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Monday, January 10, 2022

Is Buster Posey One of the Best Catchers in MLB History?

Best catchers in baseball history: 1. Mickey Cochrane, 2. Johnny Bench, 3. Josh Gibson, 4. Yogi Berra, 5. Gary Carter, 6. Ivan Rodriguez.

Your opinion of that ranking aside, a follower proceeded to ask for my opinion of Posey. That prompted me to compare the 34-year-old’s career to that of Cochrane, who likewise was done at a relatively-early age. Cochrane played his last game shortly after his 34th birthday, an errant Bump Hadley pitch — this in the days before hitters wore helmets — having fractured his skull and rendered him unconscious for 10 days. Coincidentally or not, Cochrane had taken Hadley deep in his previous at bat.

Cochrane played from 1925-1937 — a high-offense era — and finished his career with an eye-popping .320/.419/.478 slash line. Perusing our WAR leaderboard for that baker’s-dozen stretch, you’ll find Cochrane sandwiched between Rogers Hornsby and Tony Lazzeri. In 1947, Cochrane became the first catcher voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

Cochrane played in 1,482 games. Posey played in 1,371 games. How do they otherwise compare?

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 10, 2022 at 03:11 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: buster posey

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   1. kcgard2 Posted: January 10, 2022 at 04:53 PM (#6060480)
If by best we mean one of the top 15 to 25, then yes, probably.
   2. JJ1986 Posted: January 10, 2022 at 05:03 PM (#6060485)
Maybe I should look into it more, but Cochrane at #1 is not a ranking I was expecting.
   3. SoSH U at work Posted: January 10, 2022 at 05:11 PM (#6060486)

Maybe I should look into it more,


Let us know if you find the answer.
   4. Mefisto Posted: January 10, 2022 at 06:27 PM (#6060503)
I don't have any problem saying that Posey was better than Cochrane. But I don't see how Cochrane gets rated #1.
   5. Jaack Posted: January 10, 2022 at 06:32 PM (#6060506)
I recall Cochrane doing very well in one of tangotiger's WOWY studies. But Gaey Carter did even better, so if you believe in that, he's your number 1 choice.
   6. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: January 10, 2022 at 07:42 PM (#6060517)
Maybe I should look into it more, but Cochrane at #1 is not a ranking I was expecting.


Cochrane is the number 1 catcher for playing Strat-o-Matic with the Hall of Fame edition of the cards. Or least he was in the edition I had, which only had Hall of Famers elected by 2000. He was basically Johnny Bench with better on base. Fwiw, the stats for determining the outcomes on the HoF cards were determined what Strat-o-Matic considered their seven best seasons. That way guys with long decline phases were not penalized but maintaining peak performance for an extended period was also important.
   7. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 10, 2022 at 08:11 PM (#6060521)
Cochrane was considered the best catcher in history for many years after he retired. He was selected as the catcher on the 1969 all-time team to celebrate Baseball’s Centennial.
   8. Mefisto Posted: January 10, 2022 at 08:33 PM (#6060526)
Sure, but 1969 is before Bench, Carter, Rodriguez, et al., and they didn't even consider Josh Gibson.
   9. Booey Posted: January 10, 2022 at 10:06 PM (#6060542)
#8 - And wasn't Pie Traynor considered the greatest 3B? (Even though Mathews had just retired and should have been fresh in everyone's mind)
   10. Mefisto Posted: January 10, 2022 at 10:25 PM (#6060546)
I'm pretty sure that's right.

Hell, they voted Joe D. the greatest living player despite the presence of Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Stan Musial.
   11. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 10, 2022 at 10:46 PM (#6060552)
#8 - And wasn't Pie Traynor considered the greatest 3B? (Even though Mathews had just retired and should have been fresh in everyone's mind)


Yes, Traynor was the selection at third.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: January 10, 2022 at 10:55 PM (#6060555)

Sure, but 1969 is before Bench, Carter, Rodriguez, et al., and they didn't even consider Josh Gibson.


Or Piazza, if you're just focusing on what Cochrane did with the stick.
   13. Mefisto Posted: January 11, 2022 at 08:50 AM (#6060573)
I didn't want to try to list them all off memory, hence the "et al.".
   14. TomH Posted: January 11, 2022 at 08:56 AM (#6060576)
Cochrane at #1 is a choice based on lack of correcting for how many runs were scored (lots!) when Cochrane played. Even in 69, pre-Bench, one should have been able to see Yogi clearly had a better career.

The 1969 assessment looks pretty poor in the rear-view mirror. Of course if I was back in 1969 I may not have seen any better.
   15. TomH Posted: January 11, 2022 at 08:58 AM (#6060577)
And if the author is gonna include Josh Gibson, he needs to be above Bench, or you might as well say no Negro Leaguer was as good as anyone on the all-MLB team. Of all the positions on the diamond, Gibson at backstop is the most obvious choice among the skin-color-banned from before 1947.
   16. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: January 11, 2022 at 09:12 AM (#6060579)
Offensively, Cochrane compares well with Bench on a rate basis. He finished with about 70% of Bench's games, though it's 83% if you take out Bench's non-C games.

