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The best catcher in franchise history

We are celebrating the history of the Cleveland Indians by building an all-time roster. In this installment we select our choice for catcher.

Earlier this week I established my starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians All-Time team, and now I will select my catcher.

I picked my starter today, and in a later piece I will pick my bench which will include another catcher, but for now I’m going with my All-Time starting backstop.

Victor Martinez is my choice for catcher on the greatest roster in Indians history. This was by no means an easy decision as there were so many factors to consider. Ultimately, he was just the most well-rounded at the position.

VMart played 684 games behind the plate across eight seasons for the Tribe from 2002-2009. In his Indians career he belted 110 home runs and hit .297/.369/.463 while making the All-Star team three times.

He ranks second among all Cleveland catchers (min 1,000 PA) with 19.4 fWAR. If you are not familiar with fWAR you may be more familiar with the standard WAR metric.

WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, has become a mainstream stat thanks to its use on ESPN, MLB and in other sports media. WAR is an all-inclusive statistic that takes into account a large number of factors that help define a player.

Rather than looking at just power, contact ability or defense, WAR takes all those factors and gives us a number to give us a more complete contribution for a given player. To put this in context, a WAR of 0-1 would roughly be a scrub player available at AAA or on waivers. A WAR of 1-2 is considered a role player, 2-3 a solid starter, 3-4 a good player, 4-5 and All-Star level player, and 5+ is MVP conversation.

There are two different WAR calculations, fWAR used by FanGraphs, and rWAR used by Baseball-Reference. I prefer fWAR so that is the one I use, but the difference is negligible. For example, VMart produced a 5.2 rWAR in 2005 and a 4.7 fWAR that same year.

If you read my last installment of the All-Time series you read my explanation of wRC+. This is one of my favorite metrics to use when judging a player’s value at the plate. VMart ranks third among Cleveland catchers with a 119 wRC+.

Martinez also ranks high in more traditional numbers. He’s third all-time in runs scored (413), second in RBI (518) and second in hits (900). In his lone postseason appearance for the Indians in 2007, he was the team’s best hitter, slashing .318/.388/.500 in 11 games.

Not to throw too many advanced stats out there, but I want to show VMart’s defensive skills with a metric called Def or Defensive Runs Above Average. This is similar to WAR in that it takes many things a player does into consideration, but it is on a completely different scale and compares a player to the average player at his position rather than replacement level.

Def is another FanGraphs metric that measures defense relative to league average at a given position. In this scale 0 is league average with +8-12 being a good defender and +20 is Gold Glove level.

VMart’s 29.0 Def over his eight years with the Indians rates him as just about league average, or a little above. HIs best season defensively was 2007 where he was worth 12.7 Def on the year.

From his three All-Star appearances, his fantastic 2007 postseason, his eight years of Tribe service and his ability both at the plate and behind it, VMart is my choice for the Cleveland Indians All-Time catcher.

I considered six other catchers when compiling my list. Catcher was a very tough one to pick because defense plays such a huge role in the position. A guy like Carlos Santana was the most valuable hitter, but he was so bad defensively that I couldn’t use him as my selection.

Ray Fosse was in the mix but of all the catchers on my list he had the least amount of playing time. Maybe if he isn’t injured in the 1970 All-Star Game he is the man here but we will never know what might have been.

Johnny Romano was right up there with VMart in terms of being well-rounded. He’s second to Santana with 121 wRC+ for his Indians career and he holds a respectable 36.1 Def in his 537 games behind the plate for the Indians. He would have been a solid choice but I felt VMart’s time with the Indians beat him out.

Steve O’Neill is right up there defensively with a 54.3 Def and he’s second all time in games (1,364) and first in hits (1,109) by an Indians catcher. His hit record is mostly due to longevity rather than skill at the plate, he slashed just .265/.348/.341 with a 93 wRC+. His .341 slugging is the second lowest of any Tribe catcher with at least 2,000 career PA.

Sandy Alomar Jr. was, of course, a strong consideration. He was arguably the best defensive catcher in Indians history, second among his peers with 59.3 Def in 985 games. Alomar is another Cleveland backstop that could have been something special if not for injuries. He played only 350 game from 1991-1995, averaging just 70 games per season.

Finally, Jim Hegan was right up there on my short list. He, with Alomar, is arguably the best defender on this list. His 79.6 Def is by far the best in club history, although he did it in a team-best 1,526 games played, this despite missing his age 22-24 seasons in WWII. He was a five-time All-Star and definitely deserving of recognition.

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Next: Indians All-Time Team: Starting rotation

If one of your favorites is on this short list, keep watching as they may make the bench as backup. Check out the next installment as I select my All-Time first baseman.

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