If They Played Today… Catchers

The game of baseball has gone through many phases and each phase has produced its own set of best players. It is easy to determine who the best player of all time is when you focus on their given Era.

Babe Ruth is clearly the best player of his Era. He was leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else of that generation of baseball. But if he played the game of baseball, as it is today, would he still be far and away the best? Or would his starpower come crashing down to the surface of the average All Star?

We here at Wingspan are going to take a different look at the “Best of All Time” debate by imagining those players competing in the modern game of baseball. Who had the talent and adaptability to remain competitive in the modern era and who will be left out? Check in daily to for our thoughts. Today we start with Catchers:

Among all positions in baseball, the catcher is one that has gone through the most change. The advancement of equipment has allowed many catchers to extend their career behind the plate. However, that same equipment and a recent “No contact rule” has some older fans complaining that it eliminates the grit and toughness factor that was previously required of a catcher. In the earlier days of baseball when stolen bases were a much bigger part of the game a catcher’s arm was more important. However, that has shifted in the modern era. A strong defensive catcher with a weak bat is often replaced for an average catcher who can also hit.

15) Jorge Posada

PosadaPosada is well known as the catcher of the Yankees dynasty of the late 90s/early 2000s winning an impressive 4 World Series rings while serving as the catcher of that Yankees team. He did have some pop to his bat, averaging 24 homeruns a season and drove in an average 94 runs a season. In 2007, Posada had a resurgence in offense when he put up a .338 batting average, the only time he would hit over .290 in his career. As far as his fielding ability goes, Posada was mediocre at best. His career Caught Stealing % of 28% was below the league average of 30% for catchers.

 

14) Thurman Munson

Another Yankees catcher, Munson earned his way onto this list moremunson for his ability to come through in the postseason than anything he did during the regular season. Though he did win an MVP in 1976, his stat line of .302 average, 17 homeruns and 105 RBI isn’t what many would think of as an MVP season. However, when it came to the postseason Munson was on another level. In 30 postseason games, Munson put up a .357 batting average with 22 RBI.

 

13) Yadier Molina

molinaMolina is the best fielding catcher in the game today. He is a nightmare to baserunners looking to advance to the next base. He is also capable of putting up All Star offensive numbers as well. Never being much of a power hitter, Molina had a three year stretch from 2011 to 2013 in which he had a .313 batting average. Molina also holds a career Caught Stealing % of 41%, well above the league average f 28%.

 

12) Bill Dickey

Dickey was always a solid hitter, holding a career .313 average dickeyand had a slightly above average ability to throw out runners. Where Dickey stands out among the others though is during an outstanding 4 year stretch from 1936 to 1939. During that time frame, Dickey had a .326 average while averaging 26 homeruns a season and driving in 115 RBI. All of this while striking out just 24 times a season.

 

11) Gabby Hartnett

hartnettThe ability to hit for average and power coupled with his strong arm is what gives Hartnett the #15 spot. He won an MVP in 1935, though he deserves another one for his outstanding 1930 season which was one of the best offensive seasons for a catcher of all time as he hit 37 homeruns, drove in 122 runs and held down a .339 average. Hartnett’s arm is really what sets him apart as he held a career Caught Stealing % of 56%, second of all time.

 

10) Buster Posey

The best hitting catcher in the game today, Posey won the MVP poseyin 2012 after posting a league leading .336 average while driving in 103 RBI and hitting 24 homeruns. Though he has not reached any of those marks again in his career, Posey does consistently hit above .300. As far as his defense goes, Posey is slightly above average when it comes to picking off baserunners with a 33% rate compared to the league average of 28%.

 

9) Gary Carter

carterCarter is another player who was elevated due to his postseason success. During the regular season, Carter’s offense is uninspiring. He displayed some power with an average of 23 homeruns a season and also had four seasons with over 100 RBI, one of which he led the league with 106 in 1984. His batting average never rose above .300 and often times landed around the .250 mark or below. On defense his 810 pickoffs are among the most of any catcher in baseball despite him holding an mediocre Caught Stealing % of 35%. Carter’s postseason heroics is what sets him apart. In 1981 he put up a .421 average and in 1986 he led the Mets to the World Series with some timely hits, including a 12th inning walk-off single in Game 5 of the NLCS and a two-out single in the 10th inning of the infamous Bill Buckner game.

 

8) Carlton Fisk

Fisk is the face of longevity and consistency when it comes to fiskcatchers. He played for 24 seasons behind the plate, but had few standout seasons among them. He found a surge of power in 1985 when he hit 37 homeruns, far above his 2nd highest total of 26 which he reached three times. Outside those four seasons, he cracked 20+ homers just four more times in his career. 1979 is the only full season that Fisk played in which he hit over .300 with a .315 average. He drove in over 100 RBI in just two seasons, 1977 (102) and 1985 (107). He was one of the tougher catchers to play the game, feuding with several other ballplayers, notably Thurman Munson, but as far as his defensive skills go, he was below average. His career Caught Stealing % was just 34% compared to the league average of 35%.

