by John Dewan

It was not surprising that no one was elected this year to the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it was fair. The biggest snub was Mike Piazza. Piazza played 16 years in the major leagues, mostly for the Dodgers and Mets. In that time there was no question about his offense. Despite playing his entire career in pitchers parks, he was head-and-shoulders the best hitting catcher during that entire time. In fact, it is fair to say that Mike Piazza was the best hitting catcher of ALL time. Here are the all-time Runs Created leaders among catchers:

Player Career Runs Created
Mike Piazza 1,378
Carlton Fisk 1,378 Hall of Fame
Ted Simmons 1,283
Yogi Berra 1,265 Hall of Fame
Joe Torre 1,259
Johnny Bench 1,239 Hall of Fame
Gary Carter 1,184 Hall of Fame
Bill Dickey 1,164 Hall of Fame
Gabby Hartnett 1,161 Hall of Fame
Jason Kendall 1,112

Here are the all-time Runs Created Leaders at each position who are in the Hall or are eligible to be elected:

Pos Player Career Runs Created
C Carlton Fisk 1,378 (Piazza eligible, tied with Fisk 1,378)
1B Lou Gehrig 2,233
2B Rogers Hornsby 2,049
3B George Brett 1,878
SS Honus Wagner 1,890
LF Stan Musial 2,562 (Barry Bonds eligible 2,892)
CF Ty Cobb 2,517
RF Babe Ruth 2,718

These are the best hitters of all time at their positions and all of these men are in the Hall of Fame.

On the first list, six of the top nine leaders in career Runs Created by a catcher are in the Hall of Fame. The three who are not in the Hall—Piazza, Simmons, and Torre—have another thing in common. They do not have good defensive reputations at the position that is arguably the most important defensive position in the game, catcher.

If it was true that Piazza was not a good defensive catcher, I would be OK with him not getting into the Hall on the first ballot. I still think the best hitting catcher of all time should be in the Hall, but having to wait a few years wouldn’t be so bad. But, all the statistical measures suggest otherwise. In fact, they suggest that Piazza was an above-average defensive catcher.

The one thing that Piazza did not do well defensively was throw out basestealers. He allowed a 76.8 percent stolen base percentage in his career. Other catchers who caught the same pitchers as Piazza threw out 64.5 percent. However, nabbing basestealers is only a part of a catcher’s defensive responsibility and only a small part of Piazza’s overall game. It would be like saying that the best hitting second baseman of all time, Rogers Hornsby, shouldn’t be in the Hall because he didn’t steal a lot of bases in his time.

The most important part of a catcher’s job is handling his pitchers and in this area Piazza was superb. Here is one of the most telling statistics. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when Piazza was catching. If you look at all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. That’s a major difference, much more important than a few extra bases stolen. (In fact, Piazza’s catcher ERA of 3.81 includes the run value of any extra stolen bases he allowed.)

Craig Wright wrote an excellent article in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 called Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher. He did a detailed sabermetric study that showed that hitters had a .723 OPS with Piazza behind the plate and a .748 OPS with other catchers. This 25-point differential is highly significant. In further studies that we did in The Fielding Bible—Volume II, we found that Piazza saved at least 20 to 70 runs more than an average catcher defensively, depending on the technique that we used.

I highly recommend checking out the Piazza article by Craig Wright in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009. My conclusion is the same as his from that article:

“Mike Piazza was not a defensive liability who made up for it with his bat. The greatest offensive catcher in the history of Major League Baseball was a good defensive catcher as well.”

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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