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Pudge Fisk vs. Gary Carter

by James Fraser

(Member, Society for American Baseball Research {SABR})

Paper presented in BaseballStuff.Com, September 12, 1999.

To contact the author, send email to James Fraser



Part I. Pudge vs. Carter

Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter. I don't understand how there has been such a reversal in the opinions of the two catchers. Both were extremely good players , both of them might even have been great, but there really wasn't that much difference between them. One had a greater peak value (but not by much), the other had (barely)a greater career.

Yet now there seems to be a huge misperception interms of there levels of ability. In the last Hall of Fame election Carlton Fisk received 330 votes (just 43 votes short of election) , but Gary Carter got only 168 votes (165 votes short of election). I think that is crazy, a superficial examination of career records doesn't reveal Fisk to be significantly greater than Carter.

First an examination of Carlton Fisk. He began his career in the hitters haven known as Fenway park in 1969 with a cup of coffee. His first year as a regular was 1972, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award.

YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1972	131	22	0.293	0.370	0.538	908.7	87.3	6.9	6.4

The last column is Park and League adjusted XR/25.5outs. I do this to balance between Fisk playing in the AL and Carter in the NL. Of course I don't adjust for the DH until 1973.

Fisk followed up his ROY performance with a dissappointing year in 1973

YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1973	135	26	0.246	0.309	0.441	749.7	71.8	4.8	4.5
Fisk lost almost 50 points of his batting average and reduced his walk rate to make a far less productive 1973. In 1974 and '75 Fisk was plagued with injuries. Playing only 52 and 79 games respectively, but had returned to his prior level of effectiveness, posting XR25.5PandL numbers of 7.02 and 6.80. He also hit his famous homerun in the 1975 World Series (you know the one with the waving hands, stay fair, stay fair!).
YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1974	52	11	0.299	0.383	0.551	934.0	38.5	7.4	7.0
1975	79	10	0.331	0.395	0.529	923.1	51.0	7.3	6.8

It was these two injury plagued years that probably saved his career. The injuries to his back saved his knees for his later days. In 1976 Fisk had an off year, but rebounded in '77 and '78 with what would be two of his best years.
YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1976	134	17	0.255	0.336	0.415	750.5	71.6	5.0	4.6
1977	152	26	0.315	0.402	0.521	922.1	109.3	7.5	6.7
1978	157	20	0.284	0.366	0.475	841.0	99.4	6.2	5.5

These would be Fisk's most consistent years, at a high level of performance. I will now present his career stats from 1979 to his retirement in 1993. Fisk left Boston for Chicago in 1981, where he remained for the rest of his career.
YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1979	91	10	0.272	0.304	0.450	753.8	42.9	4.7	4.2
1980	131	18	0.289	0.353	0.467	819.4	77.8	5.7	5.4
1981	96	7	0.263	0.354	0.361	714.6	47.0	4.8	4.9
1982	135	14	0.267	0.336	0.403	739.8	69.0	5.0	5.0
1983	138	26	0.289	0.355	0.518	873.9	87.2	6.3	6.1
1984	102	21	0.231	0.289	0.468	757.3	51.6	4.8	4.5
1985	153	37	0.238	0.320	0.488	808.4	89.2	5.4	5.2
1986	125	14	0.221	0.263	0.337	599.7	40.9	2.9	2.8
1987	135	23	0.256	0.321	0.460	781.9	67.8	5.1	5.0
1988	76	19	0.277	0.377	0.542	918.6	52.1	7.3	7.3
1989	103	13	0.293	0.356	0.475	830.3	62.1	6.0	6.1
1990	137	18	0.285	0.378	0.451	829.4	79.1	6.2	6.3
1991	134	18	0.241	0.299	0.413	712.4	57.6	4.2	4.3
1992	62	3	0.229	0.313	0.309	621.6	20.7	3.6	3.7
1993	25	1	0.189	0.228	0.245	473.4	2.6	1.5	1.5
Fisk's career was up and down and up and down. He would have great power some years, but a horrible average, the next year he would put it together but only play 2/3 of the year. Carlton Fisk retired with very respectable statistics. But, hs never put together a string of three or more all-star calibre years(several of his "all star" years are not what I would consider all star calibre). His only run of two was in 77-78. He was inconsitent and injured playing 145 or more games only 3 times in his career. His all-star years and a comment(note may have been having an excellent half, but I am commenting on his full year performances):
YEAR	Comment
1972	Deserved, won ROY, had an excellent year
1973	Riding the coattails of 72, not a very good year
1974	Bounced back, but would play in only 52 games
1976	Better than 73, but not at the level of 72
1977-78	Probably his best years
1980-82 Not great years, more in line with 76, not as good as 1983.
1985	Huge power, not much else
1991	Last year as a regular, lost half his walks
Fisk's allstar collections are strange. He was elected in his three very good seasons(72,77,78), but the rest of the selections just seem to be a result of a popular, established player being chosen for the hell of it.

