Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top 10 Marlins Catchers

What follows below is Part 1 of an 11-part series examining the top Marlins players all-time, position-by-position. Given the franchise's short history, many of these findings are fairly obvious, but I think this is a fairly interesting exercise anyway. And it's fun.

The rankings are purely statistical -- essentially taking the average of a player's Marlins WARP score (Wins Above Replacement Player, which factors in both offense & defense) and the player's peak, his three best seasons. Baseball Prospectus readers will recognize this as an adaptation of the popular Hall of Fame JAWS score.

Without further ado, the top 10 catchers in Marlins history:

Next five: 11) Bob Natal / 12) Steve Decker / 13) Paul Bako / 14) Mike Piazza / 15) Ron Tingley

Charles Johnson ('94-'97, '01-'02) is a slam dunk as the top catcher in Marlins history. Not only did he spend the most seasons as Florida's starting backstop, but anyone who had the talent to rival him (Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Piazza) wasn't in teal & black long enough to remotely threaten his spot. Johnson's career year actually came in 2000 -- when he split the season between the White Sox and Orioles and had a huge year with the bat -- but his 1997 season with the Fish comes in a close second thank to an above average year at the plate (.250/.347/.454) and a stellar one behind it.

Mike Redmond ('08-'04) was the Marlins' No. 1 or No. 2 catcher for seven years, which is enough to garner the second spot despite no real standout seasons. 2002, when he started 68 games to Johnson's 77, was his career year both offensively & defensively. I suspect most Marlins fans have a soft spot in their hearts for Redmond, who despite having little power, always posted nice batting averages and was one of the better backup catchers in the league during his time with the Marlins. In fact, he still is now as Joe Mauer's caddy in Minnesota.

Unsurprisingly, Ivan Rodriguez's ('03) lone year with the Marlins was also the best the franchise has ever received from a catcher. Pudge's 7.8 WARP score outshines Johnson's best by almost a full win. This was actually the third-worst season of Rodriguez's career defensively, but his fifth-best offensively. (Interestingly enough, he went on to have his best year offensively and his worst defensively with the Tigers in 2004).

The club's most recent catcher, Miguel Olivo ('06-'07), takes the fourth spot. Olivo took a lot of heat from fans due to his utter lack of plate discipline and resulting awful on-base percentages. He possessed above-average power -- hitting 16 home runs in each of his two seasons as a starter -- but even that wasn't enough to salvage his offensive game or Marlins career; he was non-tendered after last season. Olivo's durability -- 109 and 111 starts in '06 & '07, respectively -- and solid defense were enough to get him a top-five showing.

Benito Santiago ('93-'94) came to the Marlins fresh off five-straight All-Star appearances with the Padres, which earned him a lucrative $7.2 million, two-year deal -- good money in those days. It's fair to say Santiago was a disappointment as a Marlin, particularly in light of his awful '93 campaign. He had never been much with the bat (respectable home run totals led to some very undeserving Silver Slugger Awards in San Diego) and his glove continued its descent following a three-year Gold Glove run from '88-'90. Santiago responded with a much improved '94 season, but Florida was still all too happy to say goodbye after the year ended. He went on to enjoy his offensive peak with the Reds & Phillies the next two years.

To think how far Paul Lo Duca's ('04-'05) star has fallen since his Marlins tenure. Lo Duca was part of the controversial deadline deal in 2004 with the Dodgers in that he was a huge fan favorte in Los Angeles. Marlins fans soon figured out why, thanks to Lo Duca's good situational hitting and blue-collar fire (probably fueled in part by 'roid rage). In truth, Lo Duca's perceived value was much higher than his actual value during his year and a half wit hthe Marlins. He was never a strong asset in Florida -- the power he showed with the Dodgers in 2001 and 2004 never materialized and he had never been a very good defensive receiver. Part of the Marlins post-'05 firesale, Lo Duca was traded to the Mets for pitching prospect Gaby Hernandez, who is in line to make his big-league debut sometime this season.

The Marlins' backup the last three years, Matt Treanor ('04-'07) is known as "Mr. May," but not exactly for the right reasons. Treanor is a perfectly fine backup -- he's solid defensively and has improved at the plate each season he's worn a Marlins uni. Unfortunately, the team has read into that the wrong way and he's in line for significant playing time as part of a catching combo with Mike Rabelo this year. Don't expect good things.

Another Marlins backup backstop extrodinnaire, Gregg Zaun has always been a hitter who's known how to take a walk, ensuring his Major League salary in spite of a below-average glove. One of the outspoken Zaun's better years at the dish came in 1997 (301/415/441), when the Marlins won their first championship, and for that he'll always be remembered fondly. Unfortunately for Zaun, he turned a great '97 season into an execrable '98, taking over as the Marlins' starter after first Charles Johnson and then Mike Piazza were traded and hitting an anemic 188/274/292. He effectively blew his chance at a starting job with that peformance, not getting another shot until 2003 with the Blue Jays in his age-33 season. To Zaun's credit, he took advantage and has been a fixture in Toronto ever since.

It's hard to believe perennial third-stringer Ramon Castro ('99-'04) played parts of six seasons with the Marlins given he only totaled 466 at-bats across those six years. The team's return for Jay Powell in the '98-'99 offseason, Castro showed real flashes of power during his brief stints with the Marlins, but was never given a real chance. Management finally gave up on him, and he's since shown the team exactly what they were missing all those years as one of the best-hitting backups in the league with the Mets. If he can stay healthy, he'll be in store for the most playing time of his career this year as he splits time with Brian Schneider for the Amazin's.

Jorge Fabregas ('99) -- what a note to end on. 1999 was the third-straight year in which Fabregas donned the tools of ignorance for two teams. He played 1A to Redmond's 1 that season (thought it was more like 1F given that Jorge couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag). He was genuinely a defensive asset that year though, and that's enough to give him the edge for the 10th spot over everyone's favorite early-era punchline, Bob Natal.


Nigel Wilson said...

Wonderful, wonderful exposee on the Marlins' backstop history. I especially enjoyed the little write-ups next to the pictures.

My only suggestion would be Lo Duca. I think he should be higher...maybe #3 or 4.

Otherwise, great work, I can't wait for the next position (will it be 1B?)

Frederick Small said...

I can't help feeling sorry for Bob Natal. He always struggled, but he seemed like a nice guy. Just missed the top 10, eh?

Johnny said...

Good in theory but man I hate the WARP stat due to how bad of a stat FRAA is.

Quite possibly the worst fielding stat in the game...might even be worse than Fielding % haha.

So it really skews things, unfortunately.