Friday, January 27, 2012

Mike Piazza Hall of Famer 2013

Since Jorge Posada retired the other day, I’ve had a few conversations at the bar about where he stands with the 15 catchers that are currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame. (To see the players, click on the link Baseball Hall of Fame Catchers from Before I go there, I wanted to shift focus from the Bronx to Queens to shed light on the other premier catcher that played in New York City during the same years as Posada. The Mets made a blockbuster deal in the summer of 1998 that gave them a true superstar. This player gave the Mets a legitimate slugger in the middle of their lineup that would become the face of the organization and is arguably the best hitting catcher of all-time. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is (potentially) an inductee in the 2013 Hall of Fame class, Mike Piazza.

Piazza was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft and made his Major League debut as a September call up in 1992. Piazza would earn the starting spot during the 1993 season and won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year award. His six years in Los Angeles were marked by six consecutive All-Star appearances coupled with six Silver Slugger Awards. It is believed that with free agency looming on the horizon for Piazza, with the desire to cut salary by the Florida Marlins a deal was made by both teams. The Dodgers traded Mike Piazza and Todd Ziele to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson & Jim Eisenreich. The Marlins then turned around and Piazza to the New York Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnell, & Geof Getz. Piazza would bat .348 with 23 HRs and 76 RBI in 394 at-bats for the remainder of the 1998. His performance and desire to be challenged by playing in New York City led Piazza to sign a seven-year contract worth a record $91 million. Piazza would be the heart and soul of the team until his departure after the 2005 season.

In 16 seasons, Piazza hit a career .308 with 427 HRs and 1335 RBI. In 6911 at-bats, he had 2127 Hits (344 2B/8 3B/427 HR), 759 BB, 1113 K’s, an OPS of .922 (.377 OBP/.545 SLG). In terms of fielding, Piazza had .989 fielding percentage but was lacking when it came to throwing out base-stealers, only throwing out just 23% of runners (423 out 1823) for his career. Piazza won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year. He was a 12-time All Star, a 10-time Silver Slugger and though he did not win any MVP awards, Piazza was in the top ten of MVP voting seven times with three top five finishes (finished second in 1996 and 1997). What I find impressive about Piazza was his plate discipline. As a power hitter, I expected more strikeouts from him and looking at his career statistics, Piazza never had a season of more than 100 strikeouts. In fact his highest season total for strikeouts was 93 in 1996. So where does he stand with the 15 catchers currently in the Hall? Well, here goes.

Here is where Piazza ranks (with the leader in parenthesis)

Average .308 4th (Mickey Cochrane .328)
Hits 2127 3rd (Carlton Fisk 2356)
RBI 1335 3rd (Roy Campanella 1430)
HR 427 1st
SLG .545 1st
FLD% .989 Tied 3rd (Gary Carter .991)
SB 23% Last (Roy Campanella 57%)

There is no doubt that Piazza’s offensive performance puts him within the upper echelon of catchers currently in the Hall of Fame. Though his defensive performance places him at or near the bottom of the list, I don’t see that being something that would not get Piazza the necessary minimum 75% of the vote for the Hall of Fame.

To close, I want to mention the moment where Piazza stood out to me. I remember watching a Mets vs. Phillies game on TV, when it was I’m not sure but it was being played in Veterans Stadium and I don’t remember if the announcers had touched on this but Piazza stalked up to the plate for his at-bat with a nasty scowl on his face. Normally, Piazza was very smooth while at the plate. No wasted motion or superstitious movements as some other batters in the league. This time though Piazza was just chomping at the bit. I’m not sure what pitch in the count that Piazza connected on but I have to say, it was probably one of the hardest hit ball I’ve seen on TV. Piazza connected on this pitch and drove it deep to centerfield over the black part of the wall a number of rows back. His demeanor continued unabated as he rounded the bases. Locks bouncing as he slowly ran the bases. Whoever pissed him off that day made some pitcher pay for it.


