Before I started this rating process, I would have said Jason Kendall was ahead of Thurman Munson, but now that I studied the issue I would say “What was I thinking?
I think what happened is I remember the first few years where Kendall really hit for average. I was also on a baseball tour in 2002 and we were in Pittsburgh. I was sitting next to a fellow who was a big Pirate fan and told me all Kendall’s virtue and also said that Kendall was a great defensive catcher. I bought this without doing any research.
Now I don’t really trust any of the defensive formulas for catchers as I believe they make contributions that can’t be recorded. However, I have read a few articles which mentioned Kendall’s defense and he comes off as a good, but now great catcher. I then decided to see how Baseball Reference WAR rated him.
While as a hitter Kendell was above average in his 20s and almost as much below average in his 30s, that isn’t the case with defense. Overall, in his 30s he is below average having some good seasons mixed with below average ones. However, in his 30s he had some great seasons and is above average overall. In one season he is shown as 20 runs above average catching for Oakland, but 11 below average catching for the Cubs. He went from great to terrible in the same season. I think that has more to do with the formula then what Kendell actually did in the field.
However, this leads me to believe that in total Baseball Reference WAR got it right. It shows he was an average catcher in his career and that is probably about right. I have Jason Kendall as my 21st best catcher and with his length of career and his early hitting that is about right. I think the 20 pitchers in front of him belong in front of him and the catcher behind him belong behind him except for Darrell Porter, who is my number 22 catcher. It could be argued the Porter had a better career than Kendell and my opinion it could go either way.