The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Catchers

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A few weeks ago, with the help of the survey website Qualtrics, I asked people to address a common Baseball Hall of Fame argument.

Often, when people talk about candidates, they’ll say that they’re okay with one going in but not before another. Accordingly, I created a survey with 10 players at each position, asking them to rank them from 1 for most-deserving of induction to 10 for least-deserving.

Voting wrapped at midnight on Aug. 1, with 425 responses in. Having debuted results for pitchers yesterday morning, it’s my pleasure to now unveil results for catchers. I will add, before we get into parsing the rankings, that while Thurman Munson didn’t finish top overall, I chose his picture to highlight this post because of the tragic death at 32 of the former New York Yankees’ captain in an airplane accident 40 years ago today.

Q2 – Rank the following catchers, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Joe Mauer3.42
Ted Simmons4.15
Yadier Molina4.54
Buster Posey4.54
Thurman Munson4.64
Bill Freehan5.90
Jorge Posada6.11
Elston Howard6.40
Charlie Bennett7.28
Gene Tenace8.02

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Once again, I’m struck by the parity. After Joe Mauer, whose Hall of Fame case looks encouraging based on how he fared here, it’s a four-way battle between two of the best catchers of the 1970s, Ted Simmons and Thurman Munson, and two of the most-celebrated in the game today, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. It’ll be interesting to see how long this debate persists, depending on how long it takes for Molina and Posey’s enshrinement. Simmons and Munson have long been debated in Cooperstown conversations.

More thorough results for how people ranked each catcher are wild. There’s really no clear consensus here.


12345678910
Bennett17620313436474978107
Freehan13463035595854505030
Howard10283330504952706439
Mauer80907667403027924
Molina76484254524239312615
Munson49377159584839361711
Posada9233054496168643334
Posey52646645445036302117
Simmons116734631202318236015
Tenace31011191928456374153
Total425425425425425425425425425425

Simmons’ results particularly strike me. Simba, the Posey of the ’70s in my book, got the most first-place votes. But he also got the fourth-most ninth place votes and just six fewer than Molina, Posey, Munson, and Mauer combined. Don’t ask me how these things work. The second half of Simmons’ career, when he went from a young standout backstop with the St. Louis Cardinals to an injury-riddled first baseman wasn’t great. But Molina, Posey, Munson, and Mauer all experienced declines after their 30th birthdays as well. And if I’m making an all-time Cardinals team, Simmons is my catcher over Molina any day of the week.

Moving on, I’m struck by the divide thereafter, with Bill Freehan, Jorge Posada, Elston Howard, Charlie Bennett, and Gene Tenace totaling 52 first place votes collectively. To me, it hints that none of the five have great chances for Cooperstown. This isn’t the worst injustice, though cases can be made for each of them. Freehan, in particular, might be one of the more underrated players in baseball history, a wonderful catcher of the 1960s and a linchpin of some superb Detroit Tigers teams. He’s been battling Alzheimer’s disease and in hospice care in recent months. Anything to celebrate the man is a plus in my book.

I’m a little bummed to see that once again, a couple of sabermetric favorite candidates fared poorly here. Yesterday, I was noting the dismal rankings for Rick Reuschel and Wes Ferrell. Today, it appears that word still hasn’t gotten out on Tenace, one of the best offensive catchers in baseball history by OPS+ or Bennett, one of the premier catchers of the 19th century before he lost his legs in a train accident.

That said, I thank everyone for reading so far and will post the results for first basemen on Monday.

4 thoughts on “The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Catchers”

  1. So if you look at catchers with 30+ rWAR, they average about 88.8% of their time at catcher (broke down by PA with modern catchers, and IP with older catchers). If you divide that into the 1.36 boost, you get 1.532. You can then times that by rWAR and by catching% to get a modified rWAR. This boosts catchers to match other positions, and with an additional boost to those who play more time than average at catcher, and a dock to those who play less time at catcher. Here’s how the top ten catchers not in the Hall of Fame, ranked by this adjusted rWAR:

    Thurman Munson 64.2
    Jason Kendall 62.3
    Jim Sundberg 61.3
    Bill Freehan 61.2
    Yadier Molina 58.8
    Wally Schang 58.8
    Jorge Posada 56.7
    Darrell Porter 55.6
    Lance Parrish 55.1
    Russell Martin 54.6

    Posey (14th) is hurt by a relatively low % of PA as a catcher, same as Simmons (12th), Mauer (18th), and Tenace (20th). Bennett (11th) is hurt by playing in short seasons, but by WAR/PA, he’s 34th all time between Frank Robinson and Larry Walker. And as a Yankees fan, I have tons of respect for Howard, but he doesn’t deserve to be on a list like this.

    1. I should clarify the 36% boost. This is to match catchers to other positions. If you take a random ranking at position (say 20th best), catchers will be about 36% lower in WAR, mostly due to playing time differences and the harsh rigors of catching. This puts them on the same level for a fairer comparison against other players.

  2. Why Bill Freehan doesn’t get more support is beyond those of us who grew up watching Bill play in every ASG for the American League. He was a contemporary of Johnny Bench and they were shy of 1 run meeting in the ’72 World Series. You can make an argument that the best catchers in each league during the seventies were Bench, Simmons, Freehan, Munson. 11 ASG, a slash line of 262/340/412, including a year of CS over 50% sure must register as one of the all-time best at this difficult position.

  3. Your comment on Elston Howard is bizarre even if he lacks the MLB playing time to be on this list. First he spent years in the Negro Leagues with no opportunity to play. Then he was signed by a team that already had a Hall of Fame Level Backstop in Yogi Berra. Eventually he became the teams primary Catcher but had significantly lower playing time the first few years he played in the Majors. He also was forced to play out of position in the outfield his first few years as they were reluctant to move Berra to the outfield at first. In spite of this he was a 12 time All Star who won 2 Gold Gloves and an MVP Award.Had the Majors been fully integrated before 1955 we can assume 5-7 extra years of playing time for Howard and a much higher percentage of his games at catcher. The Yankees took way too long to promote Howard as well because they did not need a catcher or have any Black players before 1955. Howard crushed Minor league and Negro League pitching from age 19 on. Like other Black players of his time he was drafted and spent 2 years in Korea because The Military was dominated by southerners who did not want to see blacks in Major League Baseball. A start date of 1948 along with him playing exclusively at catcher his career numbers would be far higher and easily out pace the majority of your list. I get that we can only speculate about what he would have done between 1948 and 1958 if he had played catcher in the Major Leagues. That said 12 All Star Trips, 2 gold Gloves, an MVP award and superlative Minor League statistics make it pretty likely he would have been a Rival to Berra and Campanella if his career began when it should have.

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