As great baseball players decide to hang up their cleats for the last time, an inevitable amount of buzz seemingly takes over every corner of the sports writing world. Unless they are an absolute slam-dunk for induction, an endless back and forth begins about whether or not the player is Hall of Fame worthy, or simply belongs in the Hall of Very Good. Will they get in, or do they have one too many proverbial skeletons in their baseball closet that will keep them out? Jorge Posada is the latest subject of the Potential Hall of Famer buzz, and for those who watched him become and remain an offensive force for the Yankees, it's easy to see why he deserves the consideration.
In 17 seasons for the Yankees, Posada managed to more than make up for his below average catching skills by having an undeniably dangerous bat. Posada's offensive prowess made him one of the mainstays throughout the most recent period of extreme Yankee success, including 3 World Series titles in a row and 5 in total, with him behind the plate for the majority of them. Some legacies are difficult to predict, though. Will the population as a whole remember Jorge Posada as a popular, middle of the order bat for a baseball dynasty, or a defensive liability whose career as a catcher was only saved by offense?
Because the BBWAA certainly votes for its inductees differently than I would, and probably differently than most of us would if it were left up to us individually, the best way I know of to read into their collective thought process is to see how a player matches up to the career numbers of players who they have already decided were worthy of induction. There are currently 16 catchers in the Hall of Fame, making it the position with the 2nd fewest inductees to date. To put Posada's numbers into perspective, here are his career statistics ranked among the 13 catchers already voted in by the BBWAA or the Veteran's Committee*.
*Note: Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, and Biz Mackey were voted into the HOF by Negro League committees, and unfortunately their complete career numbers are harder to find. For the sake of the chart, they were not included.
Based on these numbers, Posada certainly has an argument for being Hall of Fame worthy by matching up well with catchers who have already been inducted. He outranks Ray Schalk in all offensive categories, and outranks popular names such as Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk in every offensive category except WAR and home runs. His defense is a much different story, however. By defensive WAR standards, Posada would be the worst catcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame thus far.
In addition to the impressive offensive rankings above, simple counting numbers are very kind to Jorge's quest for Hall of Fame induction. He ranks within the top 10 of catchers since 1901 in walks, doubles, OPS, OBP, and home runs, and is 24th in games caught. Those are very impressive credentials, and will go a long way toward impressing the voters of the BBWAA. Posada didn't manage to reach any of the nice round numbers people like to point to as shoo-in status for the Hall, such as 3,000 hits, but his production from a position not known for its offense has to be considered among the best to have played there.
Based on the voting process as we know it, one of the stronger arguments for Posada's inclusion in the HOF is that Jorge was never linked to steroids, despite playing at a high level during the Steroid Era, therefore his strong numbers have even more reason to stand out to a committee that has thus far taken an avid No Steroids No How stance. If you believe in the importance of things like intangibles, being a good leader, and knowing how to handle a pitching staff, as the people who vote for the Hall of Fame seem to, those characteristics will only stand to strengthen the argument for why Jorge should get in to the Hall.
The case against Posada making the Hall of Fame isn't terribly difficult to argue. Jorge Posada certainly wasn't the best player at his position, nor was he the best player on his team. The highest he managed to finish in MVP voting was 3rd in 2003, and he finished in the top 10 of voting only twice. Being seen as synonymous with the Core Four label placed upon Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and himself may do some good for Jorge's chances, but critics may argue that throughout his career, he played 2nd fiddle to Jeter and Rivera's lead. I don't think it's necessarily unfair to say that Posada's star didn't shine quite as brightly as his teammates' may have, but discrediting his importance to the Yankees for years because of that would be.
An amazing amount of ink has been spilled over Posada's defense, or lack there of. As more statistics that measure defense are created, the less kind they seem to be to Jorge. In fact, people like Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus have poured over the numbers and found Posada to be one of the worst catchers at framing pitches, and thus, costing the pitcher a strike. Posada led the league twice in passed balls and errors, and once in stolen bases allowed, which will no doubt take a little something away from his impressive career as a hitter. Currently, only three catchers in the Hall of Fame rank negatively in terms of defensive WAR, and of those, only Ernie Lombardi is really within shouting distance of Posada's -2.9 career rating.
Popular opinion so far seems to be that Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer with a good chance of actually bridging the gap and being inducted. It's impossible to say with any certainty, as so many things can change in the evaluation process from the time a player retires until he becomes eligible for the HOF ballot. I don't think Jorge Posada will get the votes necessary to be inducted within the first couple years of his eligibility, but I do believe that he will eventually get in based on the merits of his offense and having the good fortune of being surrounded by both great players and great teams for the entirety of his career.