Buster Posey: First-Time Cooperstown Ballot Hall of Famer in 2027?

Buster Posey

Buster Posey played the equivalent of 10 entire National League (NL) seasons with the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012-2019, and 2021) before announcing his retirement on November 4, 2021. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/10013741-report-buster-posey-plans-to-announce-retirement-after-12-seasons-with-giants). Is he a first-ballot Cooperstown inductee in 2027? For perspective on Posey’s MLB career, check out Sam Fels’ “Buster Posey goes out like he came in…on top.,”  https://deadspin.com/buster-posey-goes-out-like-he-came-in-on-top-1847995225 

An important part of this blog focuses on a select group of ex-American League (AL) and National League (NL) catchers, including Posey, with at least:

  • One League MVP Award
  • One or more World Series Rings as a player
  • Seven plus AL or NL All-Star Game selections (two Games were held 1959-1962.)

But the case will also be made for Posey in Cooperstown using the concept of “Catcher Framing,” first devised in 2008 by Fangraphs, prior to Posey’s MLB debut on September 11, 2009. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/war-update-catcher-framing/ Framing is the art of a catcher receiving a pitch in a way that makes it more likely for an umpire to call it a strike, e.g., turning a borderline call into a strike, or not losing a strike due to poor framing. It is added or subtracted from Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to consider how a catcher’s framing benefits, or hurts, their pitching staff throughout the season. Table I depicts the largest “old” (pre-Framing) WAR with the “new” (Framing) WAR increases, 2008-2018. Posey’s fWAR (Framing WAR) increased from 38.7 to 51.1. Yadier Molina saw his fWAR move upward: 34.8 to 50.5. A catcher who can frame well can be “extremely helpful to a pitcher working the corners of the plate.” https://www.sharecare.com/health/baseball/mean-for-catcher-frame-pitches Yadier, an “artist” at framing, is a solid first-ballot candidate for Cooperstown; perhaps in 2028?

Table I: Largest Career WAR Increases for MLB Catchers, 2008-2018

Largest Career WAR Increases (2008 – 2018)

PlayerCatcher FramingOld WARNew WARDifference
Brian McCann181.930.449.218.8
Russell Martin165.629.546.717.2
Yadier Molina151.634.850.515.7
Jose Molina140.40.615.214.6
Jonathan Lucroy126.822.636.213.6
Miguel Montero127.015.628.913.3
Yasmani Grandal119.615.127.612.5
Buster Posey118.038.751.112.4
Tyler Flowers89.48.617.89.2
David Ross80.710.018.38.4
Ryan Hanigan79.28.817.18.3
Martin Maldonado69.24.611.77.2
Jeff Mathis69.1-1.16.07.1
Chris Stewart66.22.910.07.1
Mike Zunino49.57.713.05.3
Hank Conger48.11.76.95.2
Rene Rivera48.13.99.15.1

Source: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/war-update-catcher-framing/

Posey forfeited a San Francisco Giants team option of $22 million for the 2022 MLB season by retiring. Brian London, a research colleague of the author, resides and works in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a 2003 graduate of Florida State University, in Tallahassee, the same one Posey attended, Fall of 2005 to Spring of 2008. “Something about him [Posey] that is not well known, is that he was an excellent student,” indicated London. Posey was a shortstop his Freshman (2006) season, before transitioning to catcher, 2007 and 2008.

Posey’s Florida State highlights were; https://seminoles.com/buster-posey-hall-of-fame-bio/

  • Earning the 2008 Johnny Bench Award, as the nation’s top collegiate catcher.
  • Leading the nation in six offensive categories (2008)—batting average (.463), hits (119), RBI (93), total bases (226), OBP (.566) and SLG (.879). His 1.445 OPS (OBP + SLG) was impressive.
  • Named 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year.
  • Becoming the fourth Triple Crown winner in ACC history (2008) with .463, 26, 119.

Elite Eight Backstops with the “Trifecta” (World Series Rings, MVP Awards, 7x All-Stars)

Six played winter baseball—primarily in Puerto Rico. (Posey did so in Hawaii.) The other two included Yogi Berra, who played spring training games in Puerto Rico, and Ernie Lombardi, who almost participated in spring training contests in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. They include:

  • Johnny Bench
  • Yogi Berra
  • Roy Campanella
  • Elston Howard
  • Ernie Lombardi
  • Thurman Munson
  • Buster Posey
  • Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez.

