WAR Lords of the Diamond (Catchers)

In this relatively short session of Purple Row Academy, we're hitting the history books.

Now that I've explained the components and calculation of the statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for position players and for pitchers, I'm going to use historical WAR calculations to determine the best players by position in Rockies' history. The inspiration for this article came from Sky Kalkman at BtB and KL Snow at Brew Crew Ball.

Of course, due to the fact that the Rockies' history is only 17 years old, there isn't exactly a deep pool of players to choose from in this study. Therefore, I will be ranking all players who produced a career WAR of over 3 wins at a position for the Rockies or was a significant player for the team.

Here's my methodology:

1. I only used stats accumulated when they played for the Rockies.

2. The categories used were: career with Rockies, best three consecutive years with Rockies (establishes average production), and best single year with the Rockies (establishes peak production).

3. If the players spent less than three years with the Rockies, their career total was used in the other metrics as well. If the player was at different positions for different years, the player would be considered for the position in which he had the most starts (or greatest impact, at my discretion) for the Rockies.

4. The players were ranked in each category. Those ranks were added and averaged out--the lowest average rank was the most valuable Rockie.

5. The data used was only for seasons that were completed (e.g. not 2009).

To gather data, I used Sean Smith's fantastic historical WAR database. This resource is so great because it accounts for basically all significant aspects of a player's context-neutral on-field production: hitting, baserunning, fielding, etc. Another major reason was that the database extends back to 1954, unlike FanGraphs' 2002. Note also that these numbers do differ from FanGraphs' values slightly.

Join me after the jump as I discuss catchers...

Catchers

As RMN pointed out in his Counting Rocks article about Chris Iannetta, the Rockies have historically had a revolving door of sorts at the catcher position. Looking at the numbers, their career WAR data isn't much prettier.

In fact, just producing a positive career WAR for the Rockies as a catcher was a major accomplishment. In fact, no Rockies catcher has five years of service with Colorado. Since I have to rank somebody, here are the five catchers in Rockies' history (through 2008) who have delivered over a 0.5 WAR for the team.

Here's the best of a motley crew:

1. Jeff Reed

Career WAR: 4.3 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 4.6, 1996-1998 (1st)
Top Season: 1.8, 1998 (2nd)
Average Rank: 1.33

Reed spent the 1996-1999 campaigns with the Rockies--tied with Ben Petrick for the longest Rockies' catching tenure. His Rockies career coincided with the twilight of his 17 year MLB career, spent with 6 teams almost exclusively in a back-up role, but his Coors years were also his most successful ones.

Considering the fact that a league-average player by definition is one that is two wins above a replacement player, Jeff Reed never reached league-average status, even in his career-best 1.8 WAR 1997 season. When one considers that his 1997 season is the second best catcher season in Rockies' history, the scale of the Rockies' failure at the catching position becomes apparent.

 

2. Chris Iannetta

Career WAR: 3.2 (2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 3.2 (2nd)
Top Season: 2.7, 2008 (1st)
Average Rank: 1.67

That's right Rockies fans, Chris Iannetta's 2008 season in which he racked up 2.7 WAR was not only by far the best catching season ever by a Rockie, it was also the only time that the Rockies have had an above-average MLB catcher. Obviously going forward Iannetta will be the man atop this leader board, probably as soon as the end of this year. He is, after all, a Very Special Boy.

 

3. Charles Johnson

Career WAR: 1.8 (3rd)
Top Three Seasons: 1.8 (3rd)
Top Season: 1.5, 2003 (3rd)
Average Rank: 3

While CDI is undoubtedly the best homegrown catcher the Rockies have produced, an argument can be made that Charles Johnson, to this point, was the best catcher to put on a Rockies uniform. After all, CJ did produce three years that were better than CDI's 2008 prior to coming to Colorado, the best being a 4.3 WAR season in 1997.

CJ was notably traded to Colorado from Florida in a package that included Preston Wilson in exchange for Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre. His Rockies career was from 2003-2004. In all, CJ played for 6 teams in 12 years, most notably the Marlins. He appeared in two All-Star games and won four Gold Gloves, though none with the Rockies.

 

4. Brent Mayne

Career WAR: 1.6 (4th)
Top Three Seasons: 1.6 (4th)
Top Season: 0.8, 2000 and 2001 (5th)
Average Rank: 4.33

Seriously, the 4th ranked catcher in Rockies history is Brent Mayne. Perhaps most famous for the pitching win that he garnered in 2000, Mayne played for the Rockies from 2000 to mid-2001, after which he was traded to the Royals for Sal Fasano and Mac Suzuki. In all, Mayne played for seven teams in 14 years, posting a career-high (and league-average) 2.1 WAR for San Francisco in 1999.

 

5. Yorvit Torrealba

Career WAR: 0.9 (5th)
Top Three Seasons: 0.9 (5th)
Top Season: 0.9, 2007 (4th)
Average Rank: 4.67

Acquired by the Rockies before the 2006 season in a trade with Seattle for Marcos Carvajal, Torrealba has provided below league average production for the Rockies, his third MLB team. A decent (though still below average) 2007 keeps Torrealba afloat, though last year he was 4 runs below average.

That's it. Those five are the only catchers in Rockies history who have done much of anything for the team. Others of note are Ben Petrick (0.3), Joe Girardi (0.1), and Kirt (what is that) Manwaring (-2.4!).

Next week we'll delve into a far more pleasant position, albeit a short list for the Rockies--first base.

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