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Does WAR Treat Jorge Posada Fairly?

Posted By Matt Klaassen On January 27, 2012 @ 1:30 pm In Daily Graphings,Yankees | 117 Comments

Jorge Posada officially announced his retirement earlier this week, to the surprise of no one who was following the baseball beat the last lately. The career Yankee may have finished with a whimper, but his career was mostly a series of bangs with which FanGraphs readers are probably familiar. From my perspective, it often seemed that Posada was under-appreciated in his prime. However, the force of nostalgia (even for relatively recent eras) seems to be asserting itself a bit as some are arguing that Posada should make the Hall of Fame.

A short blog post is not the place to address every aspect of one player’s Hall of Fame case. What piques my interest is the idea that while the shape of Posada’s Wins Above Replacement total and peak may not measure up to the average Hall of Fame standards, he may merit more consideration because WAR is somehow unfair to catchers. Obviously, if you hate WAR and similar metrics, you probably are not going to read much further. But even if you are open to them, you might think they have limitations, perhaps such as this one. For this post I simply want to argue that while there are some anomalous cases with respect to using the WAR to measuring Hall-worthiness, such as the case of great relief pitchers, I do not think that the same is true of catchers like Posada.

[As an aside, I want to note here that WAR (or whatever total value stat) or numbers in general are not the only factors worth considering for induction, but I do think it is a right place to start, and for the sake of space will be the only kind of thing I discuss here.]

Without getting into all of the background research, I will begin by simply saying that the standard that has been found using WAR to look at the Hall of Fame is that the average inductee has had a total of around 60 career WAR. As discussed elsewhere, we do not just want a big total, but a substantial peak, at least three to five seasons of around seven (or more) wins. Obviously, these are not hard and fast rules, but general guidelines. Recent inductee Andre Dawson provides a good “baseline” Hall of Famer.

The three outfielders nicely illustrate the baseline, a no doubt Hall-of-Famer, and another who should not be in (no matter how much he hints he should be). Posada does not measure up to the Dawson baseline either in terms of total value or peak value.

The reader will no doubt note that the difference is that Posada is a catcher, so the comparison is a bit odd. After all, isn’t equivalent offensive production at catcher more valuable than for an outfielder? However, that is to miss the point of WAR and similar metrics — they take into account relative positional value. So to insist that Posada only be measured against other catchers is to miss the point.

But perhaps WAR is unfair to catchers in the same way that it seems to be unfair to relievers. Let me stop here and note that I am discussing historical, rather than current market value, although I am well aware that there is a great deal of controversy about the proper way to value relievers in both respects. WAR was primarily created to deal with market value in given seasons, but has been adopted to historical discussion because for the most part it seems to “work” pretty well.

While I am tend to trust numbers rather than my own “intuitions,” I have to say that I think that Mariano Rivera is the one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) relief pitcher of all-time, and think he should be in the Hall of Fame. However, by the “Dawson Standard,” he does not belong.

Now, I do not think that noting this one potential issue with WAR and historical evaluation for the sake of the Hall of Fame means that the whole stat is “broken,” it may just mean more work needs to be done, that WAR maybe should not be used in this case, or something else along those lines. Or it may just mean that I have an irrational attachment to guys like Rivera. It really seems that no great relief pitcher in history comes close to the 60 WAR with a good peak standard given above. But the point of this post is not Rivera, but Posada. Is WAR perhaps unfair to Posada and other catchers in the same way?

[Before anyone brings up how far we have to go in evaluating catcher defense, I will simply agree while noting that most would probably agree that such improvements are quite unlikely to help Posada's case.]

While WAR may have other issues with catchers, I do not think this is one of them. While it might be a problem for using WAR for Hall-worthiness that Mariano Rivera and other great relievers do not measure up, this is not the case for catchers. Let’s take a look at a couple of the classic “great catchers” of the (mostly) Retrosheet era:

Both Bench and Berra are easily worthy by the “Dawson Standard.” But just because a player is not as good as Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra, he could still make the Hall. What about Posada compared to some of his (relative) contemporaries.

It seems to me that Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez each have a good, WAR-based case for the Hall, too. So it does not strike me that the “Dawson Standard” is unfair to the greatest catchers as it may be to the greatest relievers.

Jorge Posada had a wonderful career. While WAR may have its limits with respect to relievers, and perhaps there are other things to take into account for catchers. However, the “WAR standard” does not appear to have the absolute exclusionary problem with catchers (unless one thinks each position should have a minimum quota for the Hall, which I do not, but that is yet another issue) that it does for relievers, so I do not think it is unfair to say that Posada should not make the Hall, at least on this basis.


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