Change-UpNovember 11, 2009
Here's the Catch: Jorge Posada & Jason Varitek
By Patrick Sullivan

Throughout baseball history, there have been a number of memorable positional rivalries that have unfolded within broader team battles. The 1950's in New York come to mind, when Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were all playing center field for their respective clubs. The Yankees also featured Phil Rizzutto while Brooklyn had Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. Bar room arguments raged.

Since the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees could both reasonably lay claim to team of the decade thus far in the 21st century, positional battles within this rivalry have garnered attention. Nine or ten years ago, it looked like Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra would battle head to head throughout their careers, but the Red Sox would trade Nomar away while Jeter remained and continues to perform at a remarkably high level. Nomar faded, but another positional dual emerged.

Jorge Posada has won 4 World Series rings and Jason Varitek 2. While nobody would dispute that Posada has had the better career, both are two of the finest catchers in the last 25 years or so, and with Posada coming off his latest title and Varitek looking like his time as a starter is coming to an end, a retrospective seems in order.

I want to be clear about one thing as it relates to Varitek and Posada. They are not comparable players. That statement takes nothing away from Varitek's terrific playing record and has everything to do with my belief that Posada is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Posada's career OPS+ of 124 bests Varitek's season high of 123. Yes, they've both been very good players. But more than how they have performed on the field, it's their longevity, the number of times they've faced one another and the fact that each has toiled their entire MLB careers for the Yankees and Red Sox respectively that will forever link the two players.

Varitek has caught 1,381 games in his career, again, all as a Red Sox. Posada has caught 1,490 games, all as a Yankee. Varitek has played in 163 regular season games against the Yankees, Posada 184 against the Red Sox, They competed against one another in the 1999, 2003 and 2004 ALCS. They both won World Series championships with Johnny Damon.

The Red Sox and Yankee rivalry has had three separate "golden ages", if you will. There was the David Halberstam Summer of '49 era, when the Ted Williams Red Sox tried time and again to take down the Bronx Bombers. They managed to in 1946, but lost the World Series in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Yankees won the 1947 championship, their first of 6 titles in 7 years.

In the 1970's, the Red Sox once again boasted some great teams, except that their 1975 World Series appearance, which seemed at the time to portend great things for a young Red Sox club, turned out to be their only showing that decade in the Fall Classic. The Yankees won the AL pennant in 1976 and then took home the 1977 and 1978 titles. Like this most recent era, the Sox and Yanks each featured terrific catchers in Carlton Fisk and Thurmon Munson.

It's been better during the time of Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek that the rivalry has flourished more than any other period. For one, post-season expansion now allows for the Yanks and Sox to compete against one another in the LCS. Say what you will about the Wild Card, say what you will about how tired you are of the Red Sox and Yankees, but when these two clubs hook up in the post-season, it's just terrific theatre. Even the least dramatic of their three LCS tilts, the 1999 ALCS, was unbelievable. Like Posada and Varitek, I was at Fenway for Game 3 when Pedro Martinez faced Roger Clemens and I will never forget it. I haven't heard Fenway like it since. Not in 2003, 2004 or 2007. Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS was as loud and batsh*t insane as Fenway Park has ever been. So there's that - they now play each other sometimes in the playoffs. Also, the Red Sox now win World Series titles. The hammer and nail thing no longer applies. That makes the "rivalry" more of a rivalry.

Tim Wakefield played with Varitek on the 1999 Red Sox. Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were Posada's teammates on the '99 Yanks. These have been the mainstays (Pettite's Houston stint notwithstanding). But Varitek and Posada play the same position, and it's not just any position. It's catcher. They're field generals. They both switch hit. Varitek wears a big stupid "C" on his jersey. Their teammates gush over how important each player is, an attribute I typically don't care too much about but after 10+ years of it, you have to defer to the guys hanging around them everyday at some point, no? When Bill Simmons writes his Yankees/Red Sox book in 2034 looking back at this era of the rivalry, he had better devote a full chapter to the two backstops.

If you're a Yankees fan, how much do you love Posada for his ownership of Curt Schilling alone? Posada has tuned the loudmouth up for a .326/.383/.558 line in 47 plate appearances. Heck he has hit .274/.380/.493 against the Red Sox for his career. And these weren't the Aaron Sele and John Wasdin Red Sox. These were the Pedro, Derek Lowe, Schilling, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester Red Sox. Posada can go cold, he can be quiet for periods of time, but it's always his own doing. He is never, ever over-matched.

One cannot say the same of Varitek. In his career, he hit .171/.227/.214 against Mike Mussina. Against the Yankees, he managed just a .225/.305/.388 line. But on those big, bad, slugging 2003 Red Sox, how great was it when 'Tek would come to the plate right-handed against Pettitte or David Wells? Varitek slugged .630 for his career off of Wells and hit Pettitte at a .310/.388/.466 clip. Perhaps an indicator of his toughness, he has managed a .742 OPS against the immortal Mariano Rivera.