Between them, they earned 24 World Series rings (as players), 13 MVP Awards, and 90 All-Star selections, including three by Campanella in the Negro Leagues (1941, 1944, and 1945).

World Series Rings (24)

  • Berra (10)—1947, 1949-1953, 1956, 1958, 1961-62
  • Howard (4)—1956, 1958, 1961-62
  • Posey (3)—2010, 2012, 2014
  • Bench (2)—1975-76
  • Munson (2)—1977-78
  • Campanella (1)—1955
  • Lombardi (1)—1940
  • Rodríguez (1)—2003.

Note: Berra got rings as a coach with the 1969 New York Mets and 1977-78 New York Yankees. Howard also coached the 1977-78 Yankees.

MVP Awards (13)

  • Berra (3)—1951, 1954-55 AL
  • Campanella (3)—1951, 1953, 1955 NL
  • Bench (2)—1970, 1972 NL
  • Howard (1)—1963 AL
  • Lombardi (1)—1938 NL
  • Munson (1)—1976 AL
  • Posey (1)—2012 NL
  • Rodríguez (1)—1999 AL.

These are the ONLY catchers to win AL or NL MVP Awards in 90 years, 1931-2020. Their 13 combined MVP laurels equal 7.2 percent of 181 total MVP Awards. (Keith Hernández and Willie Stargell shared the 1979 NL MVP Award.)

All-Star Selections (90)

  • Berra (18)—1948-1962 (3x selected twice)
  • Bench (14)—1968-1980, 1983
  • Rodríguez (14)—1992-2001, 2004-2007
  • Howard (12)—1957-1965 (3x selected twice)
  • Campanella (11)—1941, 1944-45, 1949-1956
  • Munson (7)—1971, 1973-78
  • Lombardi (7)—1936-40, 1942-43
  • Posey (7)—2012-13, 2015-18, 2021

Most HR by Catchers, Single-Season (AL and NL)

Two catchers from Puerto Rico—Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez (AL) and Javy López (NL)—currently hold the respective single-season  home run records. Pudge’s 35 homers in 1999 are the MOST by any catcher—based on GAMES PLAYED at CATCHER—in a single season by an AL backstop, per Table II. Javy’s 42 homers, as a catcher, for the 2003 Atlanta Braves lead the  Table III list. “Everything came together that [2003] season,” recalled López. “Ten years earlier [1993], I played for the Richmond (Virginia) Braves…and was proud to represent Puerto Rico with Atlanta…played against Todd Hundley and Mike Piazza.”

Table II: Most home runs by Catchers (C), only as C, single AL season  

PlayerYearTeam(s)HR as CTotal HRPercent HR as C
Iván Rodríguez1999Texas Rangers3535100.0
Terry Steinbach1996Oakland A’s343597.1
Salvador Pérez2021Kansas City Royals334868.8
Carlton Fisk1985Chicago White Sox333789.2
Mike Zunino2021Tampa Bay Rays3333100.0
Lance Parrish1982Detroit Tigers3232100.0
Charles Johnson2000Orioles-White Sox3131100.0
Yogi Berra1952New York Yankees3030100.0
Yogi Berra1956New York Yankees3030100.0
Gus Triandos1958Baltimore Orioles3030100.0
Jorge Posada2003New York Yankees3030100.0

Source: https://members.tripod.com/bb_catchers/catchers/30hr.htm

Table III: Most home runs by C, only as C, single NL season

PlayerYearTeamHR as CTotal HRPercent HR as C
Javy López2003Atlanta Braves424397.7
Todd Hundley1996New York Mets4141100.0
Roy Campanella1953Brooklyn Dodgers404197.6
Mike Piazza1997Los Angeles Dodgers4040100.0
Mike Piazza1999New York Mets4040100.0
Johnny Bench1970Cincinnati Reds384584.4
Gabby Hartnett1930Chicago Cubs363797.3
Mike Piazza1996Los Angeles Dodgers3636100.0
Walker Cooper1947New York Giants3535100.0
Mike Piazza1993Los Angeles Dodgers3535100.0
Mike Piazza2000New York Mets353892.1
Johnny Bench1972Cincinnati Reds344085.0
Javy López1998Atlanta Braves3434100.0
Mike Piazza2001New York Mets343694.4

Source: https://members.tripod.com/bb_catchers/catchers/30hr.htm

Table IV includes basic MLB stats, with Negro Leagues data for Campanella-Howard. Posey’s .831 OPS is second to Campanella’s .862; Posey’s .302 batting average trails Lombardi’s .306.