Bench and Cochrane are part of a bunch that had career OPS+s between 125 and 129 - which includes Dickey, Berra, Hartnett, and Posey. Cochrane and Posey are the only ones with less than 7,000 PAs, while Posey is the only one under 6,000.

But the defensive numbers kill Cochrane, particularly early in his career. During his best stretch from 1928 to 1935, Cochrane had 41.8 offensive WAR. Bench, from 1968 to 1975, put up 42.7. They had nearly identical OPS+s and each won two MVPs. But Bench had +61 fielding runs then compared to -18 for Cochrane. So the average per season WAR is 6.3 for Bench and 5.0 for Cochrane.

   17. Ron J Posted: January 11, 2022 at 09:57 AM (#6060590)
#16 Yes, but the error bars on catcher defense are huge. Particularly for older players

Now I accept that Bench was one of the best ever against the running game. And while nobody was running much while Cochrane was active, he seems to have been slightly below average against the run.

Yeah Cochrane had a lot of passed balls. I think you'll find Eddie Rommel is the primary culprit. Knucklers create passed balls.

Wowy attempt to tease these kind of things out, and we can say with some confidence that Cochrane was quite a bit better defensively than his backups. Exactly what that means is unclear. Could be Grove didn't select for defensive ability in Cochrane's backup.

All in all I'm comfortable in ranking Bench ahead of Cochrane but I'm not comfortable in saying there's a huge difference defensively.
   18. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: January 11, 2022 at 10:09 AM (#6060592)
bWAA:

Bench 47
Carter 40
Piazza 36
Yogi 34
IROD 33
Gibson 31
Posey 27
Cochrane 27
   19. Der-K's tired of these fruits from poisoned trees Posted: January 11, 2022 at 10:33 AM (#6060595)
15 - seconded. Catcher, in many ways, is the toughest position to rank (imo) and that's without accounting for peak v career trade-offs. But I feel pretty good about Gibson at #1 among backstops.
   20. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: January 11, 2022 at 11:49 AM (#6060604)
All in all I'm comfortable in ranking Bench ahead of Cochrane but I'm not comfortable in saying there's a huge difference defensively.


I agree that we should not assign too much precision to fielding numbers, especially for catchers. But come on, Bench is considered the best defensive catcher ever. If you don't think there's a huge difference defensively between Bench and Cochrane, then defensive value for catchers is just an afterthought.

Yeah Cochrane had a lot of passed balls. I think you'll find Eddie Rommel is the primary culprit. Knucklers create passed balls.

Possibly but most of Rommel's big years preceded Cochrane. As mentioned above Cochrane's bad fielding numbers came mostly early on. Looking at it closer, it's really all because of his early years: -41 fielding runs in his first five seasons (1925-29), +1 after. Rommel tailed off in usage during Cochrane's first five seasons, averaging 183 IP in that time.

I suspect it's the errors rather than passed balls that explain Cochrane's poor fielding numbers. He did have a lot of PBs his first five years but he also led the league two subsequent times (once when Rommel barely pitched). He more than halved his errors in the 1930-34 period compared to 1925-29.

   21. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: January 11, 2022 at 01:33 PM (#6060628)
So I just turned 48, squarely in the middle of the Gen X generation, and my memory of baseball really starts at the beginning of the 1980s - suddenly, 40+ years ago.

There are 17 players in the HOF known primarily as catchers, if I have it correct:

If you were making an all-time top 10 list, I presume the following would be on almost anybody's lit:

Josh Gibson
Mickey Cochrane
Yogi Berra
Johnny Bench
Ivan Rodriguez
Gary Carter
Carlton Fisk
Bill Dickey

If you agree that those eight belong somewhere on the top 10, then here are the other 9 catchers in the HOF:
Mike Piazza
Roy Campanella
Ted Simmons
Ernie Lombardi
Gabby Hartnett
Buck Ewing
Ray Schalk
Rick Ferrell
Roger Bresnahan

And then you've got guys who are not yet eligible, including Buster Posey, Yavier Molina, Joe Mauer, etc.

Personally, I'd put Piazza on the top 10 list because the offense is so overwhelming, and then probably Gabby Hartnett. So,among these 17, where would Posey fit?
   22. BDC Posted: January 11, 2022 at 01:54 PM (#6060638)
Bill James, in his first Historical Abstract, had Roy Campanella #1 in peak value, #7 in career value, and said if he "had been healthy for three or four more years, there would be no dispute about who was the greatest catcher of all time." But of course Campanella had been healthy for a decade before he reached the majors, a point James noted obliquely in the second HA, where Campanella ranked third (combining peak and career). Piazza and Pudge are the only HOFers to come along after that second HA.

Campanella was a kind of legendary talent, and maybe more recent analysis has eroded some of the legend? Not that anyone is knocking Campy by ranking him somewhere 11-15 all time.
   23. alilisd Posted: January 11, 2022 at 02:07 PM (#6060640)
Personally, I'd put Piazza on the top 10 list because the offense is so overwhelming, and then probably Gabby Hartnett. So,among these 17, where would Posey fit?


