Fifth Inning

 

5th Inning: Munson’s Defensive Performance in the Post season – A Few Records That Went Unnoticed

On the defensive side of the ball he may be even more impressive in the postseason. He is the only Catcher in the history of baseball to throw out at least 7 base runners CS in 3 different postseasons and the only Catcher to throw out at least 3 base runners CS in 6 different postseason series. And, in fact, he is second on the all-time list of postseason defensive CS with 24 in the 30 games he played in.

 

Thurman Munson’s Postseason Defensive Caught Stealing Performance

Year

Playoff Round

Opponent

Games

Defensive CS

Attempted

Steals

CS %

1976

AL Championship Series

Royals

5

5

10

50.0%

1976

World Series

Reds

4

4

11

36.4%

1977

AL Championship Series

Royals

5

4

9

44.4%

1977

World Series

Dodgers

6

4

6

66.7%

1978

AL Championship Series

Royals

4

3

9

33.3%

1978

World Series

Dodgers

6

4

9

44.4%

24

54

44.4%

Analytical Point 1: Thurman Munson is the only Catcher in history to throw out at least 3 base runners CS in 6 different postseason series.

Analytical Point 2: Thurman Munson is the only Catcher to throw out at least 7 base runners CS in 3 difference postseasons.

Analytical Point 3: With 24 Postseason CS Munson broke a 55 year old record held by Wally Schang, and then held the record himself for 26 years!

It is interesting, and probably not surprising, to note that the all-time leader in defensive CS amongst Catchers is Jorge Posada who played in a truly enormous 124 postseason games. In short, the all-time leader Posada (with 33) had only 9 more CS than second place Munson and he played in 94 more games! Munson established his new record of 24 career CS in the postseason in 1978 and held the record himself for 26 years all the way until 2004 when Jorge Posada, in his 82nd postseason game, tied Thurman at 24 in the Yankees famous ALCS meltdown against the Red Sox. For additional historical perspective on this accomplishment, the previous record holder by a Catcher was Wally Schang whose record of 21 postseason CS was established in 1923 and stood for a full 55 years until Thurman broke the record! In fact, on a CS per postseason game basis Thurman Munson’s 0.80 is higher than every Hall of Fame Catcher except Ray Schalk who had 12 defensive CS in the 14 postseason games he played in the 1917 and 1919 World Series (0.86 per game).

Most Postseason Base Runners Caught Stealing by Catchers All-Time

Analytical Point 1: Jorge Posada established a new record for postseason CS in 2004, breaking Munson’s 26yr old record. Analytical Point 2: Thurman Munson broke Wally Schang’s 55yr old record in the 1978 World Series when he reached 24.

Analytical Point 3: There are 4 other Catchers tied with 12 postseason CS including Mike Scioscia, and Darrell Porter.

Further still, if you consider the 40 teams that made the playoffs in the 1970s, it is clear that Munson faced teams which leveraged base-stealing as a core component of their strategy. In fact, of the 40 teams that made the playoffs during the
1970s, Munson faced the top 3, and 4 of the top 6, in base-stealing productivity, including the famous 1976 Royals who had an unsurpassed 7 players with at least 20 steals during the season. These 76, 77, and 78 Royals teams were the early iterations of “Whitey-ball” and Thurman was ready… beating them each year just to make it to the World Series!

The Teams That Thurman Munson Faced in the Playoffs:

Rank for Regular Season (RS) Stolen Bases (SB) Among the 40 Playoff Teams of the 1970s

Analytical Point 1: Among the 40 playoff teams in the 1970s, Thurman Munson faced the top 3 teams using Stolen Bases as a key part of their strategy.

Analytical Point 2: This is to illustrate that Munson needed to elevate his game to face a new level of attempted steals to WIN in the playoffs!

It is also worth noting that Munson’s postseason Caught Stealing percentage of 44.4% (24 of 54) matches exactly his regular season CS% (427 of 960) even though teams in the postseason attempted to steal against him at more than twice the rate that they attempted steals against him in the regular season (1.8 attempts per postseason game vs. 0.75 attempts per regular season game). As much as Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, and Tommy Lasorda tried to get the Yankees pitchers off balance by stealing with great frequency, Munson rose to the occasion and delivered!

The fact that he was able to do this while simultaneously delivering his .357 postseason batting average is an important element to fully appreciate the contribution that Munson made at the position in these critical games. It is worth noting that every opposing manager that he faced in the postseason had already won or would eventually win at least one World Series title, with a combined 6 titles amongst them. There is no player on the field who is more directly and immediately impacted by the decisions of the opposing managers as the Catcher, and Thurman faced some of the best baseball minds of all time – Hall of Fame managers all – in each and every postseason game he played!

As a side note, but interesting historical point, in the 1975 season with his 190 hits Thurman Munson came within 5 of
George Brett’s 195 total for the year when he led the league in hits. Then, one year later, in the very first game of the 1976
American League Championship Series, George Brett became Thurman’s first ever CS victim in the postseason when, immediately after getting his postseason hit, Thurman threw him out attempting to steal 2nd base in the bottom of the 4th inning. When Munson came within 5 hits of Brett in 1975 it still stands as the closest a Catcher has ever come to leading his league in hits. Next on the list for catchers coming closest to leading the league in hits during a season is when Ted
Simmons got 180 hits in 1972 and was 18 hits short of Pete Rose. Even when Mike Piazza got 201 hits in 1997, the all-time
record for hits by a Catcher, he was a full 19 hits behind league leader Tony Gwynn.
Certainly, for Thurman to come within 5 hits of the league leader represents a truly unique feat for a Catcher. In any
event… he has held the record since 1975!