December 21, 2014

All Phillies…All the Time — The Catchers

June 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Herewith is the first installment of the All-Time Greatest Phillies Team.

Before undertaking this endeavor, some ground rules…

This is one version of the “Greatest Phillies of All Time.” The key word is “great,” and it will be used in the larger meaning of the word, that is, beyond pure statistics. This is sort of like the concept that the Hall of Fame should take “fame” into consideration when electing people. As such, contributions in the postseason and off the immediate field of play (i.e., leadership) will be taken into account. So will the length of service, since a good player who played for the Phillies for five years wouldn’t have contributed as much to the team as an equally good player who played in Philadelphia for 10 years.

While the team has been selected position-by-position, there will be, in acknowledgement of the current reality of pitching, a starting staff of five pitchers, plus a left-handed reliever and a right-handed reliever. How a player’s position is determined is by the position he played most often during his time with the Phillies. The most notable example of this ruling is Dick Allen, who played third base in more games than he played any other position while he was in Philadelphia, even though he was a better first baseman.

Similarly, the players will be judged strictly on their contributions to the Phillies, while they were on the Phillies. An example of someone effected by this ruling would be Eppa Rixey, who was voted into the Hall of Fame apparently on his pitching for the Reds (and a questionable vote at that). With the Phillies, he was a sub-.500 pitcher.

Finally, a player has to have played for the Phillies (and manager managed the Phillies) in a minimum of five major league seasons. This may be something of an arbitrary time line, but moving up to the next round number (i.e.; 10 years) would leave us with very few candidates, and moving down would bring in too many players who were just passing through town — something that admittedly did happen a lot in the 1920s, 30s and 40s… e.g., Dolph Camilli.

We’ll start with the catchers, a position that has nine receivers worth mentioning, although it lacks the superstar power of say, the outfield. Even so, there is some quality depth here, so much that the one-time major league career leader in games played behind the plate, and a fine defensive catcher, Bob Boone, doesn’t even make the first cut. You see, the awful truth is that Boonie wasn’t much of a hitter; his Adjusted OPS (AKA OPS+) for the Phillies was just 90. A better hitter, in fact better than many people thought he would be, was Mike Lieberthal. A skinny kid out of high school when the Phillies drafted him with the third pick of the 1990 draft, Lieberthal was often dismissed as an inadequate hitter, right up until he took over the regular catching job and hit 20 home runs in 1997. Although injuries sometimes derailed his play, he spent most of the next 10 years as the Phillies regular backstop, eventually hitting 150 home runs and topping .300 twice. Still, his OPS+ with the Phillies was just 102, and there were several other catchers who were demonstrably better hitters than Lieberthal.

Quite oddly, two of them played in Philadephia at basically the same time. Phillies fans of a certain age (you know who you are) will recall the catcher for the Whiz Kids, Andy Seminick, who, it might be noted, had the highest OPS+ for the team in 1950. Seminick, the first of the Whiz Kids to join the team, played for the Phillies from 1943 to 1951, and from 1955 to 1957. However, almost at the same time (1948 to 1958), Stan Lopata also caught for the Phillies, and, hitting out of his distinctive crouch, he had both a higher OPS+ overall for the Phillies (117 to 110) and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) came in two higher (17.7 to 15.7) than Seminick’s. Not surprisingly, his slash line was better as well, .257/.355/.459 to .244/.351/.419 for Seminick. (Remember, these are their stats playing just for the Phillies.) However, for purpose of this discussion, since they were essentially sharing the position for most of their Phillies careers, neither catcher could really be considered a regular, which disqualifies both of them as the greatest… sorry, men.

Tim McCarver is a similar story to Seminick and Lopata. Although he played in parts of nine seasons with the Phillies (OPS+ of 109), he only actually caught in 367 games in Philadelphia, an average of just about 40 per year (and no, those weren’t the 40 games a year Steve Carlton used to start), so he wasn’t a regular catcher, either.