Table IV: MLB Career Basic Stats for Elite Eight Catchers

PlayerGABRHHRRBISBBAOBPSLGOPS
Bench2,1587,6581.0912,0483891,37668.267.342.476.817
Berra2,1207,5551,1752,1503581,43030.285.348.482.830
Campanella1,4304,9517711,4012601,01734.283.363.498.862
Howard1,6235,4366331,49016877310.274.321.427.748
Lombardi1,8535,8556011,7921909908.306.358.460.818
Munson1,4235,3466961,55811370148.292.346.410.756
Posey1,3714,9706631,50015872923.302.372.460.831
Rodríguez2,5439,5921,3542,8443111,332127.296.334.464.798

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/

Posey’s 129 OPS+ was the highest of the eight catchers and positively influenced since his home games were in a San Francisco stadium more suited for pitchers than hitters. His 27 passed balls in some 9,192 innings caught were impressive. Posey’s 44.9 WAR, below Munson’s 46.1, is an issue. However, Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) voters—more than likely—will recall Posey’s higher fWAR, due to his framing skills. They may opine that his framing was a crucial factor in the Giants’ three World Series titles: 2010, 2012 and 2014. IF Posey gets in Cooperstown via a first-ballot vote, THEN Thurman Munson—who does not benefit from fWAR metrics—deserves much more consideration via the Veterans (era) Committee.

Table V: MLB Career More In-Depth Metrics for Elite Eight Catchers

PlayerG as CGS: CSBCSCS%FLD%PBOPS+WAR
Bench1,7421,62761046943.5.9908412675.1
Berra1,6991,64142640348.6.9877612559.6
Campanella1,3491,17719825256.0.9885912641.7
Howard1,1381,06528522343.9.9937510727.0
Lombardi1,5441,45342338547.6.97915212637.9
Munson1,2781,26353342744.5.9829311646.1
Posey1,0931,06352125632.9.9952712944.9
Rodríguez2,4272,34678666145.7.99112710668.7

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/benchjo01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/berrayo01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/camparo01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/howarel01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lombaer01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/munsoth01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/poseybu01.shtml; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/rodriiv01.shtml

Winter Ball’s Importance

Posey, born in Leesburg, Georgia (100 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida), March 27, 1987, played 19 games for the 2008 Waikiki Beach Boys (19-17), Hawaii Winter Baseball League (East Division), with a team-leading .338 batting average (25-for-74), four doubles and 15 RBI. Yadier Alonso, .308, four homers, 21 RBI, trailed Posey in AVG, as did Todd Frazier (.298, three homers, and 22 RBI). Posey’s FLD % was .989; he threw out four of 11 base stealers (.364). https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/team.cgi?id=25fc7e0c The Beach Boys won the league crown in a one-game playoff over West Oahu Canefires, who won the West with a 19-14 mark. The four-team loop also included Honolulu Sharks and North Shore Honu. Posey, approaching age 30, caught for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. They lost once to Team Puerto Rico but rebounded to win the Gold Medal, as Puerto Rico took the Silver.

Yogi Berra spent part of 1947 spring training in San Juan, Puerto Rico, playing some games at Sixto Escobar Stadium against the San Juan Senators, Caguas Criollos, Ponce Lions, and a league All-Star Team. Before playing additional contests in Venezuela and Cuba, the Yankees went 3-2 in Puerto Rico. The author met Berra (March 1992) when he was a Houston Astros spring training instructor. Berra recalled the trip to Puerto Rico—a helpful one—since he was on the verge of playing his “rookie season” with the 1947 World Series Champions. In May 2010, Berra responded to the author’s questions for a SABR bio on Jack Reed. Berra, on June 24, 1962, caught the entire 22 innings of New York’s 9-7 win at Detroit, a seven-hour affair (longest game in Yankees history—innings and time.) https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jack-reed/