For Further Reading
- Click Here for Mike Piazza’s career statistics from
- Click Here to access the list of Catchers currently in the National Baseball Hall of Fame from
- Click Here to access the blogpost 1998: Mets Acquire Mike Piazza From the Marlins from the Centerfield Maz blogpage
- Click Here to access Jason Diamos’ article Piazza, Risking Boos, Accepts Challenge With Mets from the New York Times website dated October 27, 1998

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jorge Posada Among Yankee Catchers

Longtime New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada announced his expected retirement from Baseball at a Press Conference at Yankee Stadium today. In honor of Posada, I wanted to take a look at where I believe he ranks among the great Yankees catchers of the past. This is in no way an expert opinion or viewpoint since I never saw a number of the players I will put Posada side-by-side with play in person and I am biased towards one of them since he was one of my favorite players of all time. So to avoid waxing poetically, let's see where I think Jorge ranks.

There have been many good players to wear the mask and pads for the Yankees but in my estimation there have been a small handful that I would refer to as being "Great Yankee Catchers". At the top of the list is Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. in 19 seasons, Berra had a career .285 average with 2150 hits (321 2B/49 3B/358 HR), 1430 RBI, 704 BB, 414 K's (for more on that impressive little number, read my blogpost Yogi Berra 414 in 7555), and an OPS of .830 (.348 OBP/.482 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .989 and threw out 49% of basestealers. Not to mention that Yogi won 10 rings as a player while appearing in a total of 14 World Series (along with 3 more as a coach), 3 AL MVP awards (1951, 1954, 1955), 7 years of being in the top five of MVP voting and 15 All-Star appearances. The following players are listed in terms of when they played and not in terms of any kind of rank.

Hall of Famer Bill Dickey played 17 seasons and had a career .313 average with 1969 hits (343 2B/72 3B/202 HR), 1209 RBI, 678 BB, 289 K's (in 6300 At-bats. CRAZY!!!!) and an OPS of .868 (.382 OBP/.486 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .986 and threw out 47% of basestealers. Though Dickey didn't win any AL MVP awards, he did finish in the top 10 five times and in the top 5 three times with 11 All-Star appearances. Dickey was a pivotal member of 7 World Series Champion teams (He appeared in 8 World Series). Dickey lost two years due to his joining the military during World War II (1944-1945) before playing his last season in 1946.

Elston Howard had the unenviable task of being both the first African American player on the New York Yankees and replacing a Yankees legend behind the plate. Howard did both gracefully. In 14 seasons Howard had a career .274 batting average with 1471 hits (218 2B/50 3B/167 HR), 762 RBI, 373 BB 786 K's and an OPS of .749 (.322 OBP/.427 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .993 and threw out 44% of basestealers. Howard won the AL MVP award in 1963 and had three top 10 MVP votes. He won three Gold Glove awards, appeared in 9 All-Star games and was a member of 4 World Series Champions (his teams made it to 10 World Series)

Arguably one of my favorite Yankees of All-Time, Captain Thurman Munson rounds out the group of "Great Yankees Catchers". Munson's career was cut short by a fatal plane crash during the 1979 season so his sample size is limited but very impressive. The heart and soul of the 1970's Yankees played for a total of 11 seasons and had a .292 career batting average with 1558 hits (229 2B/32 3B/113 HR), 701 RBI, 438 BB 571 K's and an OPS of .756 (.346 OBP/.410 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .982 and threw out 44% of basestealers. Munson won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1970, was the AL MVP in 1976 and had top 10 MVP votes. He was a 3-time AL Gold Glove winner, a 7-time All-Star and appeared in three straight World Series (1976-1978) and was the backbone of back-to-back World Series Champions in 1977-1978.

