Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Catcher Project: Johnny Bench

Born: 12-7-47
Career: 1967-83
Hall of Fame: Yes
Career highlights: National League MVP 1970, 1972. NL Rookie of the Year 1968. Led NL in home runs twice (1970, 1972) and in RBIs three times ('70, '72, '74). Thirteen All-Star teams, 10 Gold Gloves. Played in four World Series, winning two of them.
Career slash line: .267/.342/.476

See his stats here.

Games caught after his age 30 season: 244. Age in last season as regular catcher: 32. Win shares age 30 season and on: 81. Win shares after age 33: 24

Bench's career pattern is a prototype for the theory that big-hitting catchers don't last. In his first four seasons — ages 20 through 23 — Bench caught 154, 147, 139 and 141 games. Sparky Anderson dialed it back a little bit after that, but he was still catching 130 games a season, and that took a toll. His knees went sour, and he was finished as a catcher in his early 30s. (He has since had a hip replacement, again because of the grind of his catching workload.)

Note: Bench and Carlton Fisk were born in the same month (December 1947), and their slash stats are very similar. The batting averages and OPB are almost identical; Bench has a 20-point advantage in slugging percentage.

Bench got to the majors first, was used hard and flamed out. Fisk never reached Bench's peak performance, but he lasted a good 10 years longer than Bench and wound up catching nearly 500 more games.

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