If you’ve been following along, you know that my pet comps for Hundley are Ron Karkovice, Jason LaRue, and maybe Mike Macfarlane if I’m feeling extra confident. I recently ran more numbers and found more names.
This time I searched at Baseball-Reference using the following criteria:
- Since 1901
- Through age 27 season
- 50 percent of games at catcher
- OBP between .299 and .319
- SLG between .397 and .417
- Minimum 1000 career plate appearances
Acknowledging that Hundley’s age 27 season remains in progress and its final numbers are subject to change, I sorted by OPS+ and got this:
Player Years PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ Nick Hundley 2008-2011 1041 .248 .309 .407 99 Gary Alexander 1975-1980 1407 .230 .313 .412 99 Mike Macfarlane 1987-1991 1158 .257 .311 .400 98 Don Slaught 1982-1986 1573 .278 .317 .408 98 Hal Smith 1955-1958 1598 .278 .318 .406 97 Del Crandall 1949-1957 2719 .247 .303 .415 93 Sammy White 1951-1955 2058 .273 .314 .416 91 Mark Salas 1984-1988 1080 .261 .308 .398 90 J. Saltalamacchia 2007-2011 1216 .249 .314 .408 89 Michael Barrett 1998-2004 2485 .260 .316 .409 84 Yorvit Torrealba 2001-2006 1041 .249 .310 .397 82
This doesn’t account for defense but gives us a good starting point. To the individuals:
- Alexander had severe problems making contact (think Jonny Gomes or Carlos Pena), wasn’t much of a catcher, and played his final big-league game at age 28.
- Macfarlane went on to enjoy a 13-year career and is identified in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract as the 84th best catcher in MLB history.
- Slaught spent parts of 16 seasons in the big leagues and ranks 67th in that same tome. (Bud Black pitched to both Macfarlane and Slaught; someone should ask the skipper what he thinks.)
- Smith played 10 years and had a decent career, but is perhaps best remembered for being part of the eight bazillion player trade that brought Don Larsen (Point Loma High School) to the Yankees from Baltimore. (Larsen was coming off a 3-21 campaign for the Orioles in 1954. He did something kind of famous a couple years later in the World Series.)
- By age 27, Crandall already had a career under his belt that Hundley would do well to duplicate. James ranks Crandall no. 30 among catchers.
- White was a weaker-hitting version of Smith whom James ranks no. 111.
- Salas spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues but was close to done by age 27 (he hit .201/.274/.356 in 330 PA thereafter).
- Saltalamacchia is still going. He is younger than Hundley but not as good with the glove, and his last name is too long.
- You know Barrett. A remarkable athlete, he was drafted out of high school as a shortstop. Barrett once hit 16 homers in three consecutive seasons and scrapped with his former batterymate Carlos Zambrano, the latter of which led to his June 2007 trade to the Padres.
- You know Torrealba. He has served as a solid backup catcher in the big leagues for a decade, with occasional stretches as a starter. He had a career year in 2010, his only with the Padres.
Which path will Hundley’s career follow? Its own, of course.
What I find most fascinating in this exercise is that it doesn’t take much, relatively speaking, to be ranked among the all-time great catchers. Three of the seven players above whose careers had ended when James wrote his book make the top 100, and a fourth just misses.
Do I expect Hundley to be as good? No, I don’t. At the same time, it’s not as ridiculous a notion as you might think. Still, I’ve set my sights a little lower. I just want Hundley to make it through an entire season healthy. Once he does that, then we can start dreaming of Macfarlane.