Historical notes on this year’s NL MVP
WAR and OPS+ Leader
Buster Posey led the NL in WAR (both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs; all further cites are to the B-R version). He’s just the 3rd catcher ever to lead his league in WAR (7.2), joining Johnny Bench (7.1, 1970) and Gary Carter (8.3, 1982). No American League backstop has ever led his league in WAR, and no catcher has ever been the MLB WAR leader.
Posey’s 7.2 WAR tied for the 7th-best ever by a catcher. The #1 figure was 8.5, shared by Bench ’72 and Mike Piazza ’97. Half of all 7-WAR years by catchers came from Bench (3) and Carter (2) combined; Joe Mauer, Darrell Porter and Carlton Fisk join Piazza and Posey with one apiece.
Posey is also the 3rd catcher ever to lead his league in OPS+, joining Mike Piazza (1995, ’97) and Joe Mauer (2009). Posey’s 172 OPS+ (tops in both leagues) was the 2nd-best by a catcher in modern history, trailing only Piazza’s 185 from 1997 (and tied with Mike’s 172 in ’95).
ROY & MVP
Both Posey and Bench won Rookie of the Year in their 2nd season and MVP in their 4th. The other catcher to win both awards, Thurman Munson, was ROY in year 2 and MVP in year 8.
The full list of catchers to win ROY, with their rookie WAR and career WAR:
- Buster Posey, 2010: 3.7, 12.1 (to date)
- Geovany Soto, 2008: 3.1, 8.1 (to date)
- Mike Piazza, 1995: 6.8, 56.1
- Sandy Alomar, 1990: 2.2, 11.6
- Benito Santiago, 1987: 3.1, 24.5
- Carlton Fisk, 1972: 7.0, 63.7
- Earl Williams, 1971: 3.0, 6.4
- Thurman Munson, 1970 (MVP ’76): 5.3, 43.3
- Johnny Bench, 1968: 4.9, 72.3 (#1 C all-time)
(Did I miss anyone? Is it really true that none of the first 40 ROY awards went to a catcher?)
And here are the catchers who’ve won MVP Awards, with their age and WAR in the MVP year(s):
- Buster Posey, 2012, age 25, 7.2 WAR
- Joe Mauer, 2009, age 26, 7.6 WAR
- Ivan Rodriguez, 1999, age 27, 6.1 WAR
- Thurman Munson, 1976, age 29, 5.0 WAR
- Johnny Bench, 1970/’72, age 22/24, 7.1 WAR/8.5 WAR
- Elston Howard, 1963, age 34, 5.0 WAR
- Roy Campanella, 1951/’53/’55, age 29/31/33, 6.3 WAR/6.8 WAR/5.0 WAR
- Yogi Berra, 1951/’54/’55, age 26-29-30, 4.5 WAR/5.0 WAR/5.2 WAR
- Ernie Lombardi, 1938, age 30, 5.3 WAR
- Gabby Hartnett, 1935, age 34, 4.8 WAR
- Mickey Cochrane, 1928/’34, age 25/31, 3.7 WAR/3.7 WAR
- Bob O’Farrell, 1926, age 29, 3.4 WAR
(The first four catchers to win MVP pre-dated the ROY Award, but it’s highly doubtful that any would have won it if it had existed. Only Cochrane played more than half-time in what we would consider his rookie year, and while he was outstanding, the hypothetical 1925 ROY probably would have gone to Earle Combs.)
First 4 Years
Among all catchers in MLB history through their first four seasons, Posey ranks 10th with 12.1 career WAR. He’s the 19th catcher with 12+ WAR through age 25, including 19th-century stars Buck Ewing and Fred Carroll. (Ewing lasted a dozen more years and made the Hall of Fame; Carroll was finished at 26.)
With 12.1 career WAR, Posey is already more than halfway to making the all-time top 50 among catchers. (Chris Hoiles currently ranks 50th with 22.1 WAR.)
Although catching will always be a perilous profession (as Posey can attest), since the advent of decent protective gear, elite young catchers have proven surprisingly durable and productive. Among the 22 retired catchers since 1920 who notched 8+ WAR and 1,000+ PAs in their first four years (see table below):
- They averaged 38.2 career WAR (after 10.9 in their first four years). Their career WAR averaged 3.5 times that of their first four years.
- 19 of the 22 had career WAR at least double that of their first four years (all but Rick Wilkins, Jody Davis and Clay Dalrymple), and 14 of 22 at least tripled their early returns.
- 13 of the 22 reached at least 30 career WAR. (Only seven other catchers in this span reached 30 WAR.)
- 12 of the 22 amassed 20+ WAR after their first four years.
- They averaged 4.1 WAR per 150 games in their first four years, 3.2 WAR/150 thereafter, and 3.4 for their career.
- 15 of 22 played at least 1,000 games after their first four years.
It is worth noting that two of the five most productive players from that group spent the majority of their “after” years at another position (Craig Biggio and Joe Torre). Posey has logged 19% of his career innings at 1B, but he caught more this year (post-shattered ankle) than in his first full year, and he was 4th in the NL with 114 games caught.
Retired catchers with 8+ WAR and 1,000+ PA in first 4 years, since 1920:
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