Since I am placing Jorge Posada in the same category with these Yankee greats, here are Posada's vitals. In 17 seasons Posada had a career .273 batting average with 1664 Hits (379 2B/10 3B/275 HR), 1065 RBI, 936 BB, 1453 K's and an OPS of .848 (.374 OBP/.474 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .992 and threw out 28% of basestealers. Posada was never an AL MVP but placed in the top 10 twice, he was a 5-time All-Star, a 5-time Silver Slugger and an important part of 4 World Series Champions while appearing in 6 World Series.

Ok, so here I stand after laying out the numbers. So where do I stand. Offensively, I'd rank Posada behind Berra and Dickey. As I posted in my blogpost Jorge Posada Reaches Milestones on my other baseball blog Latinoball dated June 15, 2010 which stated that at the time:

Posada is now one of only five catchers to amass 250 home runs, 1,500 hits and 350 doubles over the course of a career. Who are the others four? Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodriguez.

That gives Posada a bit of an advantage over Berra and Dickey but what stands out to me is the plate disciple that Berra and Dickey showed. In a combined 13855 at-bats, Berra and Dickey struck out 703 times. Players like Shane Reynolds will do that in three to four seasons. Posada better reflected his times since he was a power hitter and the majority of today's power hitters (with the exception of Albert Pujols) tend to have high strikeout numbers. Posada also compares favorably to Berra and Dickey in OPS (Posada .848/Berra .830/Dickey .868) and somewhat when it comes to hits (Posada 1664/Berra 2150/Dickey 1969). There is no denying that Posada came up big for the Yankees time and time again as Berra and I believe Dickey did for their respective Yankees teams.

Defensively I always had the mindset that Posada was an average catcher but looking at the respective numbers he also ranks up there with the rest. I know the track record of Posada having issues with certain starting pitchers is well known but there is no denying that Posada made a tremendous career from originally being a shortstop to catching for the Yankees. Looking at fielding percentage Elston Howard ranks the highest at .993 with Berra at .989, Dickey at .986, Munson and Posada .982. Where Posada does pale in comparison is in the percentage of basestealers. Where Posada threw out only 28% of basestealers, Yogi ranks the highest at 49% with Dickey at 47% and Howard and Munson at 44%. So defensively I'd have to rank him last within the five catchers.

I have purposely decided to not include Post-season performance. The reason being is that the game today is different than the game of Berra, Dickey and Howard's day. Where those players only had the World Series, Munson's age had a Championship Series and a World Series and it was expanded in Posada's day with a total of three rounds of playoffs. We know Posada was money in the post-season as was Berra, Dickey, Howard and Munson since they all played for World Series Champions. If someone wants to make the comparison, by all means do so. I welcome your point of view.

In total, I would rank Posada fourth behind Berra, Dickey and Howard since I'll give Howard the nod on defensive numbers. Munson played at least 6 less years than the others so he's only in 5th because of the lesser amount of total games played. The gap between the players is not that great when you factor in stadium size, player sample size, era and overall changes in the game. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.


For Further Reading
- Click Here to access Yogi Berra's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Bill Dickey's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Elston Howard's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Thurman Munson's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Jorge Posada's career statistics from Baseball

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Paul O'Neill #21

I get asked all the time as to who are my favorite New York Yankees players. I mean, that’s a hard question to ask. Put that question up to my dad and he’ll tell you that it was Lou Piniella. Back in the day he’d tease me by saying "Ese es tu papa" (That’s your dad) whenever Piniella came up to bat. I have to admit, I was partial to those Yankees teams of the mid to late 1970’s since I was a child watching those teams play ball. Who wouldn’t want to count players like Mickey Rivers, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and the forever missed Yankee Captain Thurman Munson among their favorite players.

