close call. I'm not sure Berra ever had a season like 1972. But Berra put up a few more useful seasons over all. I suppose it comes down to one's view of Berra's stats in the context of the 1950s.

How common is it for the two best players in ML history at a position to both have anchored serious dynasties? My sense is that wouldn't be true at other positions--first base, short stop, third base, right field, left field. Arguably center field depending on whom you take. I wonder if there's something to this; if there's something about stability at catcher. Cochrane, who isn't too far down the list, anchored a dynasty at one team before being shipped to another WS team. But probably it's partly coincidence.
   24. sunnyday2 Posted: October 22, 2006 at 10:12 PM (#2221312)
It's hard for me to believe that any self-respecting stat guy would ever base catcher defense on putouts. Maybe that's what they did but I don't use LWTS FR anyway, so it doesn't matter to me. But, like I say, it is hard for me to believe that that is the explanation. Assists, maybe, and maybe the fear of running on a guy would work against his rating, that I might believe.

The pct of SB attempts thrown out (or, rather, the successful SB rate) is one number I happen to have handy (#14 above)

1. Bench and Munson 53%
3. Sundberg 57%
4. Boone 58%
5. Grote 60%
6. Sanguillen 61%
7. Tenace 63%
8. Carter 64%
9. Simmons 65%
10. Fisk 66%

I'm sure those little 1-2% differences don't mean much, but Bench and Munson 10% better than Tenace, Carter, Simmons and even Fisk, that probably is a significant difference. Sure, it measures only one part of a catcher's game--and I mean throwing, generally, not just CS. Then, as for calling a game, I'm willing to consider team ERA and, well, just whether the team won or not as evidence of quality there. I mean, there might be some great catchers in those phases of the game who didn't necessarily win, but I would guess not too many really lousy catchers were winners.
   25. Howie Menckel Posted: October 22, 2006 at 10:59 PM (#2221329)
"You would think that a result like that--not just Bench as average but as one of the worst defenders in history--would make you rethink your system before going to press, wouldn't you?"

Damn, I've battled WS for several 'years' now as well.

I love Berra, and he holds up to scrutiny, and Bench is so good that he breathes that rarefied air as well.

There's no loser in a Berra-Bench-Gibson faceoff. Greatness cubed, and no losing picks....
   26. Brent Posted: October 22, 2006 at 11:18 PM (#2221337)
How common is it for the two best players in ML history at a position to both have anchored serious dynasties? My sense is that wouldn't be true at other positions--first base, short stop, third base, right field, left field.

When I was looking at catchers from the 1950s and 60s I noticed a very strong correlation between team performance and the quality of the catchers. The great catchers (Berra, Campanella, E Howard) anchored dynasties, and the second-tier catchers (Del Crandall, Sherm Lollar, John Roseboro, Tom Haller) also played for very good teams. Because catchers aren't substitutable with other positions, perhaps teams that are trying to build a dynasty always try to make sure they have a good one.
   27. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 22, 2006 at 11:24 PM (#2221340)
Actually, FR for catchers doesn't include PO from strikeouts. Bench is hurt in two ways:

1. Because runners didn't try to run on him, his assist totals are relatively low.
2. Fielding Runs for catchers includes 1/10 of the adjusted Pitching Runs allowed. During Bench's years as the catcher, the Reds rarely had good pitching staffs.

-- MWE
   28. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: October 23, 2006 at 01:28 AM (#2221582)
Not only were Berra and Bench the backstops of their era's and league's respective dynasties, but so too were Bill Dickey and Gabby Hartnett before that! I think it's a little less true since then, what with free agency and all. Maybe Javy Lopez? Probably not Piazza and I-Rod who moved around a lot, though their teams have obvsiously been highly successful despite that.
   29. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: October 23, 2006 at 01:32 AM (#2221592)
Posada? The AL's best catcher this decade (inlcuding IRod) and a team that wins 95-100 games a year.
   30. Srul Itza At Home Posted: October 23, 2006 at 02:17 AM (#2221706)
Bench was every bit as great as Kevin says, and I also think he may have been better than I-Rod as a defensive catcher -- but not by a whole lot, given how good I-Rod is. What I-Rod has going for him is how well he has held up, given the amount of time behind the plate. He has already caught over 190 more games than Bench, and his CS results this year lead the majors.