One other candidate, Virgil “Spud” Davis, put up a pretty good slash line in Philadelphia over nine seasons (only four as a regular); .321/.374/.449, but that was in the 1930s, when everyone hit that well, especially if they played half their games in Baker Bowl. His career OPS+ with the Phillies was 111; pretty good, but, he never played in the postseason, and except for a high average, he wasn’t really exceptional — his WAR with the Phillies was an unexciting 12.6 for 814 games. Davis is essentially the same player (didn’t walk much, not much power) as Ed McFarland, who posted a 112 OPS+ over five years with the Phillies at the turn of the 19th Century. He only played a lot in one season (1898) and played in just 423 games in a Phillies uniform, posting a WAR of 10.8.

If you’ve been keeping count, you’ll know there are just two candidates left, one of whom you’ve heard of, and one of whom you may not have heard of. Different players, in more ways then one, they nonetheless proved to be very difficult to choose between.

Years ago, before fears of left-handedness (or something like that) took over, a species known as Sinister Backstoppius, or the left-handed catcher, roamed the ballparks of America. And that’s not the cameo appearances of your Dale Longs or Mike Squires. There were real left-handed catchers back in the 19th Century, and the best (and the last) of them was Jack Clements, the pride of Norristown and the Philadelphia Phillies. Clements played for the Phillies from 1884 to 1897, most of the time as their regular catcher, although in that era catchers didn’t typically play every game, since the pounding they took on their poorly protected anatomies tended to pile up during a season. Still, Clements played 1000 games for the Phillies, and he could hit, topping out at a .394 batting average in 1895 (still the major league record for a catcher), and a 171 OPS+ that same season. His Phillies career produced a .289/.352/.426 slash line, an OPS+ of 118, and a WAR of 29.5. His defensive part of his WAR was 6.2, so he statistically was a better than average catcher, although logic would also dictate that he must have been pretty good behind the plate to have stayed there for as long as he did, when all the other left-handed catchers were being turned in to first basemen or farmers.

The counterpoint to Clements is one Darren Daulton, also known as Dutch. The leader of, as John Kruk called them, a bunch of gypsies (Terry Mulholland), tramps (Kruk himself) and thieves (Lenny Dykstra) also known as the 1993 Phillies that went from worst to first to the World Series. Although his early years (1985 to 1989) with the Phillies were pretty worthless except for 138 at bats in 1986, when he showed both power and the ability to take a walk, Daulton (to the surprise of many, including Bill James) eventually became a superb offensive player, with peripheral stats to die for. As it turned out, his eight home runs and 38 walks in 1986 were indicative of the type of offensive contributions he could, and did, make later in his career. Although typically he didn’t hit for a high average (outside of a .300 mark for 69 games in 1994), his slash line for his 1109 Phillies games was .245/.357/.427, which shows how good his Isolated Discipline and Isolated Power were. Leaving out the five games he played in 1996 (when one of his knee injuries kept him out almost the entire year), Daulton’s last five OPS+ figures for the Phillies were; 156, 135, 137, 101, 124. And, he also became a very rare catcher to lead his league in major statistical category, topping the NL in RBIs (109) in 1992. For his Phillies career, his OPS+ was 114, with a WAR of 21.9. He was also a slightly sub-par defensive catcher (based on a negative defensive WAR.)

However, to judge Darren Daulton fairly, you have to go beyond the obvious. He was the de facto captain of a team that went to the World Series (his on base percentage for the 1993 postseason was just under .400). He had some power and got a LOT of walks (his on base percentage for the 1993 season was .392). But there were some other things he could do. His career stolen base totals were 50 steals and only 10 caught stealing — a percentage in the top 10 all-time for those individuals with 50 or more steals. And, he only hit into 34 double plays as a Phillie, an average of less than three a season. Richie Ashburn, for goodness sakes, hit into more double plays per year than Darren Daulton.

It’s a difficult choice, but, even though Clements had a better OPS+, a better WAR, and was a better receiver, Darren Daulton, based on his leadership, his peripherals, his postseason performance, and his slightly longer Phillies career, gets this vote as the Phillies All-Time Greatest Catcher.

Comments

One Response to “All Phillies…All the Time — The Catchers”
  1. R. J. Lesch says:

    I agree with the choice, but Red Dooin deserves some mention. Not as good offensively as the men listed here, but solid defensively and a decent manager who kept his clubs in contention. Daulton is the right choice, though.

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