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Comparing Buster Posey to the great catchers

Apologies to Roy Campenella and all the others who, through no fault of their own, weren't in the majors long enough to be included here

Buster Posey turned 30 yesterday, as you may have heard, and while it’s better to turn 30 than to not turn 30, for a baseball player it does typically mean you’re in the decline phase of your career. This is even more true for catchers, and after the offensive down year Posey had last year, it’s easy to speculate that his decline might be approaching its middle.

However, Buster Posey has had one of the all time great starts to a career, and if he were able to fend off time for just a little longer, he’d be in elite company. If you listened to this week’s Chroncast — and go listen, because it’s excellent Giants #content — we talked about Posey turning 30 and while Bryan said that meant Posey was already dead, I insisted that if he’s like Johnny Bench (AND HE IS), he’s got several good years left.

So in the interest of assuming Buster Posey’s career will be a magnificent Hall of Fame-type legendary thing, I have looked at the top 11 catchers on this list and asked the question, what if Buster Posey ages like them? (All numbers in Baseball Reference WAR, because Fangraphs didn’t have an easily accessible list that came up when I Googled.)

What if Buster Posey ages like Johnny Bench?

Bench averaged 6 wins a year in his twenties. If you throw out 2009 and give him a little credit for the time he missed in 2011, Posey’s at 5, which is still pretty good. After turning 30, Bench was worth 4.4, 5.6, and 3.3 wins, before falling off a cliff in his last three years.

If Posey follows this path, he’ll be worth 3.7, 4.8, and 2.7 wins over the next three years, and then be bad for a little while before retiring.

What if Buster Posey ages like Gary Carter?

Carter averaged 5.3 wins per year in his twenties with a 120 OPS+. After turning 30, he had two fantastic offensive years worth 7.4 and 6.9 WAR, respectively, another good one worth 3.5 WAR, and then he fell off a cliff a bit, hanging on for a very long time when he wasn’t an especially good major league player.

If Posey ages like Carter, he’ll be a 7 win player this year (Good!) and a 6.5 win one next year (Also good!) He’ll drop off a bit to a little better than a 3 win player in 2019 (Okay!) and then he’ll be bad for a long time.

What if I did a table now because it’s a better way to convey this information?

FINE. Remember, by comparison, in his twenties, Buster averaged 4.8 wins a year and had an OPS+ of 136.

20s average Age 30 Age 31 Age 32 Age 33
Bench WAR 6 4.4 5.6 3.3 1.1

OPS+ 131 129 123 123 141
Carter WAR 5.3 7.4 6.9 3.5 1

OPS+ 120 143 138 115 83
Rodriguez WAR 4.7 3.1 4.4 4.5 2.8

OPS+ 114 128 120 137 95
Fisk WAR 4.7 5.9 0.8 3.8 2.8

OPS+ 132 125 96 118 110
Piazza WAR 6.2 4.3 5.1 4.4 3

OPS+ 162 135 155 148 138
Berra WAR 4.1 4.5 6.3 3 3.2

OPS+ 130 120 142 109 119
Dickey WAR 3.7 6.2 5.1 5.1 1.2

OPS+ 127 144 143 133 82
Cochrane WAR 4.3 6.3 4 5 1.2

OPS+ 126 158 117 138 111
Mauer WAR 4.7 5.3 2.1 1.5 2.2

OPS+ 135 142 107 98 106
Simmons WAR 4 5.2 0.3 3.3 4

OPS+ 126 140 87 112 126
Hartnett WAR 2.8 2.6 2.5 3.4 4

OPS+ 130 113 111 115 129

Some notes:

  • In all cases where players had a tiny sliver of a season to start their careers, it’s been omitted. I didn’t want 20 games or fewer dragging down the averages. Hartnett had a partial season at age 28 included because, whatever, it would be too much work to exclude it. You can bump his average WAR up a couple ticks if you’d like, just like I did with Posey in the Bench example.
  • Bench, starting in his age 33 season, spent just about all of his time not at catcher in an attempt to extend his career. It didn’t really work.
  • Gary Carter never really regained his form after the decline that you see on this table.
  • Rodriguez (can’t call him Pudge on a list that also includes Carlton Fisk) spent 8 more years in the majors after that 2.8 WAR season at age 33. One of them was better than that. One was almost as good. The other six were pretty bad.
  • Fisk lasted forever, and was good forever, and that’ll probably happen with Posey too.
  • After his age 33 year, Piazza had a 2 win season and a 3 win season, and 3 replacement level seasons.
  • Berra was excellent in his age 34 season, decent for the next couple years, and was then pretty much done.
  • Dickey rebounded after that 1.2 win season and was pretty good the next few years in partial playing time.
  • Cochrane’s last year was his age 34 season.
  • We all know about Joe Mauer’s concussion issues, so let’s hope that part is not a comp for Buster Posey.
  • That 4 win season for Ted Simmons was his last good season. He played 5 years after that.
  • Hartnett was extremely productive in his thirties.

In conclusion, if you narrow the list of catchers down to Hall of Famers and should be Hall of Famers (depending on how you feel about Joe Mauer, I guess), then Posey should still have at least a couple very good years left before his talent up and vanishes. I see no problems with this methodology.