His batting is still above average for a catcher, so I expect that after his contract with Detroit runs out this year, he will have some more years behind the plate.

If he can keep it up for a few more years, then the combination of quality and quantity would have to rate him #1 among defensive catchers for me.
   31. Srul Itza At Home Posted: October 23, 2006 at 02:18 AM (#2221712)
I meant that after his contract with Detroit runs out next year.
   32. jingoist Posted: October 23, 2006 at 09:49 PM (#2222531)
That's heady statements Srul; I-Rod as Bench and Berra's better.
I'm not doubting your assessment; I just always thought the "oringinal" killer Bs - Berra and Bench were MLBs finest.
From all I've read over the past few years Josh was probably the best overall, just never got to show his wares in MLB.
   33. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: October 23, 2006 at 10:16 PM (#2222548)
I think the answer on the Bench poor rating in Total Baseball is in fact that they counted catcher putouts highly, and the Reds didn't strike out that many people. You would think that a result like that--not just Bench as average but as one of the worst defenders in history--would make you rethink your system before going to press, wouldn't you?


You would think that, but this is the same publication which had Bill Buckner 1985 as the second greatest firstbase defensive performance of all time, and 1986 (yes, that 1986) just outside of the top 10.*

*As of 1989, my most recent TB.
   34. DL from MN Posted: October 23, 2006 at 10:54 PM (#2222573)
Bench - best white catcher ever and the class of the 1989 ballot, by a large margin, over Yastrzemski. I have in my top 25 all time behind Lefty Grove and ahead of DiMaggio. Berra is 3rd for catchers, followed by Dickey. None of them come close to Josh Gibson who ranks in the stratosphere with Cobb, Wagner and Mays.
   35. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 24, 2006 at 12:20 AM (#2222645)
I think the answer on the Bench poor rating in Total Baseball is in fact that they counted catcher putouts highly, and the Reds didn't strike out that many people. You would think that a result like that--not just Bench as average but as one of the worst defenders in history--would make you rethink your system before going to press, wouldn't you?

My infatuation with Linear Weights ended with Bench's defensive ranking circa 1985.
   36. Srul Itza Posted: October 24, 2006 at 02:55 AM (#2222730)
That's heady statements Srul; I-Rod as Bench and Berra's better.
I'm not doubting your assessment; I just always thought the "oringinal" killer Bs - Berra and Bench were MLBs finest.


To clarify, that was not my assessment. I was looking only at who might be considered the No. 1 Defensive Catcher of all time.

With that limitation, I-Rod's very high level of play; the length of time over which he has maintained it so far; and the likelihood that he can continue that for another 1 to 3 years; make a combination of quality and quantity that could well justify rating him the #1 Defensive Catcher of all time.

Once you add in Offense, though, Bench and Berra mop the floor with him.
   37. DL from MN Posted: October 24, 2006 at 01:35 PM (#2223003)
Oops. Well, best MLB catcher then.
   38. JPWF13 Posted: October 24, 2006 at 01:49 PM (#2223017)
Look at Munson right there with JB. Number 15!

And his nemesis, pretty boy Fisk, at the bottom of the heap!


What's remarkable about those numbers is that Fisk, at least when he played at the same time as Munson, had a stronger arm, but Munson just got rid of the ball so much quicker than anyone else- his throws could have been 10mph slower than Fisk's and they still would have gotten there at teh same time- plus Munson was accurate.

2. Fielding Runs for catchers includes 1/10 of the adjusted Pitching Runs allowed. During Bench's years as the catcher, the Reds rarely had good pitching staffs.


