Brian ErniI’m still outraged by egregious error that nearly half of the Baseball Writers Association of America made when they left Mike Piazza off their 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.
Sure, it had people’s attention for a little while, but then MLB announced they would start testing for HGH, Brian Wilson rumors sprung up, and most recently, Banner Day taking place before a night game, has been occupying the majority of Mets fans’ bandwidth. But the snub of Piazza, who should have been on the receiving end of a telephone call last Wednesday ushering him into Cooperstown, is still drawing my ire.
Piazza is the best offensive player to ever play his position. That’s not up for debate. If we forego traditional stats and try to evaluate Piazza’s offensive production in a more neutral context (one not influenced by his lineup protection, the rate the hitters got on base and scored in front of him, etc.) Piazza created 1,378 runs: tied the most by a catcher (with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk). Ted Simmons (1,283), Yogi Berra, and Joe Torre (1,259) round out the top five.
Some voters prefer to go straight off their gut. I’ve heard about the “wow” factor cited by Ken Rosenthal (and called into question here by Rob Neyer) in making a case for Jack Morris. Wait, Jack Morris had more of a “wow” career than Piazza? Not in my baseball conscious, nor many I’ve talked to over the past… oh, I don’t know… decades.
His critics will cite supposed “whispers” of steroid use and they’ll say he was a terrible defensive catcher, which indicate he isn’t a “first ballot” kind of player. However, people in media have been referring to Piazza as a “future Hall of Famer” for nearly 15 years. It was a slam dunk since the late ’90s. We all knew it.
In regards to his defensive play, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when Piazza was catching. According to ACTA Sports, 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. Was Piazza gifted at throwing runners out? No, and that mostly stemmed from footwork issues that hindered his relatively-adequate to moderately-decent throwing arm. But I would argue the few three-hoppers Mets fans grew accustomed to seeing Piazza bounce towards second base act more as a legend of past times than an actual negative impact on his pitchers and the amount of runs they gave up.
In 2009, Craig Wright wrote a detailed sabermetric study for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 that showed that hitters had a .723 OPS with Piazza behind the plate and a .748 OPS with other catchers. Also, the The Fielding Bible: Volume II by Acta Sports found that Piazza saved at least 20 to 70 runs more than an average catcher defensively, depending on the technique that they used. That seems like a catcher who, at the very least, worked with his pitchers to develop the most effective game plan against opposing hitters.
Mike Piazza is an all-time great hitter and a moderate defender. To me, that is worthy of the Hall of Fame.