The Yankees have won 27 World Series titles, 24 of those teams have featured good hitting catchers. The Yankees have qualified for the postseason 51 times, or would have if not for the season-ending strike of 1994, and 44 of those teams have featured good hitting catchers. (Forgive me, I used OPS+, which I know measures nothing, but is right there on the main stat line of baseball-reference.com’s team pages and tempts the weak.)
When the Yankees have not merely good, but great hitting catchers they really cash in. Yankee teams with starting catchers (again, by baseball-reference’s definition) sporting an OPS+ of 130 or higher won an average of 99.3 games (prorated for a 162 game season where necessary). When their catcher was between 110-129, they won 96.8 games. The average hitting catchers (90-109) played for teams that won 89.9 games and when the catchers could not hit at all, they won 84 games per season.
By no means is this to say that these players are solely responsible for the successes and failures. But I do think their presence on the roster makes a significant contribution. There are other ways to win for sure, but if it ain’t broke…
Typical offensive output behind the plate is so anemic that when a catcher carries a big stick, it’s an obvious advantage. Factoring in the financial clout of a team like the Yankees, the team does not have to skimp on the rest of the lineup to accomodate a star catcher, cements the gain. The Yankees built dynasty after dynasty on the backs of good hitting catchers.
Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson and Posada all spring easily to mind. But important platoon guys filled in the cracks. Aaron Robinson helped usher in the Yogi-era; Pat Collins backstopped the legendary late twenties teams. Before them, Wally Schang contrbuted mightily to the first World Series teams by getting on base at a .403 clip from 1921-1923. And as Bruce Markusen pointed out the other day, Mike Stanley helped slug the Yankees out of the misery of the early 90s.
Joe Girardi is the worst hitting catcher on a championship Yankee squad. Most, including me, would forgive him his 75 OPS+ as a Yankee for his triple off Greg Maddux and his graceful yielding of his position to Jorge Posada in 1998.
Now that same light hitting catcher is at the helm as the Yankees try to create their next dynasty. The trade of Jesus Montero means that there is nary a hitting catcher in sight (depending on your squinting abilities). Or if you prefer, the trade of Jesus Montero is probably an admission by the Yankees that he could not be a hitting catcher. Regardless, if the Yankees successfully build a dynasty without one, it’ll be the first time.
But as Yoda might have said, there is another Montero.
Miguel Montero is a good hitting catcher from Arizona who might become a free agent next year. And he can catch it, too. If he does become available, the Yankees could be in the market. Over at RAB, Mike Axisa takes a look at what it might take to get him.
Under normal operating conditions the Yanks would rather have Michael Pineda and Miguel Montero at catcher over Jesus Montero as a non-catcher. But these are not normal times. If the $189 million ceiling for the 2014 team is made of bricks, then signing Miguel Montero to a market-rate deal next offseason makes everything else they have to do that much harder.
Where the Yankees go from here is anybody’s guess. Their minor leagues contain promising catchers, though the hitters are far away from the show. For a team whose championship DNA is riddled with catcher code, if they aspire to another dynasty, I hope a catcher is coming soon and he’ll be bringing a big bat.