Hall Watch 2004-The Catchers-Ivan Rodriguez

Tuesday, October 26 2004 @ 10:32 AM EDT

Contributed by: Mike Green

This is the first in a series of profiles of players who are potential Hall of Famers. I will look briefly at their career history, how they compare at this stage in their career with other greats, and what to expect from them in the future. We’ll start with the catchers.

Ivan Rodriguez had a terrific season at age 32 for the Tigers, hitting .334/.383/.510 and leading them to a 29 game improvement in the standings. He caught 124 games, low for him, but, as we shall see, typical of catchers his age. He has now caught 1688 games. This was the also the year that he reached a number of significant career markers, 1000 runs scored and driven in, 2000 hits, 250 homers.

Pudge arrived in the majors at age 19, with no triple A experience and only 50 games at double A. He had hit .274/.294/.389 in double A Tulsa, but the Rangers were so impressed with his defence that he got the call. His arm was indeed fabulous, and within a year or two, he was the consensus best defensive catcher in the majors. He hit .260 with 3 homers in 280 at-bats his first season, but over the next 4-5 years, his average and power steadily improved. His plate discipline was poor when he arrived in the majors, and has improved more slowly than the other aspects of his offensive game but it is now average.

How does Rodriguez compare with his peers at age 32? Here’s a chart that sets out the career lines at age 32 of comparable catchers:

Player    G     AB    R     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   GAMES CAUGHT(AT 32)
I-Rod 1758 6694 1014 2051 250 400 .306 .347 .480 124
Simmons 1801 6644 854 1931 209 679 .291 .359 .453 121
Yogi 1474 5508 897 1598 252 514 .290 .355 .492 121
Bench 1877 6771 1001 1811 356 813 .267 .348 .482 105
Carter 1828 6063 847 1646 271 680 .271 .350 .461 122

So, what next for Pudge? Looking at his peers might be a start. After age 32, Ted Simmons had one season left of catching. He caught 86 games that year, and then finished out his career as a DH. Yogi did a little better, catching for significant parts of 3 more seasons between 63 and 116 games per year, and playing outfield and first base. By age 32, Johnny Bench was done as a catcher, while Gary Carter had 2 more seasons left.

Pudge’s career path is more favorable than any of his peers here. He’s hitting as well as ever, if not better. My guess is that he’ll follow the Yogi career path and catch between 250-300 more games. However, his slow steady improvement with the stick will, in my opinion, lead to a productive end of career as a DH. Pudge’s career line, using the Green projection method:

.297/.350/.488, 375 homers, 1450 runs scored, 1550 runs driven in

With his defensive skill, he’s basically achieved Johnny Bench’s career already. When he’s done, I don’t think that there will be any question who the greatest catcher is.

Next up: Mike Piazza.