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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Can’t Catch a Break: Hall of Fame Catchers | The Hardball Times

Assessing catcher defense is still, ah, problematic. Historically it’s a mess.

Simmons should be in. Munson’s supporters have been making a solid case. I got to see a lot of him in his prime and, at the time, I thought he was comparable to Fisk. I’m still on the border with him, but I’m leaning more toward a yes. The rest of the guys are short for me.

Your thoughts?

Jim Furtado Posted: August 08, 2018 at 11:11 AM | 107 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: catchers, hall of fame

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   101. Rally Posted: August 10, 2018 at 12:08 PM (#5724690)
That is about a 65 OPS+. To put a face on it, Jose Molina. Now Jose was a fantastic defender and that's why he got to play so long.

I think if you hit like Jose Molina and are merely an average defender, then I can expect to get someone just as good from the waiver wire.
   102. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: August 10, 2018 at 02:23 PM (#5724768)
I think there is plenty of fodder 27 runs below average. That is where replacement level is for a catcher since they get the biggest position adjustment.

I meant 17 runs below the average catcher. Either way, it's something that can be measured empirically by looking at the guys who actually play the position each year.
   103. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: August 10, 2018 at 03:13 PM (#5724818)
For what it's worth, I looked in PI at every guy who had more than 75% of his games at catcher from 2015-2017. There were 111 such players* totaling 57,087 PA. (The average lineup spot saw 683 PA over that time period, so we are talking about 2.8 seasons worth of PA per team. I think that captures the vast majority of all catcher PAs).

If you look at those guys in aggregate, they were 11.6 runs below average when you exclude the positional and replacement level adjustments, per 600 PA. I don't know what BB-ref actually uses as the catcher positional adjustment -- it looks more like 9-10 runs, so not that far off from 11.6.

Then if you look at the bottom half of those guys by PA -- which excludes the top 56 players, or ~2 per team. That is a cutoff of 390 PA over 3 seasons, which may be a bit high, but it's probably a decent proxy for "replacement level" -- it certainly includes some guys who were not freely available but also some guys who were injured or whatever, so maybe it evens out. These guys were in aggregate 27.7 runs below average per 600 PA. Or 16 runs below the average of the whole group. This fits pretty well with the notion that replacement level is 17 runs below average.

If you think that's too high a cutoff, you can look at the bottom quartile by PA, excluding ~3 catchers per team. Those guys were in aggregate 33.5 runs below average, or about 22 runs below average, which would argue for a lower replacement level for catchers. But that's basically running the cutoff at guys who had 110 PA or fewer over those 3 seasons, which seems like a very small number to me. I'd want to look at a similar analysis at other positions and see what it says.

** for some reason my search doesn't seem to be picking up some guys, like the aforementioned Tomas Nido. So there may be a problem that I'm missing.
   104. vortex of dissipation Posted: August 10, 2018 at 03:49 PM (#5724838)
** for some reason my search doesn't seem to be picking up some guys, like the aforementioned Tomas Nido. So there may be a problem that I'm missing.

Nido only played 5 games 2015-2017, and only three were at catcher (two games were as a pinch hitter), so at 60% he's under the 75% threshold needed to qualify.
   105. Rally Posted: August 10, 2018 at 04:00 PM (#5724843)
I meant 17 runs below the average catcher. Either way, it's something that can be measured empirically by looking at the guys who actually play the position each year.

17 below average catcher, 27 below average hitter, sounds about like the same thing, as your post #103 confirms.
   106. bjhanke Posted: August 11, 2018 at 09:19 AM (#5725096)
I would say yes without question to Simmons and Freehan. Feehan's offensive numbers were hurt by the pitching dominance of the 1960s. On defense, he was a Gold Glove candidate. Any system that assigns negative numbers to Simmons for his late play needs to be ignored. Or, really, what you should do is take the HIGHEST number of accumulated whatever that Simmons had ever had in his career. Simmons' defense has been widely discussed. However, the trade to Milwaukee was not because Herzog thought that Simmons was done. It was because Whitey wanted to bring in Darrell Porter. The Brewers moved their incumbent, Charlie O'Brien, to the outfield so that Simmons could play catcher. In other words, baseball people thought that Simmons could still catch.

