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MLB: Is Ivan Rodriguez the Best Catcher of All Time?

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MLB: Is Ivan Rodriguez the Best Catcher of All Time?
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

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:

Name Games AB H HR R RBI AVG. OBP. SLG. oWAR
Johnny Bench 2158 7658 2048 389 1091 1376 .267 .342 .476 64.8
Yogi Berra 2120 8539 2150 358 1175 1430 .285 .348 .482 59.3
Mike Piazza 1912 6911 2127 427 1048 1335 .308 .377 .545 67.4
Roy Campanella 1215 4205 1161 242 627 856 .276 .360 .500 35.1
Ivan Rodriguez 2543 9592 2844 311 1354 1332 .296 .344 .464 50.4
Mickey Cochrane 1482 5169 1652 119 1041 832 .320 .419 .487 51.5

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.

Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

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%
Johnny Bench 1742 10196 9249 850 97 .990 97 94 6.5 43%
Yogi Berra 1699 9646 8738 798 110 .989% 28 76 2.6 45%
Mike Piazza 1630 11701 10844 733 124 .989% -61 102 -8.3 23%
Roy Campanella 1183 7155 6520 550 85 .988% 10 56 1.1 57%
Ivan Rodriguez 2427 16223 14864 1227 142 .991% 167 127 16.9 46%
Mickey Cochrane 1451 7365 6414 840 111 .985% N/A 88 -.3 39%

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.

Who is the best catcher of all time?

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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
WAR 71.3 61.9 59.1 36.2 71.3 51.2

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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