Catching is an awkward position. Besides the obvious, I mean.
It is hard to judge catchers as potential Hall of Famers. Rarely do they reach the milestones that often distinguish baseball elite, mostly due to the difficulty and wear of their position. Nevertheless, eight catchers have been elected to the Hall by voters.
The current catching crop is an awkward bunch to judge. Half of the catchers seem too young to judge, and the other half seem too distinctly un-legendary, to use a technical term.
In my Hall of Fame series, I have often tried to cover any candidates who have a reasonable chance in order to curtail complaints. Here, however, you will likely see some padding, demonstrated by players that have absolutely no shot at the Hall. Do not let this deter you, for despite the lack of depth, there actually are some very interesting candidates.
And we start off easy enough with a candidate who has a clear shot at the HOF.
The 14-time All-Star can also claim seven Silver Sluggers, thirteen Gold Gloves, 2,775 hits, 306 home runs, a .299/.336/.469 line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), and 73.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a stat which tries to encompass all parts of a player’s game and determine how good they’ve been; Rodriguez is third all-time for a catcher).
He’s probably hung on a little too long (quick: name all five teams he’s played on in the last three years), but he would hardly be the first Hall member to do so.
Posada is a good example of why catchers usually aren’t held to the same milestone numbers as other hitters.
At 1,540 hits and 252 homers, he seems to be lacking in qualifications. However, a closer look at his numbers shows he would fit in at the Hall. His 252 homers are actually tied for 10th among all catchers with 1000 plate appearances, and he’s merely eight short of ninth place.
His .858 OPS ties him for sixth among the same group, behind Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer. In WAR, Posada ranks 14th among catchers at 51.1. Above him are seven of the Hall of Fame catchers, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, Brian Downing, and Bill Freehan (Torre and Downing both played fewer than half of their games at catcher).
Add in that he has one more year on his contract and is poised to pass Freehan, Downing, and even Cochrane in WAR, and he could firmly establish himself in Hall territory for catchers. And this is before factoring in his popularity, or the fact that he has played for several World Series Yankees teams.
His induction, if not imminent, seems eventual.
Remember when I mentioned players that have no shot at Cooperstown? Here’s the biggest one. In his defense, I usually include a section at the end for decent players who have no shot, but he was the only one to make the list this time. So, he gets his own page.
Kendall’s probably better than you remember, unless you are the Royals, in which case, there’s a good chance you thought you were signing him for the 2001 season. In fifteen seasons, Kendall’s tallied 2,166 hits, a .289/.367/.380 line, and 182 stolen bases (remember, these are catchers we’re talking about here).
Also of note, he has 42 WAR, which places him 27th among catchers (and, unlike some of those ahead of him, he’s played catcher almost exclusively). It’s not Hall of Fame caliber, but it’s at least Hall of Very Good.
I’m tempted to say Martinez is too old. He’s 31, and since becoming a starter in 2004, has 120 home runs, 1,042 hits, 26.1 WAR, and a .298/.370/.466 line.
However, he is comparable to Posada so far. Posada did not earn a starting job until the age of 26, a year later than Martinez. Essentially, to have a shot at the Hall, he has to play as well into his 30s as Posada has, a task that is easier said than done.
Also, unlike Posada, Martinez doesn’t gain the benefits of playing his whole career with one team, and he won’t play in nearly as many playoff games, both of which seem to have some effect on the Hall voters.
Mauer is probably the safest bet to make the Hall of Fame after I-Rod. As you may or may not know, he accounts for 50 percent of the batting titles won by catchers and 100 percent of those won by AL catchers.
At 27, he has an MVP award, four All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, 929 hits, 76 home runs, and a .323/.404/.477 line, plus those three batting titles. He’s in his sixth full season and has already accumulated 29.7 WAR.
I’m having trouble trying to think of a reason he couldn’t make it if he continues to put up these numbers.
Those of you outside of Atlanta may be surprised, but Mauer isn’t the only catcher putting up Hall of Fame numbers for his home state’s team.
26 year old McCann, originally from Georgia, is in his fifth full season and has 101 home runs, 691 hits, five All-Star Appearances (as well as the 2010 All-Star Game MVP trophy), three silver sluggers, and a .291/.359/.492 line. He also has 21.1 WAR to his credit thus far.
He’s already on pace to have good enough numbers; he just needs to keep those numbers up for long enough.
This is where the list starts to get shakier. The third of the Super Molina Bros. is the only one of them with any sort of chance to land in the Hall.
His defensive prowess is well-known, and he already has two Gold Gloves to start his collection. However, he’s 27, and now into his sixth season as a starter, he actually seems to have regressed from his personal offensive bests last year. His line has fallen from .293/.366/.383 to a horrendous .223/.301/.294, and he sits at a mere 12.3 WAR.
He might return to his acceptable 2009 numbers; he might be a Posada-esque late bloomer; etc. Any number of things can happen. But right now, he isn’t helping his case.
Martin has actually gotten worse since his his second year.
For example, look at his OPS+, a stat which compares his OPS to league average. In his first year, it was 101, meaning he was one percent better than an average hitter (100 is average, each digit above or below is a percentage better or worse than league average).
This may not sound impressive, but when you consider that this is from a 23-year-old rookie catcher, it looks very valuable, offensively. In the four seasons since then, his OPS+ has gone 116, 108, 86, and 88 (this year).
He has 625 hits, 54 homers, and a .272/.365/.398 line. At 17.1 WAR, he could become a Posada-like candidate if he can duplicate these numbers for fifteen years. But seeing as his numbers are already decreasing, that seems unlikely.
I think Soto is more likely to follow the Posada model than Martin. Like Posada, Soto took longer to win his starting job (he was 25 when he won Rookie of the Year in 2008).
However, many seem to have forgotten him after his sophomore slump. In three years, his OPS+ has gone from 118 to 79 to 130. He’s also put up 8.5 WAR in his career so far. Only time will tell whether he continues to play like he did in 2008 or in 2009.
These three comprise a trio of highly touted young catching prospects. I feel like they’re too young to make any real calls on their Hall chances, but I may as well make some guesses.
As an Orioles fan, I must say I’m a little disillusioned with Matt Wieters. At 24, he’s in his second season, but is yet to hit .400, blast 60 homers, or cure cancer. Maybe there was too much hype? In any case, he will (hopefully) become an All-Star catcher in no time.
Carlos Santana and Buster Posey are even younger, so any projections are worthless. Maybe their combined 74 games are too little information to guess on (Let’s see..I’m getting Buster Posey with 365 career home runs...).
However, in their short time in the majors, the two are putting up impressive numbers. Only time will tell which if these catchers last long enough to warrant induction.