That's a huge flaw, the Big Red Machine strove for mediocrity in their pitching staffs
   39. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 25, 2006 at 05:58 PM (#2224157)
we had this exact same argument/discussion on rsb about 5-6 years ago--I think it was me that first brought up the limitations on catcher defensive ratings & I used Bench's absurdly low rating as an example

most of the posters agreed , but there were a surprising number (surprising to ME, anyway) of posters who said that, no, we shouldn't question the ratings, we should question our "subjective" rating of Bench as an outstanding defensive catcher; it's people like that who give sabremetrics a bad name

I believe the "error" has been tracked to low number of putouts, and, as Emeigh pointed out, bad piching staffs

I could be wrong, but hasn't TB's assessment of Bench been ratcheted upwards in later editions?
   40. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 25, 2006 at 06:37 PM (#2224177)
funny--that's exactly what one of the rsb'ers said

I'm not talkin about this specific case, necessarily,

but I WAS, and that's the point

believe me, my eyes have been opened over the years about my "subjective " opinions being horseshit (e.g. that Bobby Richardson was a good hitter), BUT (and this was the point) if my rating system for catchers lists Bench as not only below average, but ONE OF THE WORST IN HISTORY, then I gotta look askance the system

Palmer himself comes close to saying (in the editon of TB that I have)that his catcher ratings are next to useless
   41. JPWF13 Posted: October 25, 2006 at 06:37 PM (#2224179)
but does he also go in the Pioneer wing for the Johnny Bench Batter-Up? ;-)


Not really relevant to a discussion on Johnny Bench, but here goes- I had on of those things. The base was set in concrete, so it was never moved we just let it stay outside in the back year. Eventually the bar that held the ball broke, so i just left the base- a hollow metal pole set in concrete, sit out in the backyard- for years...

well, years later, I'm home from college during the summer, my mother tells me to get rid of the damn thing, so I went to the backyard, I grab the pole and begin dragging it away...

Did I mention the pole was hollow? The hollow space wasn't that wide, but out popped a yellow jacket, and another and another and another...
I let go of the damn thing (I had moved it all of about 5 feet) and well ran like hell (I wouldn't run like that until more than 20 years later 9/01...)

Well no one could go in the backyard for the rest of the day (boy were they pissed...). I finally got rid of it during X-mas break,
   42. Daryn Posted: October 25, 2006 at 07:09 PM (#2224204)
a yellow jacket

I assume you mean the wasp-like thing. But I have to tell you, that didn't occur to me at first, and I couldn't figure out why a bunch of yellow rain slickers would freak you out. It was quite a mental image.
   43. Daryn Posted: October 25, 2006 at 07:10 PM (#2224207)
I won't get into the visual image I had of you running down the streets of New York screaming on September 1st 5 years ago.
   44. JPWF13 Posted: October 25, 2006 at 07:38 PM (#2224234)
I won't get into the visual image I had of you running down the streets of New York screaming on September 1st 5 years ago.


What really gets me is that it didn't occur to me to turn around and run, until the mass of people between me and the WTC were all turned around and running in my direction.
   45. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: October 25, 2006 at 07:50 PM (#2224244)
Palmer himself comes close to saying (in the editon of TB that I have)that his catcher ratings are next to useless

In "The Hidden Game of Baseball," Palmer had doubts about thee catcher ratings even then.
   46. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 25, 2006 at 08:27 PM (#2224289)
If the numbers surprise you, it doesn't necessarily mean they should be disregarded, maybe you should rethink your preconceptions. But of course you need to be sure your numbers mean what you think they mean, and are derived correctly.


Remember that when we talk about ratings, we're always talking about performance models. We don't measure everything perfectly, and that's especially true when talking about defense. So when the results from the model don't square with perception, the first thing we need to do is make sure that the model is measuring what we think it is. The second thing we need to do is ask if there's something missing from the model that might make the model misrepresent the perceived value of the player. If we can be reasonably sure that the model is measuring what we think it is and not misrepresenting any aspect of the player, then we start questioning the validity of the perception. (Models do need to be recalibrated on occasion.)

-- MWE
   47. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 25, 2006 at 08:36 PM (#2224302)
the other problem with defensive ratings is that you can't "check your math", as it were. Like you can, (to some extent at least) with offensive measurements

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
The Piehole of David Wells
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Syndicate

Page rendered in 0.2896 seconds
49 querie(s) executed