By In Stuff

The BBWAA Report: Catcher

Previously on The BBWAA Project:


First Base roundup

Second Base roundup

Shortstop roundup

Third base roundup

Left field roundup

Center field roundup

Right field roundup

And finally, we reach catcher …


Eight catchers have been elected by the BBWAA, but believe it or not only one catcher in the history of the BBWAA voting — Johnny Bench — was elected on first ballot. Even Yogi Berra was a second-ballot choice.

Median career: 54.3 WAR (High: Johnny Bench, 72.3; Low: Roy Campanella, 31.6)

25th percentile career: 50.25

Median peak: 35 (High: Gary Carter, 46.5; Low: Gabby Hartnett, 29.0).

25th percentile peak: 32.3

Here are the BBWAA catchers as ranked by fans on Baseball Reference EloRater:

No. 42: Johnny Bench
No. 64: Yogi Berra
No. 68: Gary Carter
No. 79: Carlton Fisk
No. 116: Mickey Cochrane
No. 121: Gabby Hartnett
No. 128: Bill Dickey
No. 144: Roy Campanella

Catchers, it seems to me, are the hardest players for the BBWAA to rank. Their careers are short — Carlton Fisk is the catcher with the most hits in the Hall of Fame at 2,356. They rarely get even 600 plate appearances in a season — Johnny Bench has the most of any Hall of Fame catcher with seven — Yogi Berra only had four, Fisk in his long career had only three. The position is so demanding, so taxing and exacting … and we still struggle to really get at the heart of catcher’s defense, how to rate it, how important it is and so on.

Catchers have done pretty well for themselves in the MVP voting. Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella each won three, Johnny Bench won two … Thurman Munson, Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi, Elston Howard, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey … the catcher tends to get represented. But come Hall of Fame time, it’s tough. As mentioned, Yogi Berra was not elected first ballot. Yogi Berra! The mind boggles.

The Veterans choices for catcher are not especially majestic.

No. 177: Ernie Lombardi
No. 355: Roger Bresnahan
No. 585: Rick Ferrell
No. 691: Ray Schalk

When you look at that list, it actually kind of boggles the mind that Ted Simmons (No. 127) is not in the Hall of Fame.

This year’s candidate:

Mike Piazza

Career: 56.1 WAR (plus 1.8 against median)
Peak: 40.7 WAR (plus 5.7)
Ranking: No. 98.

Looking back at this made me rethink something: OF COURSE Mike Piazza, based on his performance, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It goes without saying. He is the best hitting catcher in Major League Baseball history, second-best of all time to Josh Gibson. Of course he’s a Hall of Famer.

But the BBWAA has been historically VERY stingy about putting catchers into the Hall of Fame. Oh, the best of the best will make it eventually … but the BBWAA is in no rush. Mentioned Yogi. Well, Roy Campanella, who won three MVP awards in five seasons — and spent his younger days in the Negro Leagues — wasn’t elected until his fifth. Carlton Fisk, overall, was probably a better catcher than Mike Piazza — he waited. Gary Carter, who had the highest peak of the group, waited six years.

I’m not saying I AGREE with waiting — I think it’s a dumb thing. Tom Tango sent me another good idea about how to stop the nonsensical wait period for players you KNOW will get into the Hall of Fame. Will get to that at some point. I’m just saying this is the BBWAA’s history. Yes, there’s no question that a whisper campaign of PED use hurt Piazza … but he got 52.2% of the vote which is way more than Gary Carter on his first ballot and about as much as Campanella. I’m just saying: This is the BBWAA. Piazza’s first-year numbers are not really out of line with some great catchers of the past who had to wait. He will get into the Hall.

11 Responses to The BBWAA Report: Catcher

  1. Learning that Carter’s JAWS prime rates highest among ML catchers brings back pleasant memories of the Baseball Abstract era, when Carter rated #1 for six straight years. It’s also noteworthy that Bench’s prime is only .6 bWins behind. The next time Baseball-Reference revises Wins Above Replacement, I’m guessing Bench has at least a 48% chance of taking the lead?