 

7) Joe Mauer

mauerThough he gave up catching after the 2013 season, Mauer is possibly the best hitting catcher of all time. He is the only catcher to lead the AL in batting average and he did it three times which broke Ernie Lombardi’s mark of twice in the NL. Not much of a slugger, Mauer did put together one of the best offensive seasons for a catcher of all time in 2009 when he launched 28 homeruns, drove in 96 RBI and hit a remarkable .365 which is also the highest batting average every recorded by a catcher.

 

6) Mike Piazza

Piazza is the undisputed best all around hitting catcher of all time. piazzaThough he never led the league in batting average like Mauer, he did post a .362 average in 1997. That same season Piazza drove in 124 runs and launched 40 homeruns. He holds the career record for homeruns by a catcher and is one of 2 catchers to reach the 40 homerun mark twice in his career. From 1993 through 2001, Piazza averaged 35 homeruns, 108 RBI and a .326 batting average. Though he was an offensive phenom, his defense was below average with a Caught Stealing % of just 23%. Well below the league average of 31%.

 

5) Ivan Rodriguez

pudgePudge is arguably the best defensive catcher of the past few decades. He was so good at throwing out baserunners that they almost refused to even try when he was behind the plate. From 1996 through 2006, Pudge led the league in Caught Stealing % 8 times. Rodriguez wasn’t just a great defensive catcher, he also had great talent with the bat as well. In 1999 he won the MVP with a statline of 35 homeruns, 113 RBI and a .332 average. Pudge also had rare speed on the basepaths as he stole 25 bases during that MVP season. From 1995 through 2004, Pudge averaged 27 homeruns, 101 RBI and 1 stolen bases while posting a .316 batting average.

 

4) Mickey Cochrane

A 2x MVP, Cochrane is another catcher who was better known forcochrane his bat than his arm. A career Caught Stealing % of 39% saw him fall below the league average of 42%, but he made up for it with his bat. A lifetime .320 hitter, Cochrane batted leadoff and third for the Athletics. His offensive role, unlike many other catchers on this list, was to get on base and score runs. He was so good in this role that his career OBP of .419 is ranked 17th all time. His career was ended abruptly in 1937 at the age of 34 after he was struck in the head with a pitch.

 

3) Yogi Berra

berraYogi Berra, the most decorated baseball player of all time with his 13 World Series rings (3 as Coach/Manager). He was also a 3x MVP and leader of the greatest sports dynasty of all time. He had the ability to hit for power, averaging 27 homeruns and 109 RBI and holding solid defensive capabilities with a Caught Stealing % of 49%. He also had several great performances in the postseason, notably between 1953 and 1957 when he hit 6 homeruns, drove in 18 RBI and batted .321 in 27 World Series games. However, in the other 48 World Series games that Berra played in he only hit 6 homeruns, drove in 21 RBI and batted a meager .213. For his career, Berra only cracked the .300 mark three times in 1948 (.305), 1950 (.322) and 1954 (.307) and scored over 100 runs just once in 1950 (116).

 

2) Johnny Bench

The 2x MVP is often referred to as the best catcher of all time, benchJohnny Bench certainly has had a great career. He is the only other catcher, besides Piazza, to reach the 40 homerun mark twice in his career when he accomplished the feat in 1970 (45) and 1972 (40). He also led the league in RBI on 3 separate occasions with 148, 125 and 129 RBI. Though he had the power numbers, Bench never hit over .300 during his career. Well respected for defense, Bench earned 10 Gold Gloves during his career and had a career Caught Stealing % of 43%, well above the 35% league average.

 

1) Roy Campanella

campyA 3x MVP in his own right, Campanella is often in the conversation for best catcher of all time, but rarely finds himself at the top. What sets Campanella apart from the rest of the players on this list is the combination of power hitting, batting average and superior arm. One thing that plagues Campanella’s career is inconsistency from one year to the next. He won his 3 MVP awards in the odd years of 1951, 53 and 55. During those three seasons, he hit 106 homeruns, drove in 357 RBI and had a slash of .318/.384/.522. In 1952 and 54 though he combined for just 41 homeruns, 148 RBI,  .240/.314/.379. Despite his inconsistency, Campanella is a more than capable hitting catcher with career averages above those of Bench and Berra, but what really sets him apart is his defense. Campanella’s Caught Stealing % of 57% is the highest among any catcher in baseball. He picked off over half of the runners attempting to steal on him in each of his first 8 seasons, throwing out as high as 69% in 1951. In fact, Campanella’s worst season in that regard was in the final year of his career when he only threw out 42% of runners.

 

Check back tomorrow to see our take on 1st Basemen.

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