Nineteen-year-old Roy Campanella’s grand slam for the Caguas Criollos in Game Six, 1940-41 finals, versus the Santurce Crabbers, propelled the Criollos to a 14-run fifth inning. The homer came off sidearm pitcher Luis Rafael Cabrera. Caguas also won Game Seven (April 6, 1941, the second game of a twin bill). Campanella’s Puerto Rico Winter League stats with Caguas, Santurce, and San Juan are at: https://beisbol101.com/roy-campanella/ A 25-year old Campanella played 12 games for the 1946 Sabios de Vargas, in Venezuela’s first Winter League season. He posted a .358 batting average and .604 SLG with two homers and 13 RBIs. https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/tem_equ.php?EQ=SDV&TE=1946 Earlier that winter, Campanella barnstormed in Venezuela with a Negro Leagues All-Star Team (American All-Stars), per Miguel Dupouy Gómez. http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2019/08/las-estrellas-americanas-visitan.html. Additional highlights are at: https://beisbol101.com/roy-campanella-1969-cooperstown-inductee-and-thurman-munsons-cooperstown-case/

Elston Howard (1954-55), Johnny Bench (1967-68), and Thurman Munson (1969-70) all played for the San Juan Senators. Howard was their left fielder, with Yogi Berra entrenched in the Yankees line-up. Harry Craft, a native of Ellisville, Mississippi, managed Howard in Puerto Rico. Howard’s .369 batting average was second to Willie Mays’ .395 for the Santurce Crabbers.

Bench’s .323 batting average for San Juan was fourth-best in the league. His 20 doubles tied Santurce’s Tony Pérez for the league lead. Don Zimmer was his San Juan skipper when he

caught Pat Dobson, December 10, 1967, as Dobson fanned 21 Arecibo Wolves batters, the league record for most strikeouts (by pitchers) in one game. Two years later, Munson’s .333 batting average for the 1969-70 Senators was second-best to Félix Millán’s .345, with Caguas. Roberto Clemente was Munson’s San Juan teammate, as well as Bench’s teammate, and encouraged both young catchers to do well.

José Manuel Morales, a San Juan teammate, of, and back-up to, Munson and Bench, opined that: “Munson had all the tools to be a Cooperstown Hall of Famer,” but “less home run power than Bench.” Ellis “Cot” Deal managed Munson with San Juan and felt “it was a turning point in Munson’s preparation for the 1970 AL season, and beyond, with the Yankees.”

Pudge Rodríguez. who earned 13 Gold Gloves, most of any MLB catcher, followed by Bench’s 10, played 12 winter seasons between 1989-90 and 2011-2012. https://beisbol101.com/ivan-rodriguez-3/ Pudge reinforced the Arecibo Wolves in the 1996 Caribbean Series, played in Santo Domingo, and was selected to the All-Star Team. Pat Kelly, Arecibo’s manager, gave credit to the Culiacán Tomato Growers (5-1 W-L) for winning that series over Arecibo (4-2), despite the presence of Pudge, Roberto Alomar, and Bernie Williams in the Wolves line-up.

Where does Ernie Lombardi fit in? He missed out on the 1936 Cincinnati Reds spring training in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for about one month, followed by games in Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic, versus Escogido Lions and Licey Tigers. https://sabr.org/research/article/spring-training-pioneers-flying-the-southern-clipper-with-the-cincinnati-reds/ What if Lombardi faced Raymond Brown, Martín Dihigo, Hiram Bithorn, and others pitching for the Brooklyn Eagles, playing in San Juan? These Eagles won three of four against the Reds, with a line-up including Frank Duncan (C), Buck Leonard (1B), Dick Seay (2B), Ray Dandridge (3B), Tetelo Vargas (SS), Vic Harris (LF), Raymond Brown (CF, when not pitching) and Ed Stone (RF). What a treat to see Lombardi try to throw out Tetelo on a potential base-stealing attempt!

For additional reading on Buster Posey’s Cooperstown chances, see Matt Snyder’s https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/is-buster-posey-a-hall-of-famer-breaking-down-the-all-star-catchers-case-for-the-hall-of-fame/ and Ali Thanawalla’s https://sports.yahoo.com/stats-could-hurt-buster-poseys-022749165.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall

The author thanks Yogi Berra, Cot Deal, Miguel Dupouy Gómez, Pat Kelly, Brian London, Javy López, and José Manuel Morales for their insights. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog.

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