    I’ve recently read both Joe’s book on the ’75 Reds (The Machine; got it as a birthday present last week) and Jeff Pearlman’s book on the ’86 Mets (The Bad Guys Won!) It’s certainly a lot easier for me to imagine Bench’s personality fitting into Carter’s team than vice versa. Great job with the book, Joe.

    • nyloco619 says:

      The Bad Guys Won! is one if my favorite books of all-time. Gary Carter didn’t utter one curse word all season until he got the single that led things off with two outs in game 6. RIP Kid, Mets fans will always remember!!

  2. gabriel says:

    Something that gets lost because Piazza wasn’t strong defensively in the easily measurable areas was how strong he was as a receiver. Probably due to a combination of pitch framing and pitch calling, Piazza had consistently strong cERAs. Perhaps usage affected this, but Piazza had a reputation as being someone pitchers liked to throw to as well.

    Both Baseball-reference and Fangraphs measure his defence as costing him a little over 6 wins over his career. I can’t see how a guy with his lengthy cERA record was a liability for his teams behind the plate.

    • macomeau says:

      Six wins below average, not replacement which is a useful distinction. BB-Ref has him at +1 dWAR for his career.

      Piazza, for whatever abilities he had calling and framing, was pretty bad at the other defensive aspects of a catcher. Lots of stolen bases allowed. Very few runners caught. Lots of passed balls. Lots of errors. The stolen base thing is what I always remember being the biggest knock on him while he was playing. He ended up 7th all time in SB allowed and 94th in throwing runners out. That’s a super wide discrepancy.

    • I always thought Piazza’s problem was footwork. People would talk about his weak arm but I always thought his arm was actually pretty strong. His problem throwing out runners, I believe, was how long he took to get rid of the ball. He was just so slow in the process of standing up and positioning himself to throw. He also had a long throwing motion, which obviously didn’t help.

      I think this also explains why he may have been good at calling and framing pitches, two things which don’t involve much footwork, but allowed lots of passed balls. I also think this is why his ill-fated attempt to play 1B couldn’t work out. He just couldn’t get comfortable getting to the bag and getting set for the throw.

    • Dinky says:

      If you were a Dodger pitcher (can’t speak for his post-LA career) it always seemed you weren’t as ready to pitch when the best hitter on the team was taking a day off. But yes, his cERA was consistently better (a LOT better) than the other catchers on the Dodgers. I think cERA (or maybe even cWHIP?) is a far more important stat than preventing steals. If every thief on the base paths was taking liberties with Piazza catching, then his pitchers had to be pitching a LOT better to keep his cERA so low.

  3. Scott says:

    Catcher more than any other position is one where the eyeball test is the most valid measurement, and it can’t come from one game only, you really need to follow a team with a truly great catcher over a season or more to understand the effect they have on the game. The best of them change the shape and size of the field. Runners don’t just hold, they hover on the base and don’t threaten. Pitchers stay more relaxed. Infielders are loose. Catchers in baseball effect defense kind of the way great middle linebackers used to effect NFL defenses (when running was much more critical). It’s just a different game altogether when you have a great catcher and there really isn’t a measurement that can capture that.

    • Dinky says:

      cERA tends to show that a LOT better than your eyeball, Scott. Pitchers were more relaxed and infielders were loose because nobody was on base. Piazza was a great guess hitter and I think that translated to calling better pitches which led to fewer base runners. Your eyeball would say he sucked because runners were constantly extending their leads, but I think you were dozing through the innings where nobody got on.

  4. Ian says:

    Really enjoyed this run. Idea for a future would be which players, playing now, are likely to make the HOF based on these standards. At catcher, for instance, Mauer is probably most likely but would be interesting to see if guys like McCann or Posey are on the right track.

    • clashfan says:

      I just looked at McCann’s stats just for this reason. He’s 28 now, with a career WAR under 20, coming off surgery. I love the guy, but I don’t think he’s destined for the Hall of Fame.

  5. Unknown says:

    Anybody read Allen Barra’s bio of Yogi? The guy makes the argument Yogi was one of the best ever in the game. Plus, he was Yogi.

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