His career stats.

G	HR 	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	Xr/25
2499	376	.269	.340	.457	796.5	1383	5.5
A great career, certainly in the class of Bench et al, but not to far removed from Gary Carter. Who, unlike Fisk was a dominating player (or at least almost dominating as a catcher can get).

Part II. It's the Story of a Man Named Gary


The Story of Gary Carter is a sadder one. From 1979 up until about 1986, Gary Carter was the best catcher in baseball. He was always among the best with the bat, the best with the glove and the most durable. I think his numbers speak for themselves.

YEAR	G	HR	BA	OBP	SLG	OPS	XR	XR25.5	XR25.5PandL
1974	9	1	0.407	0.414	0.593	1006.4	6.2	9.8	9.26
1975	144	17	0.270	0.360	0.416	775.9	79.1	5.5	5.26
1976	91	6	0.219	0.287	0.309	595.6	28.8	3.0	2.88
1977	154	31	0.284	0.356	0.525	881.3	95.8	6.4	6.64
1978	157	20	0.255	0.336	0.422	757.7	78.2	4.9	5.00
1979	141	22	0.283	0.338	0.485	822.7	81.4	5.7	5.76
1980	154	29	0.264	0.331	0.486	817.5	89.5	5.6	5.62
1981	100	16	0.251	0.313	0.444	756.4	51.7	4.6	4.58
1982	154	29	0.293	0.381	0.510	890.5	106.2	6.8	6.66
1983	145	17	0.270	0.336	0.444	779.7	80.8	5.2	5.26
1984	159	27	0.294	0.366	0.487	852.8	104.0	6.3	6.53
1985	149	32	0.281	0.365	0.488	853.2	99.8	6.4	6.49
1986	132	24	0.255	0.337	0.439	775.6	77.8	5.4	5.61
1987	139	20	0.235	0.290	0.392	682.2	62.0	3.9	4.16
1988	130	11	0.242	0.301	0.358	659.0	50.5	3.7	3.90
1989	50	2	0.183	0.241	0.275	515.5	9.8	2.0     2.11
1990	92	9	0.254	0.324	0.406	729.3	33.1	4.6	4.80
1991	101	6	0.246	0.323	0.375	697.6	31.0	4.2	4.27
1992	95	5	0.218	0.299	0.340	639.7	29.6	3.3	3.36
Unfortunately, because he was the best catcher in baseball, he was abused by the Expos and Mets. The years of playing over 140 games (every year from 77-86, 81 was the strike), destroyed his knees. by the late 80's he was a shell of his former self.

Unlike Fisk, Carter never got a rest. Fisk's injuries saved his knees and preserved the length of his career. I believe that their actual offensive values weren't all that different. If you look at the park and league adjusted XR/25.5, they show that they were both great offensive catchers. The difference was that while they were both creating about 5-6 runs per game, one was playing 150 games a year and the other was altrenating between 120 and 40 games.

The raw XR numbers shown in the graph show that while Fisk's run production was up and down from 40-110 XR/Year, Carter was consistantly producing 80-100 runs. This data is not normalized for park and league effects, even though both would give even more of an advantage to Carter.

While Fisk was only sporadically elected to the all star game, Carter was elected to every game from 1979 to 1988. And for the majority of those years he deserved it.

Both were great players, but if I were starting a team I would want Carter. If you were given the choice between 24 years of off again on again service and 18 years of brilliant performance mismanaged. I would choose the man named Gary Carter.


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