We're kicking off our "Best Of" for the 2000s with what I consider the hardest position to quantify: catcher. It's the toughest on the field and offensive excellence is hard to sustain when one is spending up to 130 games or more having their hands constantly pounded with pitches, getting dinged and nicked constantly by foul balls and balls in the dirt. Let's not forget that they spend around nine innings a game in the crouching position and also subject themselves to dicey situations where they have to block home plate to apply a tag.
They do all this while also tracking tendencies of opposing hitters and how their pitchers should pitch to them. Aside from the baseball aspects, they also have to play team psychologist, knowing which pitchers they need to coddle and which ones they need to give a good, firm yelling at.
What could add to the difficulty in choosing from these players is the feeling that some of them may have had some. help. For these articles, I'm going to turn a blind eye on those allegations and just look at the cold, raw numbers.
For some of these players, I'm using their Wins Above Replacement - WAR rankings as some of the criteria, but if they have not caught at least 1,000 games, then I won't mention it.
1. Mike Piazza
Piazza is No. 1 on my list because of his 427 career home runs, the most for a catcher. He hit 187 of them from 2000-09. His defensive skills, while adequate, never put him on the map - his weakness was base stealers, with him only throwing out 12% of them in the final year, and he averaged 19.7% rate from 2000-07 (he was exclusively a DH in '08).
In terms of career WAR, he ranks third behind Mickey Cochrane and Johnny Bench, with a .03091 WAR per game (the cutoff for this is 1,000 games minimum caught). While he did have a typical tail off to the end of his career in terms of his power numbers, he hit 38, 36, and 33 homers in the first three years of the decade, which helped carry his average numbers in the decade through the decline of his career - he averaged 23.375 homers a year during the decade.
The most long-tenured of these catchers, Rodriguez burst onto the scene in 1991 and just retired in 2012. Rodriguez is No. 11 in the catcher career WAR per game category with a .02769 ranking. For the early part of his career, Rodriguez combined average and power in the '90s, but after a strong start to the decade with a 27-homer effort, he saw his power numbers go down each year, but he did average a respectable 16.1 homers a season.
He also did add a little speed on the base paths, stealing at least 10 bases three times from 2000-09. Where he truly shone was with his arm, gunning out would-be stealers at an amazing rate, cumulating with his throwing out 60% in 2001. It got to the point that runners basically refused to try to swipe bases against him during his heyday - case in point: in 1993 115 base runners tried to steal on Rodriguez, by 2000 only 39 of them were brave enough to try and risk being caught stealing.
3. Jorge Posada
Posada may not have the gaudy numbers that people like Piazza or Ivan Rodriguez, but he's up there with the two of them in terms of WAR, with a .02499 rating. Having five World Series rings likely also makes him feel better. While Posada had mostly modest power (he cracked the 30-homer barrier once, hitting 30 in 2003, he did average 20.8 homers over the span of the decade.
People liked to malign Posada for his catching skills, but he did do a decent job throwing out runners - often being near the league average. His worst season in that category: 2008 (17%) was also his most injury plagued.
4. Joe Mauer
Mauer was one of those players who I thought had entered the league later than he actually had. When looking at his stats, I was surprised to see that he first started playing in 2004. I remembered it as '06. What made Mauer stand out from others is his batting average. He's hit .347, .328 and .365 and never dipped below .293 during the '04-'09 seasons.
He also has been somewhat proficient over his career in terms of nabbing base stealers - including throwing out 53% of them in 2007.
Varitek may be remembered by many as the impetus behind that huge Yankees/Red Sox brawl in '04 that featured him shoving his catcher into Alex Rodriguez's face. Varitek has a career WAR per game of .01539.
Towards the middle of the decade, he displayed modest power and he averaged 16 homers overall from 2000-09. Varitek's true value to the team was his handling of the pitching staff - few catchers had his work ethic and total devotion.
Known more for his glove, Molina started making strides with his bat toward the end of the decade, hitting . .304 and .293 in 2008 and '09. Like Rodriguez, Molina is death on base runners, including throwing out a sick 64% of them in '05.
He averaged a 47.5% rate from 2004-09 and has picked off as many as nine base runners a season once and eight twice. This is why I put him above his brother Benjie.
Bengie was a vital cog in the Anaheim Angels' run to win the World Series in 2002, providing both a strong bat and glove. He never cracked the 20-homer mark but was consistently hitting double digits per year. Like his brother Yadier, he excelled at gunning out base stealers, averaging 32.1%
While Martinez hasn't put up gaudy power numbers, the man has been an RBI machine for most of his career, including driving in 114 once and 108 twice from 2002-09. Despite never hitting more than 25 homers, he averaged 69.75 RBIs from 2002-2008. Throw out the first two seasons since he wasn't a starter and the numbers improve to 89.6 RBIs a season. Not bad.
Many view Pierzynski as a mere rabble-rouser. There was even a story where he was viewed as a less than ideal teammate when he played for the San Francisco Giants. That said, he does rank No. 39 in WAR among catchers, with a .0109 per game rate.
There's a reason why he's been a starting catcher in the league since 2001. While not displaying huge power, he has irritated opposing pitchers with the long ball on an average of 11.1 times a season. He's helped his pitching staff by throwing out an average of 26.1% base stealers a season from 2000-09.
10. Javy Lopez
While many view Lopez's one monster season during this decade as a walk-year aberration (he clubbed 43 homers in 2003, 9 more than his previous high, which was five years before that), he had suffered injuries that curtailed his total at-bats. Even with the aid of that one season, he averaged 16.8 homers from 2000-09. What's surprising is that Lopez ranks higher in WAR per game than Varitek. Overall, I still rate him lower than Varitek.
Check out our previous entries on the Best MLB Players of the 2000's:
Think we missed someone or disagree with any of the picks? Comment below!