In thinking about this I came up with another question by way of an answer. Does someone think he's Roy Campanella, or do they think he's Gene Tenace? Now that may seem like a bizarre question, and it is in many ways, the analogy for these players is far from perfect, I'll admit. However, if you look at the JAWS rankings, Posey is quite similar to both of them. Tenace is just above Posey in the rankings, and Posey is marginally ahead on peak while Tenace is marginally ahead on career (maybe, well within the margin of error). Campanella is just behind Posey, slightly behind on career virtually identical on peak, but given the evidence he's clearly better once credited for actual ability during his youth when he was excluded from MLB.

So then does someone look at Posey like Tenace, a short career guy who happened to be quite good offensively (although they admittedly achieved this in a different manner) and was a multiple WS champion, but without placing much emphasis or giving much credit for that? Or do they look at Posey like Campanella? A guy who was a plus bat at a premium defensive position, a leader on a team that won multiple WS and who was an integral part of those teams? I tend to lean more towards the Campanella comp. I wouldn't say he's top 10 by any means, but I don't see him having any issue getting into the HOF. I think the writers will definitely view him more in the Campanella light. He's a ROY, an MVP, a multiple Comeback Player of The Year winner. They changed the rule and the play at home plate because of him. I believe the view of him will be as a HOF level talent, and someone who has the fame as a player to pull the votes.
   24. cookiedabookie Posted: January 11, 2022 at 02:41 PM (#6060644)
I have him 12th all time among catchers, in spite of his relatively short career. This makes him a pretty easy choice for the HoF.
   25. Walt Davis Posted: January 11, 2022 at 09:42 PM (#6060714)
On the Cochrane thing -- Laurila has a point. It requires some assumptions, era adjustment, ignoring Josh Gibson, etc but ....

1. No pre-war C amassed really big totals in terms of games at C. Cochrane made it to nearly 1400 -- low for a HoF C even for his era but just 250-300 behind guys like Dickey and Hartnett.

2. His WAR7 is #1 among pre-war (#9 overall, it's really a very different position post-war) although he and Dickey are close enough to call that a dead heat but both are well head of Hartnett.

3. He hadn't yet shown any real signs of decline. He was hurt in 36, having a very good but not great season to that point. He was back to his old self in 37 before the beaning -- 1.3 WAR in just 27 games.

4. He never played anywhere but C which is true enough of guys with more games caught than him but does distinguish him from Mauer and Posey.

So it's mainly #3 ... if you think Cochrane had a couple more 5-WAR seasons left in him which would also result in pushing him over 1600 games caught then he'd be clearly the best pre-war C (ignoring Gibson) and then you have to decide what sort of adjustmnts need to be made to compare pre- and post-war Cs.

I think that's way too much what-iffing to move him past Bench, Carter, Berra and he's already a fine comp to Piazza.

   26. gef the talking mongoose, peppery hostile Posted: January 11, 2022 at 10:06 PM (#6060720)
Bench and Cochrane are part of a bunch that had career OPS+s between 125 and 129 - which includes Dickey, Berra,


Misread that as "Berg" & thought someone must be putting waaaay too much emphasis on military spying.
   27. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: January 12, 2022 at 08:17 AM (#6060749)
Is Buster Posey One of the Best Catchers in MLB History?

The Law of Headlines strikes again!
   28. GregD Posted: January 12, 2022 at 02:25 PM (#6060806)
Bill James, in his first Historical Abstract, had Roy Campanella #1 in peak value, #7 in career value, and said if he "had been healthy for three or four more years, there would be no dispute about who was the greatest catcher of all time." But of course Campanella had been healthy for a decade before he reached the majors, a point James noted obliquely in the second HA, where Campanella ranked third (combining peak and career). Piazza and Pudge are the only HOFers to come along after that second HA.

Campanella was a kind of legendary talent, and maybe more recent analysis has eroded some of the legend? Not that anyone is knocking Campy by ranking him somewhere 11-15 all time.


Your sense of Campanella's relative decline in rankings sounds right to me. What do you think explains James' rank by then? The easiest reasons shouldn't apply to James--1950s offensive context and 1950s MVP voters love for catchers. James wrote about both those things.

I guess it has to come down to something in James' Win Shares, since it's hard to make a great peak case for Campanella over Bench on WAR grounds.

Campy's career compared to Bench's 69-77 have almost the same PAs--a bit over 5600.

Campy had 41 WAR and 21 WAA
Bench in that stretch had 55 WAR and 37 WAA

It's not really cherrypicking Bench either--he had 5 WAR the year before that stretch and 10.1 (combined) the two years after it.

From age 26 on Campy and Bench are pretty comparable--41 WAR and 21 WAA for Campy (obviously) and 39.7 WAR and 24.1 WAA. It's certainly conceivable Campy would have been as astounding as Bench was from 19-25, and you obviously have to weight that segregation-created hole in Campy's overall (very high) place. But that's not quite the same as saying Campy had a better peak than Bench.

Bench had three seasons with more WAR than Campy's best, then Campy had the 4th and 5th best seasons of the pair, then Bench would have #s 6, 7, 8. Campy #9. Bench 10.




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