What current Yankees would you expect to be elected to the Hall of Fame? A-Rod, Rivera, and Jeter are the obvious choices, but there is someone else who deserves consideration.
First, a quick statistics tutorial. Bill James, who has devoted his life to studying baseball statistics, has found that the most important statistic in helping a team score runs is OPS, which is On Base Percentage (OBP) plus Slugging Percentage (SLG). I am certainly in no position to dispute Bill James, and I believe that he is largely correct, but his formula has one flaw: It weights OBP and SLG equally. I believe that OBP is more important than SLG. To understand why, think about two extreme teams. One team hits a HR in every 4th at bat while making an out in each of the at bats where a HR is not hit. If this team led off a game with a HR and followed a perfect pattern, it would have a HR and three outs in every inning. This team would have a team batting average of .250, team OBP of .250, and a team SLG of 1.000. You would expect this team to score 9 runs per game (1 per inning), which is pretty good. The second team does not get any hits, but every player walks every single time up. The team batting average would be .000, the team SLG would be .000, and the team OBP would be 1.000. This team would score an infinite number of runs in the first inning.
Now on to the HOF candidate. Did you know that Jorge Posada has one less HR in his career than Don Mattingly? Jorge’s career batting average is 30 points lower than Mattingly’s and yet his OBP is 22 points higher than Mattingly’s. Jorge also has a higher SLG than Donnie Baseball. Mattingly has scored more runs and driven in more runs but he also had more than 2,000 more at bats. If you project Jorge’s career numbers over those additional at bats, Jorge would have more Runs and RBIs than Mattingly (and even more doubles!). While it may be unfair to Mattingly to think that Posada can continue to produce at the same rate for an additional 2,000 at bats, it’s also unfair to Jorge to compare him to a first baseman.
How does Jorge compare to other Yankee catchers? Let’s look at the 4 that are honored in Monument Park. In over 300 less at bats, Jorge has 66 more runs scored, 88 more doubles, 160 more RBIs than Thurman Munson while hitting almost twice as many HRs. Munson’s career batting average is 15 points higher than Posada’s, but Jorge’s OBP is 34 points higher and his Slugging Percentage is 67 points higher. Jorge is above Elston Howard in just about any offensive category you can think of. Yogi Berra’s SLG is 5 points higher than Jorge’s, but Jorge’s OBP is 32 points higher. Bill Dickey’s OBP is 2 points higher than Jorge’s and his SLG is 9 points higher. Keep in mind that the last two are two of the greatest catchers in baseball history. Then again, of all the catchers since 1900, Posada has the third highest career OBP. Only Mickey Cochrane (the guy Mickey Mantle was named after) and Bill Dickey had a higher OBP, which we’ve established to be the most important simple stat in baseball.
OK, I know what you’re probably thinking. Mattingly and Munson are not in the HOF and I’m comparing players of different eras. Fortunately, someone (I think it was Bill James) came up with adjusted OPS+, which compares a player to others in his league, and even adjusts for different ballparks. This allows you to easily compare players of differrent eras. An OPS+ of 115 means that the player is 15% better than the league average. Posada’s career OPS+ is 124, which means he is 24% better than the league average. Here is a list of players who are either in the Hall of Fame or will be who have a lower career OPS+ than Posada:
Tim Raines 123, Ernie Banks 122, Paul Molitor 122, Tony Perez 122, Derek Jeter 121, Roberto Alomar 116, Robin Yount 115, Ryne Sandberg 114, Cal Ripken Jr. 112
In The New Bill James Historical Abstract published in 2001, Bill James rank the top 100 players at each position. Below is a list of the top 10 catchers (in order) of all times with their OPS+.
Yogi Berra 125
Johnny Bench 126
Roy Campanella 124
Mickey Cochrane 128
Mike Piazza 142
Carlton Fisk 117
Bill Dickey 127
Gary Carter 115
Gabby Hartnett 126
Ted Simmons 117
As you can see, Jorge Posada’s OPS+ of 124 fits in nicely with the top 10 greatest catchers of all time. Only Mike Piazza has an OPS+ that is significantly higher than Jorge’s.
How does Posada compare to his contemporaries? Posada’s OBP/SLG/OPS+ are .380/.477/124. Pudge Rodriquez (another catcher destined for the HOF) are .339/.475/110. It appears to me that Jorge should also be destined for a plaque in Cooperstown.