There are two groups we have to consider Posada against: Those already enshrined, and his peers during his playing days. Let’s consider those who already made it in as the first test.
Looking at the above table (which is made up only of the players who were voted into the hall of fame by the BBWAA, thus excluding Ewing, Bresnahan, Schalk, Ferrell, and Lombardi) we see that Jorge is not in the top echelon, but he fits in the group. He even has a better OBP than the average BBWAA inductee. Unfortunately, the three areas in which he fares the worst are amongst the most important (wOBA, OPS+, and most of all WAR, where he suffers due to his relatively poor defensive metrics.) That said, he’s not the worst pick in any of these categories. I’d say that this data points to him being quite worthy of consideration, and on its own would merit induction.
But of course, Posada isn’t just competing with the current HOF members, he’s also competing with his own generation. So let’s see where he stacks up relative to the catchers of the last 20 years (and there have been some great ones).
Running a search on players that played at least 1000 games at catcher between 1990 and 2011, while maintaining an OPS+ over 90 brings up a list of 15 guys. On this list, Posada really shines, coming in 2nd in OPS+, wOBA, OBP, and 3rd in WAR, SLG, and HR. Now granted, this isn’t exactly a luminous list, with only four real candidates (Piazza, Pudge, Posada and the surprising Kendall, who gets an honorable mention if only for his 43 career WAR, which is the equivalent of plaqueholder Roy Campanella). More importantly, two guys really stand out on this list, and they aren’t Posada — Piazza’s offense just crushes all challengers. His career OPS+ is 14 points above the top HOF mark of Mickey Cochrane, and despite his defensive deficiencies (and they were significant…) he still clocks in at 66.7 WAR, behind only Bench, Fisk, Carter and Berra. Pudge Rodriguez also clocks in above Posada, netting a tremendous 73.4 WAR, largely on the strength of his defensive contributions, and outright longevity (he played more games at catcher than any other player in the history of baseball). His 45.68% career caught stealing rate is downright silly. His OPS+, at 106, is hardly hall-worthy on its own, but taken in the context of the rest of his numbers, he’s a hall of famer, and it ain’t particularly close.
I’ll be up front: There’s a big gap between the top two and Posada, largely based on WAR, which lends some credence to those who consider Posada an also ran due to his at best middling defense. However, in this comparison, Piazza and Rodriguez are no doubters, if they don’t get derailed by steroid controversy or something of the like (Both have been tied to steroids, Pudge more tangibly than Piazza). We never expected Posada to be a no doubter — indeed, Bill James’ HOF statistic lables Posada a 98, which is the definition of “on the cusp”. It makes the 2011 campaign that much more bittersweet — had Posada had even a middling year, he likely makes the hop into triple digits, at least by that statistic.
So by that look, he’s right there, and it’s up to your individual judgement to determine if he’s just over the line or just behind it, based on all the other random factors that go into these choices. For instance, take a look at Posada’s 2007 campaign, when at the tender age of 35, he went .338/.426/.543, good for a 153 OPS+. Plug .330/.420/.540 into baseball-reference.com’s play index, and you find that there have only been seven catcher seasons in the history of baseball leaping all three hurdles–Piazza did it twice (both times for LA), and then Mauer and Posada managed it once each. The others, Hartnett, Dickey, and Cochrane, all ended up in the hall of fame. Or narrow your search to the last decade, and you’ll find that Posada has by far the highest WAR of any catcher from 2000-2010, no small feat in a decade that included a number of talented young backstops. While a healthy Mauer would have surpassed him, had he begun in 2000 and carried on at the same clip through the end of 2010, his recent injured stretch make that by no means a foregone conclusion.
On the other hand, Posada never won a batting title, never won an MVP (was only named on ballots twice, coming in 3rd in 2003 and 6th in 2007…despite putting a .417 wOBA as a catcher that season), and certainly never won a Gold Glove. He does have five Silver Slugger awards, and five all-star appearances. He also has more playoff appearances than any other catcher, with 125 October games under his belt (maybe one or two of those were in November). He’s also got those
four five World Series rings (five more than Piazza, and four more than Pudge).
Put it all together, and I nudge Posada across the finish line. While his defense counts against him, his offense, taken from behind the plate, was a significant boon to the Yankees during his tenure. It’s probably not a coincidence that the only season during which Posada lost a significant amount of playing time due to injuries was also the only season during his career that the Yankees did not make the playoffs (though Chien Ming Wang did his part in that debacle as well). I can understand the arguments against his inclusion — but I disagree with them. Anyone who uses the “Hall of Very Good” argument against Posada fails to understand just how productive he was. The Yankees essentially got DH level offense from their catcher from 1999 until 2010 — that is seriously valuable.
It’s very difficult to be under appreciated as a Yankee. Pinstriped players seem to regularly find their way into the various award ceremonies that are scattered through the offseason, and while they often deserve the accolades that come their way, there have certainly been some eye opening choices (Derek Jeter‘s and Bernie Williams Gold Gloves are prime example). Amidst the star studded cast fielded by the Bombers over the last two decades, if you had to label anyone as under rated, it would have to be Jorge, who always seemed to come in last amongst the “core” group of Yankee stalwarts. And if he gets the call in the coming years (years after Pettitte and Bernie will have slid off the ballot), I’ll be among the many making the drive out to Cooperstown to smile, listen, and applaud one of my favorite players for a job well done.