Best Cardinals by Position - Catcher

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will look at the BEST St. Louis Cardinals of all time. I will do so by position. I will be following a very specific set of criteria. The criteria that affects this the most is that I only took a look at players with 3,000 or more plate appearances AS A CARDINAL. (So, Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Darryl Porter, Mike Matheny, and others - sorry, you're out!) From there, I used a very complicated formula involving:

  • WAR (a mix of fangraphs" and baseball-reference's WAR statistics)
  • WAR/PA*600 (600 plate appearances is a very near approximation to a complete season, so it's basically WAR/season
  • batting average
  • on base percentage
  • slugging percentage
  • on base plus slugging
  • OPS+ (takes OPS and converts it to a comparison to league average for that season or career and adjusts for ballpark)
  • % of hits that are extra base hits
  • BB:K (I could not compare 3rd basemen, shortstops, or corner outfielders on this statistic due to lack of data)
  • XBH:K (I could not compare 3rd basemen, shortstops, or corner outfielders on this statistic due to lack of data)
  • SB/PA*600 - basically SB/season
  • for catchers I looked at how many players were caught stealing or picked off compared to how many people stole bases off of them
  • for outfielders I looked at how many outfield assists that they got per 600 plate appearances (or per season) as well

I then took this data and ranked the players at each position against each other, accounting for small or large differences in each statistic in able to see who the best of the best was.

Without further ado, your top 3 St. Louis Cardinals' catchers of ALL TIME!

Honorable mentions: Del Rice (probably the 2nd best defensive catcher ever for the Cardinals by my numbers) and Tom Pagnozzi (the Cardinal catcher of my youth)

#3 - Drafted in the 4th round of the 2000 Amateur Draft, this current Cardinal catcher is widely regarded as the best defensive catcher in the game today and possibly ever. As of this writing, Yadier Molina has caught stealing or picked off exactly as many base runners as he has had steal a base on him. That's a 50% caught rate. Only one other catcher out of the 5 possible options had a number over 40% in that category. Yadi has led the league in CS% 3 times, total zone runs as a catcher 5 times, and assists as a catcher twice - all of this in just his first 7 seasons behind the plate. Once thought to be atrocious at the plate - playing solely for his ability to field the position - he has been nearly league average over his last 1900+ plate appearances (after being more than 30% worse than average for his first 1400+.) Yadi's hard work and pure baseball skills land him 3rd on this list.

#2 - Tim McCarver (signed as a rookie free agent because the amateur draft did not begin until 1965) reached the major leagues at the ripe young age of 17. He came to St. Louis to be a Cardinal in 1959. He only played in 40 games in the majors between 1959 and 1962, however - he even spent the entire season in 1962 in the minors. In those games, he was absolutely atrocious statistically, but when he came back up, he was a much different catcher. While St. Louis did not get Tim McCarver's best seasons statistically, they got his only 2 all-star campaigns - one of which nearly finished in an MVP Award (he finished 2nd in 1967, when the Cards beat the Red Sox in the World Series). Even though McCarver did not steal many bases, in 1966 he led the National League in triples, with 13. His edge in extra base power and lack of strikeouts outweigh Yadier Molina's superior defensive abilities for now. Disclaimer: I fully anticipate that Yadier Molina will flip flop with the current Fox announcer on this list before his career is over.

#1 - The title of Best Cardinal Catcher of all time goes to none other than Ted Simmons. He spent part or all of 13 years in a Cardinal uniform. He also played for the Brewers and the Braves in his 21 year career. The only knocks I could find against the former 1st round pick were that 1) He came back as a Brewer to beat the Cardinals in the World Series in 1982; and 2) He allowed a large number (and large majority) of potential base stealers to meet their goals. The good news is that, unlike with Tim McCarver, the St. Louis Cardinals definitely got Simmons' best years out of him. 6 of the 7 years in which he earned votes for MVP were in Cardinal red, as were 6 of his 8 all-star appearances, his 1 silver slugger award win, the two years he led the league in putouts and assists as a catcher, and the two years he threw out the most potential base stealers. His 6-year peak from ages 25-30 was as good as it gets for a catcher on the offensive side of the ball (unless your name is Mike Piazza.) Simmons averaged 31 doubles, 3 triples, 19 homers, 74 runs scored, 89 RBI, 69 walks, only 38 strikeouts, and a 138 OPS+ in those 6 seasons. In those 6 seasons, he was in the top 5 of offensive WAR four times.

Congratulations to those 3 great Cardinal catchers!

The next post in the series will be Cardinal first basemen.

1) Ted Simmons - 17.620

2) Tim McCarver - 14.742

3) Yadier Molina - 13.177

4) Del Rice - 11.454

5) Tom Pagnozzi - 10.988

This series was originally researched in early August, so statistics of current players may be slightly off now.

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