The Bennett case is hard. To start with, there are three catchers in the 19th century who spent a lot of time playing at other positions because their teams were worried about keeping their bats in the lineup. Their gloves were fine, but they missed too much time playing catcher. The three are Deacon White, Buck Ewing, and Tom Daly. Two are in the Hall. Daly didn't hit nearly that well. But the point about Bennett is that he was NOT on the list. His bat was NOT so good that teams kept pulling him out from behind the plate. He had a Gold Glove (he, Buck Ewing and Pop Snyder were the Gold Gloves of the 1880s), but not quite enough bat. However, it is also important to realize that Buck Ewing was miles above the in/out line for the Hall. If you compare Bennet with Ewing (they are contemporaries), you are not using a reasonable standard. I have Bennett as borderline because of all of this. Ewing is underrated because there is a limit to how many WAR you can put up if your team only plays 84 games in its entire schedule. If you take Ewing's stats, and amortize them, year by year, to 162 games instead of however many Ewing's team played that year, you end up with career numbers that look a lot like Carlton Fisk's. Bennett can't match that, although amortizing his numbers does help give you a better grasp of how good he was.

I would support Howard over Munson. Munson lost his late career to bodily health problems of the most severe nature. Howard lost the beginning of his career to a war and Yogi Berra. Lots of players lose their careers to health problems. Very few go into a war and then have to compete with Yogi. I would consider Howard to be about even with Bennett. - Brock Hanke
   107. blueshaker Posted: August 12, 2018 at 04:51 PM (#5725424)
Lot of great points on this thread. I'm starting to wonder if Ray Schalk gets an unfair shake. He's only ever referenced as a punchline, an example of an obvious HOF mistake, a view which goes back way before sabermetrics. The guy with the .253 AVG and ELEVEN career HR was pretty easy to pick on. The rise of WAR hasn't helped him, he clocks in at 28.6, one of (the?) worst totals in the HOF.

The main reason that WAR total is so low is because he was selected entirely for his defense, and WAR says that his defense was only a little above average: 46 Rfield for his career, typically about 4 FRAA during his prime seasons. Except that's not what WAR 'says' at all. WAR 'says' that given the limited stats to work with, there's gonna be a whole lot of regression baked in. With no other info to consider, a very conservative estimate is the only appropriate path. Right?

But we DO have other information to consider. We have his reputation as the best defensive catcher of the deadball era. More than reputation, the stats we do have completely back up this view. Remember that 46 Rfield? That's actually far and away the highest total pre-1950. Next up is Billy Sullivan with 25. So we have some pretty decent evidence that Schalk was the best defensive catcher of his time.

We also have some idea of what a top-end catcher is worth. BP, which considers framing, has the best catchers saving 20-30 runs in a season. Yadi has 255 FRAA so far in his career.If anything, I would imagine a top catcher might be MORE valuable in the deadball era, with so many variables (trick pitches, no lights) and the importance of the running game.

So we can be almost certain of two things: a) Going back in time, WAR massively underestimates catcher defensive impact at the extremes. b) Schalk was one of, if not THE, best defensive catcher of the first half of the 20th definition, one of those extremes

Could very well be Schalk was saving 30 runs in his best years. But what if we took a more conservative view, and instead of 4-5 Rfield ina typical year, estimated 14-15 runs? So instead of 46, he'd have around 150 runs saved. We can only estimate, but I don't think this is just possible, I think it's probably closer to the truth.

So now we'd be looking at close to 40 WAR. Which still doesn't sound like a HOFer at first, but then you get into all of the arguments from earlier in the thread around playing time. And also consider that WAR # is about as high as ANY catcher reached before Cochrane and Hartnett came along. So I don't know if I'd actually put him over the line in my personal hall, but the guy is no joke. He's got a solid case that he belongs right where he is, with a plaque in the real HOF.
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