Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top Ten: Catchers

1. Johnny Bench: In his prime, Bench was nothing short of spectacular. In an era where catchers didn't hit much he averaged 23 homers and 81 RBI per year. As if that's not enough he's one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time.
2. Mike Piazza: As I said in my Hall of Fame column, Piazza is the best hitting catcher of all time, bar none. He has more homers than any other catcher ever and has a career .308 batting average. The only reason he's not in the top spot is the fact that he was a liability defensively.
3. Mickey Cochrane: Here we have the second greatest hitting catcher of all time. Cochrane could draw a walk too. Along with his .320 career batting average, he never had a season with a OBP under .395.
4. Josh Gibson: Gibson's a tough case. Almost no statistics exist from the Negro Leagues, so all there are are stories. If you ask many former Negro Leaguers, they'll tell you that Gibson was one of the greatest players of all time. Had they kept track of stats there, there's an extremely good chance Gibson would be number one.
5. Yogi Berra: In the midst of all the Yogisms, it's often forgotten that Berra was also a fantastic player. Here's how consistent Berra was: In every single full season except one, Berra got a vote for MVP. That takes incredible consistency and durability, especially for a catcher.
6. Roy Campanella: Despite having his career cut short by a car accident, Campy managed to still have a Hall of Fame caliber career. He has the highest slugging percentage of any catcher of all time and is underrated defensively. He doesn't get enough credit for throwing out 69% of base stealers not once but twice. To put that into perspective, Ryan Hanigan lead the league in caught stealing percentage last year but gunning down 45% of base runners. In other words, had Campanella been playing today, he would have finished in first by over 20%.
7. Bill Dickey: People always talk about Yogi, but a real case could made that Dickey's the Yankee's best catcher of all time. After all, Dickey had a higher batting average, on base percentage and a higher slugging percentage. So why put Berra higher? At Dickey's best season, ('37) he was in the same lineup as Lou Gehrig, who hit .351 with 37 homers, and Joe DiMaggio, who hit .346 and 46 homers. With Berra, he "only" had Mickey Mantle as the only other player who hit over .300 with more than twelve round trippers.
8. Carlton Fisk: While thinking about Fisk, I bet about 99.999999999999% of people would picture him frantically trying to wave the ball fair in game six of the 1975 World Series. Along with that, Fisk was one of the most steady catchers of all time, averaging .284 and 18 homers in the '70s.
9. Gabby Hartnett: Dickey's contemporary had a batting average sixteen points lower than him, an on base percentage twelve points lower, and a slugging percentage three points higher than him.(Now is where you would expect me to make some joke about them being separated at birth or something, but my New Years resolution is to avoid corny jokes at all costs. Sorry for the inconvenience.) 
10. Ernie Lombardi: Why doesn't Ernie Lombardi get more discussion as the best hitting catcher of all time? Doesn't anybody find it interesting that before Joe Mauer came along, he and Bubbles Hargrave were the only catchers who won batting titles in the first century and a half of organized baseball?
Honorable Mention: Ivan Rodriguez: From a strictly statistical standpoint, Rodriguez should be on this list. He had a .296 career batting average and was one of the most feared catchers to base stealers of all time. However, sigh, steroid allegations have put his career in doubt.

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