I'm a huge Reds fan, and I've always maintained that Johnny Bench is the best catcher the game has ever seen.
However, in light of the recent retirement of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, I've decided to revisit the idea and see who the best catcher of all time was.
Consider his career offensive stats, along with the stats of five other catchers who I consider to be the best:
As you can see, Pudge's numbers are very good. He ranks first in games played, at bats, hits and runs scored. However, he's fifth on this list in oWAR, last in SLG, last in OBP and fourth in home runs.
Campanella only ranks behind him in oWAR because he was stuck in the Negro Leagues and had his career derailed by a car accident, which left him paralyzed.
Everyone seems to hold Rodriguez's offensive game in high regard, however, he's the beneficiary of one thing the rest of these players never got to experience—the DH.
Although he only played a little over 100 of his games in the DH spot, you can't deny the impact it's had on the longevity of catchers in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez's offensive game is undeniably good. However, I'd take Bench, Piazza, Berra, Campanella and Cochrane over him in this area of the game.
Defense was Rodriguez's best asset however. Over his 21 year career, Pudge won 13 Gold Gloves (10 consecutively from 1992-2001).
Consider his defensive statistics (at catcher) in comparison to the same five players:
|Name||Games (at catcher)||Chances||PO||A||E||FLD%||Rtot||PB||dWar||CS%|
Rodriguez is arguably the best defensive catcher ever.
In his 16,223 chances behind the plate, he recorded a .991 fielding percentage and accumulated the highest dWar and Rtot figures of any catcher. He also threw out an impressive 46 percent of base runners.
One last chart for the overall WAR values of each of these great catchers:
|Name||Johnny Bench||Yogi Berra||Mike Piazza||Roy Campanella||Ivan Rodriguez||Mickey Cochrane|
In comparing the players WAR values, you get a pretty accurate representation of how good they were. The only player who was significantly better than his WAR suggests is Roy Campanella.
This comparison leaves Rodriguez and Bench as the top two catchers of all time. Bench was significantly better offensively, while Rodriguez was the superior defensive player.
From there, it's pretty tough to separate one from the other. However, I still give the nod to Bench for several reasons.
First, Bench won two MVP awards in 1970 and 1972. Rodriguez won just one in 1999.
Finally, name recognition. When you're talking about the top catchers of all-time, the first two names generally mentioned are Bench and Berra.
Rodriguez is, on occasion, left out of the top five. For me, that's a deal breaker.
So, to answer my own question, in short, Rodriguez is not the best of all-time. However, he is certainly in the discussion for the top two or three in Major League Baseball history.
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