Considering the catchers – Piazza, the past, and the present   Leave a comment

Mike Piazza is the best catcher on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, and with the resume he boasts, he should be considered as one of the best dozen or so men to ever play the position.  However, it should also be noted that this is his second year on the ballot, having only earned 57.8% of the vote in 2013.  In fact, no one tallied the 75% required to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Author’s note: ridiculous.

I’m going to start putting some data together – please check out my last blog, as it explains some of the terminology.  I’ve used Win Shares to do some general sorting and evaluating, WAR to do some more sorting, and then made some tables, as broken down by position.  The first table, as seen below, contains the names of six catchers, all of whom – in my opinion – have recently built or are in the process of building their case for Cooperstown.  With all due respect to some damn good players (A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Varitek, Jason Kendall, and others), I felt that they either lacked the career WAR, milestone statistics, or individual accolades that voters generally consider.

Here are the definition of the title columns.

  • First Season / Last Season:  fairly self-explanatory.
  • Position Rank:  out of 100, all-time, in the Bill James abstract, published in 2001
  • Top 100 Rank: out of the top 100 players of all-time, per the Abstract
  • WAR, 2001-now:  Wins Above Replacement accumulated from the year the Abstract was published
  • Total WAR:  WAR accumulated during the player’s entire career
  • % WAR, post-Abstract:  percentage of WAR calculated by taking the total from 2001 through 2013, divided by total WAR

Piazza, and subsequent players that are on the BBWAA ballot, will be shown in red.  Players listed underneath the lined statistics did not make James’ top-100 position rankings after the 2000 season.  Finally, players underneath that list will be sorted by their career WAR.

Here we go:

  First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Mike Piazza 1992 2007 5 79 7.6 59.2 12.84%
Ivan Rodriguez 1991 2011 13 n/a 26.1 68.3 38.21%
Joe Mauer 2004 current n/a n/a 44.3 44.3 100.00%
Yadier Molina 2004 current n/a n/a 26.8 26.8 100.00%
Brian McCann 2005 current n/a n/a 23.5 23.5 100.00%
Buster Posey 2009 current n/a n/a 17.5 17.5 100.00%
Average WAR, C = 52.4

To briefly summarize Piazza’s career: in 2001, Bill James thought that he was the fifth-best catcher ever, trailing only Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella, and Mickey Cochrane.  He also thought, at that point in time, that Piazza was the 79th best player of all-time, regardless of position.  For the balance of his career, Piazza racked up 7.6 more WAR, a not insignificant figure, but not enough, in my opinion, to bump him above Berra or Bench on James’ list; I have no problem keeping him in that fifth slot.  For his career, he put up 59.2 WAR, in huge part due to his batting; according to baseball-reference.com, the average Hall of Fame catcher was good for 52.4 WAR.

Ladies and gentlemen, doesn’t Mike Piazza seem like a Hall of Famer yet?  Even in the shoot-’em-up era of offense that Piazza worked in, his numbers – especially for a catcher – are excellent.  Barring any concrete PED allegations, his time should come sooner than later.  In all honesty, that time was last year.

If Piazza is a Hall of Famer, then Ivan Rodriguez should get a fancy plaque in Cooperstown, too, right?  After all, he has a higher WAR than Piazza, and even 12 years ago, Bill James thought enough about the then-still-in-his-prime Pudge to rank him as the 13th best catcher in baseball history.  Rodriguez put up 26.1 WAR after the Abstract came out, just over a third of his career WAR of 68.3, so I could see the case that warrants moving him up into the top ten as well, ahead of men like Gabby Hartnett, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, and Bill Freehan.

Of course, there are those PED rumors about Pudge, too.

The other four catchers are, in my opinion, the only four with at least five years under their respective belts worth looking at under the Cooperstown microscope.  Joe Mauer is about ten WAR away from the average Hall of Fame catcher, and he has a lot of the things voters look for: the MVP award, the All-Star appearances  (six and counting), three batting titles and a career batting average of .323… it looks good for Mauer.  The only complication might be that he is moving to first base next year, so he might be judged 15 years from now as a first baseman, or some sort of hybrid player that voters don’t like (Exhibits A and B: Darrell Evans and Joe Torre).

Yadier Molina doesn’t have the stick Mauer has, but he’s a lot better than he was, batting over. 300 the last three years in a row.  He also has six Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances, two top-four MVP finishes, and two World Series rings.  If he plays at a high level for about five more years, he’ll get a good look at the Hall.  Grit, game-calling, the arm… stuff like that help, too.

I’m guessing Brian McCann will get consideration as well, and a lot of that has to do with his signing with the Yankees last week.  He moves to a high-profile team that is in perpetual win-now mode, the ballpark will play to his left-handed power, and he can keep his bat in the lineup as the designated hitter, building those counting stats.  McCann is a seven-time All-Star, and won the Silver Slugger award five times, but he’s never won any awards.  He’ll turn 30 next year, so he should have ample time to bolster his resume.  In all honesty, he has the weakest case of the four active prospects.

Buster Posey is young.  He also has two World Series rings, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and a lifetime .308 batting average.  I included him simply because he’s a very, very good player with a very bright future ahead of him.  However, like Mauer, I think there’s a similarly very, very good chance he moves to first base in a few years.

Getting back to Piazza.  My rule of thumb for evaluating a Hall of Fame candidate is two-fold: was he the best player at his position when he played, and/or is he fairly representative of the players at his position already in the Hall of Fame?  Using the James abstract, and comparing him to the men that came before him, his peers, and the catchers that are playing today, I would conclude fairly simply that he was.

piazza

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Posted December 10, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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