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Should Mike Piazza be in the Hall of Fame?

January 11, 2013

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."

 
 

COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

rgregory1956
Twenty years ago, Ted Simmons could have had the exact same arguments for why he should be in the Hall as Piazza does now. At that time, he was often cited as the greatest hitting catcher, but an indifferent fielder. Piazza was clearly better, both hitting and fielding wise, but they probably both deserve enshrinement.
1:48 PM Jan 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I don't even really disagree with Piazza as a deserving HoFer. If we judge by stats, and we do, then he has far exceeded the standard that gets him into Cooperstown without paying admission. I'm none too crazy about the attitude he projected and nurtured as the Mets' star catcher--the last few years of which he was coddled by management despite not being much of a star anymore, and adored by fans despite not being much of a catcher anymore. I guess my quarrel is with Mets' management and fans, and only a little with Piazza himself.

But if I was starting a team from scratch, I can think of a lot of his contemporaries whom I'd pick before Mr. Me-First.
12:58 PM Jan 15th
 
ElGranBuscon
Yeah I think it definitely had something to do with his alleged PED use.
11:12 AM Jan 13th
 
ErnieSS
I found this entire concept to be pretty odd, for this site. Piazza is an absolute HOFer...an inner-circle one, at that. sgoldleaf may not have appreciated him, but I have a lot of pals who are Mets fans, and whenever I'd bring up Piazza's noodle arm, they'd rush to his defense by pointing out his many other defensive skills, and point to the fact that nearly every member of the Met pitching staff said that they liked throwing to him.

And even if he SUCKED defensively, being the best-hitting catcher in MLB history (by far) pretty much seals the HOF deal, doesn't it?
11:23 PM Jan 12th
 
jbdominicano
We well know that Piazza was not elected to the HOF, not because of his being a liability as a catcher, but because he's a suspect PED user. Looks like suspicion means a lot to some HOF voters...
9:49 PM Jan 12th
 
karlweberliterary
sgoldleaf: You've got to be kidding mentioning Robbie Alomar as a Hallf of Famer "according to Mets fans." Alomar is infamous among Mets fans as one of the worst busts in their history (starting with a 70 point drop in his batting average when he joined the Mets from Cleveland).
5:26 PM Jan 12th
 
KaiserD2
Mike Piazza had three season of over 30 win shares and his best was 37. Carlton Fisk had only 2 and topped off at 32. In my opinion there is no question that Piazza belongs in the Hall and his candidacy would be stronger than a number of first basemen who are either in or who are frequently recommended, based on those figures for peak performance. He should definitely get in.
By the way, the worst failure of nerve I have ever seen on the part of an umpiring crew was allowing Clemens to remain in the game after he threw the broken bat fragment at Piazza. Just incredible.
11:25 AM Jan 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
jdmccann: he was also the Mets' catcher (and cleanup hitter) on some pretty pathetic Mets teams. When you've got a couple of HoFers (according to Mets' fans: Piazza and Alomar) and a good supporting team, you should do better than the Mets did in Piazza's last few years, a lot better. I'd start by questioning the HoF credentials of your HoFers, who were among the most selfish me-first players I've ever seen. And I have seen a few games since Piazza retired, thanks for asking.
10:28 AM Jan 12th
 
tiller88
sgoldleaf sounds like the same kind of Mets 'fan' who still thinks David Wright is to blame for their collapse down the stretch in 2007 despite his 8.1 WAR on the year, and his .352/.432/.602 slash lines for Sept/Oct games. Blaming Piazza for taking throws home and swiping at the runner in the wake of Buster Posey's devastating plate-blocking injury makes me think he may not have actually watched a baseball game since Piazza retired. It turns out Piazza may have just been smart enough to be ahead of the old school dinosaurs on that one.
10:12 PM Jan 11th
 
jdmccann
#@sgoldleaf: mike piazza was the best player on some terrific Mets teams. I am totally baffled by your comment, unless you are pretending to be a writer for the post or daily news, or maybe that crazy old guy who used to write for the times.
9:41 PM Jan 11th
 
hankgillette
I think it's interesting that for the average person, catcher defense begins and ends with throwing out basestealers. Maybe that's because it's very visible and one of the few things about catching that can be accurately measured.
5:38 PM Jan 11th
 
karlweberliterary
#sgoldleaf: The Mets "never won squat with him behind the plate." They did win the National League pennant (2000).
12:18 PM Jan 11th
 
mvandermast
I enjoyed this article...but it's interesting to see an article with the title "Should Mike Piazza be in the Hall of Fame?" focus primarily on Piazza's defense. I'm curious: Is there anyone who thinks Piazza failed to get in the Hall primarily because of his defensive reputation? That would be an interesting view.

I'll look again at my copy of The Fielding Bible II to find the relevant section. A low-ball estimate of 20 runs per season above average...wow.
11:23 AM Jan 11th
 
myachimantis
He's a Hall of Famer regardless of his defense.
10:46 AM Jan 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I wasn't impressed in seeing him catch for the Mets. He avoided contact at the plate above all else, preferring to swipe at charging runners with his glove arm fully extended. The vast majority of such runners scored. But Piazza got to play another day and add to his offensive numbers, which was all that mattered. His refusal to play 1B in order to accrue HRs as a catcher also added to my impression that he was for Mike Piazza first and the Mets a far distant second. Certainly they never won squat with him behind the plate, and that's my best explanation for why.
10:44 AM Jan 11th
 
karlweberliterary
Important typo alert: I assume you mean "Other catchers who caught the same pitchers as Piazza ALLOWED STOLEN BASES AT A 64.5 PERCENT RATE."
9:57 AM Jan 11th
 
 
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