Monday, August 13, 2012

The best catcher in Phillies history is ...

PBR - With his ceremony last week Mike Lieberthal became the third catcher inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame joining fan favorites Bob Boone and Darren Daulton.

That's where the debate begins.

Lieberthal, Boone and Daulton were excellent catchers and rightly deserve a spot in Phillies lore, but neither should be regarded as the best in franchise history.

Instead, meet Jack Clements.

Clements was the first catcher to wear a chest protector and the only left-handed throwing catcher to have a legitimate career in the major leagues. He spent 14 seasons with the Phillies and manufactured career numbers that compare favorably to several catchers in the Hall of Fame, yet he's an unknown in Philadelphia.

Born in Philadelphia, Clements broke into the majors at 19 and went on to play in 1160 games from 1884 to 1900, spending 14 seasons in Philadelphia with the Phillies and a partial season with the Keystones of the short-lived Union Association.

Clements' numbers (.287/.421/.769) rank among the best when compared to other 19th century players, plus he's the lone 19th century player to finish his career with 1,000 or more games with more career homers (77) than triples (60). Baseball historian Bill James ranks Clements as the 58th best catcher of all time, so he too deserves a spot among the Phillies elite.

The Wall of Fame (see Lieberthal's induction) is a nice way for the Phillies to pay tribute to players, but induction is related more so to likability than statistical achievement. Lieberthal was a solid backstop, but he played on some mediocre clubs and his statistical contributions pale in comparison to Clements'.
 
There is no single baseball statistic that proves absolute superiority, but there are several advanced metrics that solely exist for the purpose of direct comparison. Using these metrics we'll compare Clements and Lieberthal to the other four best catchers in franchise history: Boone, Daulton, Spud Davis and Andy Seminick.

For the record, James ranks Boone as the 21st best catcher of all time, Daulton 25th, Seminick 57th and Davis 71st. Lieberthal failed to make his Top 100 list (Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract).

The first metric we'll use to compare our six players is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). This number shows how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a "replacement level", or minor league/bench player at that position.


The second metric we'll examine is Average Season Wins Above Replacement (asWAR). This number is the same as WAR except it is a seasonal average based on the statistics a player would amass in an average season.


The third and final metric we'll examine is Win Shares (WS). Devised by James, this number assigns a positive value to a player for his contributions for the year. A single win share represents one-third of a team win.


Clements has a sizable advantage over the other five catchers in WAR and asWAR and sits behind only Daulton in career Win Shares. Lieberthal, on the other hand, is weak in all three categories and just edges out the soft-hitting Boone in career Win Shares. 

Clements WAR and asWAR numbers are better than those of Hall of Fame catchers Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk so he can easily be pegged as the franchise's best backstop and is deserving of acknowledgement by the Phillies. 

Taking nothing away from Lieberthal, Boone or Daulton, but the Wall of Fame has become nothing more than a popularity contest leaving some of the best players in franchise history, like Clements, on the outside looking in.

- Patrick Gordon  is the editor of the Philadelphia Baseball Review. Contact him at pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com or @Philabaseball on Twitter.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

James ranks Boonie as the 21st best catcher of all time.

Ed