Does Mike Piazza Rank
Among the Best-Hitting Catchers in History?
(Through Their 800th Game Caught Seasons)
Mets owner Fred Wilpon probably wishes that Major League Baseball could move in the direction of the new NBA labor deal. New York's payroll has doubled from $35 million in 1997 to an estimated $70 million in 1999, and catcher Mike Piazza is a big reason why. The All-Star backstop was inked to a seven-year, $91 million contract extension this offseason after arriving in the Big Apple from Los Angeles (via Florida) last summer.
Thirteen million dollars a year may be a huge chunk of dough, but if there's any catcher in baseball who's worth it, it would be Piazza. Hitting .348 with 23 homers in 109 games after joining the Mets, he nearly carried New York into the playoffs. With just over 800 games behind the plate under his belt, Piazza clearly is off to the best start of any catcher ever:
Comparing Piazza's career, through the season in which he achieved 800 games caught, with the 45 best-hitting catchers through their 800th game season is displayed below: (Figures in red indicate the leader in that category).
Piazza doesn't merely lead the list, he levels his competition, beating Mickey Cochrane by nearly 100 points in OPS. But, you might say, aren't Piazza's offensive numbers inflated by the hitter-friendly era he plays in? That's not the case. Most of the catchers on the list played during the 1920s and 1930s or the 1950s and early 1960s, when hitters had pitchers at their mercy.
Another point in Piazza's favor is his home ballpark. He has played in some of the worst hitter's parks in the National League throughout his career: Dodger Stadium, Pro Player Stadium and Shea Stadium. It's not as though Piazza compiled his stats in Coors Field.
It's clear that Piazza is, at this point in his career, on pace to be the best-hitting catcher in baseball history. The biggest question is how long that career will last. Piazza has been worked awfully hard. He has played at least 148 games in four of his six full seasons in the majors, and he couldn't have in 1994 and 1995 because of the strike. Catchers decline more rapidly than players an any other position, and it's quite common for them to start developing knee problems in their early 30s and tail off quickly from there. Piazza will be a great player for the next couple of years, but expecting him to contribute at current levels when he hits age 33 or 34, regardless of whether he's still able to catch, is unrealistic.