Yet More Comps for Nick Hundley

I’ve been thinking about Nick Hundley’s future again. It’s becoming a problem for me… thinking about Hundley’s future, not Hundley himself.

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.

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3 Responses »

  1. Hundley is difficult to figure out. He is streaky and injury prone. I can deal with a catcher being a streaky hitter, but the injuries make it difficult to forecast him as the catcher of the future. I have seen flashes of a very good catcher, but then again Venable flashes brilliance once in a while too.

  2. He’s not the future of the Padres….then again, who is that is on the current team?

  3. Crandall is actually a pretty good comp, in that he played in pitchers parks for his entire career. Geoff has actually slighted him a bit by covering the years 1949-1957 — in 1949 (age 19!) and 1950 he was the backup to Walker Cooper, after which he went back to the minors for two years. He returned in 1953 and for the five seasons through 1957 averaged about 365 PA per year — which is not many for a starter, even a starting catcher. The point is that he was not solidly in possession of the job until the 1958 season.

    In the three years AFTER this sample (1958-60), he was the regular. He made the All-Star team all three years (it helped that Roy Campanella’s career ended after 1957). He was the best catcher in the league.

    After 1960, now into his 30s, he only got more than 300 PA once (379 in 1962) and was essentially done. His final slash line was.254/.312/.404. James rated him 30th best ever and I have no particular argument with that, but it bears noting that we remember the Berras and Campanellas and Benches and Carters and forget that after something like 2,500 catcher-seasons the 30th best had a lifetime slash line of .254/.312/.404. If Hundley can stay healthy and gets anywhere near that, he’s a find.