Over the last 30 years, of catchers with at least 5,000 plate appearances, Posada ranks 2nd with a .859 OPS and Varitek 5th with a .779 mark. Jorge is well on his way to Cooperstown, but Varitek might as well be joining him. That's because when fans look at Posada's plaque, they will always associate Varitek with him.


Wow. I love me some JoPo, but 1st ballot HOFer? Borderline at this point, I'd think. His career started late and his defense hurts him (and though he has the rings, his overall playoff performance has actually been poor, in a pretty large amount of playing time). I'd like to see him make it, and I think he can if he has another couple of typical Jorge years. But right now?

As for Varitek, great trade by the much-maligned Duquette, no? Switch hitting catchers with (some) power & patience are rare. He's gotten old, but then most catchers do. That's where Posada's pre-catcher (2B) days help, as well as the (possibly misguided) platooning with Girardi at the start of his major league career.

I think Jorge's a total shoo-in.

And yes, for acquiring Manny, Pedro, D-Lowe and Varitek alone, Duquette should be remembered fondly by Sox fans.

While Posada may deserve to be a Hall of Famer, it seems incongruent to me that Jorge would be a "first ballot" choice when Ted Simmons received just 17 votes (3.7% of the total) in his one and only year on the ballot.

Although Posada's career OPS+ (124) is higher than Simba's (117), the former has not gone through a decline phase in his career whereas the latter suffered through an 84 OPS+ in his final five seasons. Importantly, from 1968-1983 (a period that coincided with his catching career), Simmons had an OPS+ of 124 in 1,954 games and 8,094 plate appearances. Posada's exact OPS+ has been achieved over 1,594 games and 6,312 plate appearances. It is my belief that the decline phase of a player's career should not detract from how good he was at his peak or his value throughout the bulk of his playing days. As a result, I contend that Simmons was every bit as productive as Posada and perhaps more so as suggested by Win Shares (315 to 245). Even if we subtract the WS from Ted's decline phase in 1984-1988, he would have a total of 293, which is 48 more than Posada, who would need to produce at last year's pace for 2 1/2 additional years to catch the reduced total for Simmons or nearly four years to match his career output.

Even Carlton Fisk (368 WS) and Gary Carter (337) weren't voted into the HoF on the first ballot. They had significantly more career Win Shares and higher peak seasons than Posada. Interestingly, Carter also had a 124 OPS+ from 1974-1986, a period that encompassed more games (1,688) and plate appearances (6,900) than Posada thus far.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) tells a similar story. According to Sean Smith's database (which is updated through 2008), here is how Fisk, Carter, Simmons, and Posada fare:

Fisk - 67.5 (62nd all time)
Carter - 66.2 (73rd)
Simmons - 50.8 (161st)
Posada - 41.6 (256th)

Per Fangraphs, Posada had a WAR of 4.0 in 2009. Therefore, his career total is now about 45.6, which would sill rank outside the top 200.

After this review, it's not at all clear to me that Posada is a Hall of Famer, much less a first ballot type.

"That's because when fans look at Posada's plaque, they will always associate Varitek with him."

Really? REALLY? People aren't going to look at his plaque and think about Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera, along with the five World Series that they won? Honestly, when I think of Posada, Varitek never even comes close to entering my mind. Red Sox fans might compare their team and their players to the Yankees, but the reverse isn't true.

Rich: That's a good, thorough analysis and one that shows how unjust Simmons' exclusion is. Given Posada's performance this season, I don't think a precipitous decline phase is necessarily coming any time soon. It will come for sure, but not for a little while and it might be more gradual than some others. I don't think a number of 55 WAR or so is out of the question. Couple his performance record with his 4 rings and NYC spotlight and I think he glides in.

Quotemeister: Sure, we'll think of his teammates first but hell, all of those guys except maybe Pettitte will have their own plaques right near Posada's. Any reflection at all of Posada's career, his most memorable games, the era in which he competed, his opposition, will conjure up Varitek. They're both switch hitting catchers who have had good, long careers playing in the game's highest profile rivalry, winning championships, etc.

Sully: I still think you're wrong. Shoot, I went to Georgia Tech and remember Varitek when he played there, and I *STILL* don't think of him when I think of Posada. In fact, I think about Posada's charity work with craniosynostosis (his kid has it) before I think of Varitek. I think eternally linking these two players together, at least from the Posada point of view, is altogether wrong.

It's a fair point, QM. Didn't mean to sound like I was speaking for everybody. Obviously I am not speaking for you.

I definitely associate Jorge with Tek and Tek with A-Rod. Two degrees to A-Rod. Always comes back to him. A-Rod beat Tek in that fight, no matter what Sox fans say.

I'm not sure I'd vote for Jorge to be a HOFer either. Rich made a strong case. And from what I've seen, Jorge's really not good defensively, which is often neglected when his HOF candidacy is considered.

Quotemeister: I think the link between Posada and Varitek is apt. They have had parallel careers at the same position for the biggest rivalry in the game, if not all sports. That alone makes me think of them together. Add in the fact that they are switch-hitters and some of the other points Sully made and the link between the two seems inescapable to me.

Catchers of the '90's/'00's are clearly Piazza and Pudge. Posada is at best the Duke to their Mickey and Willie. Varitek =? More like Minnie Minoso in comparison, certainly good enough to get invited to the party but not at the same table. Without looking at WAR stats I might have thought of Javy Lopez before thinking of Varitek.

Gilbert, it's the ancillary stuff, not a pure quality comparison. Heck, Mike Stanley was probably better than Varitek, too.

Varitek and Posada:

- both catch
- switch hit
- won WS titles
- played for just one team
- are on either side of sports' biggest rivalry
- are contemporaries

"Catchers of the '90's/'00's are clearly Piazza and Pudge. Posada is at best the Duke to their Mickey and Willie. "

Pudge has a career OPS+ of 108.

He had a great 7 year run from 98-2004 but even then his OPS+ was in the 120-130 range primarily with that one ridiculous year he had where he put up an OPS+ of 155.

But over his whole career pudge hasn't played close to the rate at which Posada has.

If you want to talk about his arm that's fine. But he was never considered great at calling a game or handling pitchers. And most of this conversation has been about the respective offensive performances of each player.

My feeling, from the Boston side, is that there ain't no Varitek and Posada. Nowhere near Jeter & Nomah, or Fisk/Munson for that matter.

Hell, it's not even Papelbon/Rivera.

"The 1950's in New York come to mind, when Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays were all playing center field for their respective clubs."

Uh... not really. Joe retired in 1951. I'm pretty sure the CF'er for the Yanks was some kid named Mickey Mantle.

Ugh, a ridiculously gross oversight on my part, algionfriddo. No excuses.

I would change it but I deserve to have it remain there under my byline.

Thanks for pointing it out.

Ok, I changed it. Couldn't stand it anymore!

The reason Ted Simmons isn't in the Hall of Fame is because he had a HORRIFIC defensive reputation. That might've been unfair... Bill James has him as an average catcher.

I would expect anyone who's going to trumpet career WAR numbers to also explain that Simmons started his career as a full-time catcher at the age of 21 while Posada didn't get 500 PAs in a season until he was 28. In addition, Posada's peak numbers are better than Simmons. His defense was better than Mike Piazza's and his offense was better than Pudge Rodriguez'.

If one is going to judge Posada solely on career stats, then he isn't HoF worthy. If someone is going to weigh "rate" stats more heavily, then I don't see how Posada is kept out. I do agree that he's certainly not a first ballot HoFer.

Since this was posted only a few days ago, I just wanted to make a quick correction. Jorge has 5 rings, not 4. So it's Jorge 5 Varitek 2.

Also, there's no question, with the Yankees' current championship, that it's the Yankees and nobody else that are the team of the decade.

I haven't studied Posadas batting statistics, but as a Yankee fan since 1960, I can not get my head around the idea of Jorge Posada in the Hall of Fame. For all his accomplishments with the bat, he has always been awful at blocking the plate when a runner is coming home. He doesn't know how to properly place his feet and reaches out for the throw instead of having the throw come to him, thus saving time on the play. Plus, by reaching for the throw (from throws from the right side of the field in particular), his weight is shifted so that the runner easily bowls him over or forces Posada to drop the ball. And don't get me started on his terrible wasn't just this years playoffs.

"Posada can go cold, he can be quiet for periods of time, but it's always his own doing. He is never, ever over-matched."

Now, see, that's just silly. I suggest you check out Posada's career numbers against Pedro Martinez and you'll see a fine example of an overmatched player.

And that's even including Pedro's decline period, which accounts for the decent slugging numbers. but look at that batting average!

I bring this up because I remember that there was nobody Pedro owned in his prime more than Posada. And I mean that fully...he was number one in my mind and every other batter matchup was a distant second at best. And these weren't just outs either, it seemed like Pedro K'd Posada 2-3 times a game every time out.

Peter -

Opponents have batted .214/.276/.337 against Pedro for his career. Posada hit .183/.290/.450. It's not great, but it's not bad against Pedro either.

Oh and he absolutely owned Pedro in both the 2003 and 2004 ALCS.