Add to that such Yankees players from the 1980’s such as Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Don Baylor and from the 1990’s such as Jimmy Key, Graeme Lloyd (his actions in that fight against the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 are unforgettable), David Cone, Cecil Fielder and not to overlook the core four (Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte) with Bernie Williams. I can go on and on and on. But for the sake of the post I want to focus on one player who I’ll always say is on the top of my list of favorite Yankees players. This player came to the team in a trade for the future heir apparent to the fabled Center-field position of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Remembering that I sat there dumbfounded as to who the hell this player was when reading about it in the paper, watching him play year after year reinforced that the team had made a steal of a deal. The player I am talking about is #21, the player George Steinbrenner dubbed "The Warrior" Paul O'Neill.

Up to the point when O'Neill was traded to the Yankees, all I really knew about him was that he played on the 1990 World Series Champion Cincinnati Reds and that he basically was shipped out of Cincinnati due to some bad blood with Reds manager Lou Piniella. So after hearing that Roberto Kelly was untouchable in trade talks, I found it hard to believe that they had traded him to Cincinnati for Paul O’Neill and minor league first baseman Joe DeBerry on November 3, 1992. Looking back on it now the trade made sense. Here is how New York Times writer and current YES Network analyst Jack Curry described the trade in his November 3, 1992 article Yankees Trade Roberto Kelly to Reds for O'Neill:

Joe DeBerry, a minor league first baseman, also came to New York in the deal, which essentially centered on the 29-year-old O'Neill, a .259 career hitter with 96 home runs and a contract through 1994, being swapped for the 28-year-old Kelly, a .280 career hitter with 56 home runs and an opportunity to become a free agent after next season.

According to Curry, the team had gotten tired of waiting for Kelly’s potential to become reality. His career never developed as was expected though he did play mainly as a platoon player for 14-seasons retiring after playing with the Yankees during the 2000 season. O'Neill on the other hand, became the heart and soul of the late 1990’s Yankees dynasty.

After showing flashes of what was to come with the Reds, O'Neill was solid for the Yankees. From 1993-1995 O'Neill averaged a .321 batting average with 142 hits (30 2B/2 3B/21 HR), 85 RBI, 3SB, 62 BB and 67 Ks. His average OPS was .940 (.401 OBP/.539 SLG). Keep in mind the numbers are a bit skewed since the year O'Neill won the AL Batting Title in 1994 with a .359 batting average that season was shortened due to the players strike and the 1995 was shortened as well. He seemed to rev it up a few notches in 1996.

From 1996-2000 his numbers and production for the Yankees are amazing. Consider this, that during those years, O'Neill averaged a .302 batting average with 173 hits (36 2B/1 3B/20 HR), 107 RBI, 10 SB, 70 BB and 90 Ks. His average OPS was .850 (.374 OBP/.476 SLG). His intensity on the field (and against Gatorade buckets in the dugout) labeled him a cry-baby on the field by many including former manager Lou Piniella but who can forget O’Neill’s break neck hustling on a two-out double in the top of the 9th of Game Five of the 1997 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. Ask A-Rod on how hard it can be to get the respect and adoration of the New York Yankees fans. Paul O'Neill had it and still does. The memory of the chanting of Paul O’Neill’s name after his last at-bat in the major leagues during the 2001 World Series and his emotional curtain call still gives me goosebumps.

It’s a shame that O’Neill only got 2.2% of the Hall of Fame vote in 2007 losing his eligibility for the Hall. I’m not saying that he was a Hall of Famer, but it would have been nice to see him get a few more years of eligibility. I guess I’ll take with the memory of watching Paul O’Neill on top of the celebration pile after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series. Thanks for the memories Paul. (PHOTO CREDIT Linda Cataffo/New York Daily News)

As per the Paul O’Neill website, here is a list of his career highlights:

- Six World Series appearances, five World Series rings.

- Winning twenty-three of the thirty World Series games he has appeared in. Paul is the only player to ever play in a World Series sweep in both the National and American leagues.

- Five All-Star games.

- 1994 American League Batting Title - .359 average.

- Shares record for for most games in a season with four or more extra base hits (2): May 11 and September 13, 1991.

- Paul played 235 consecutive games in right field without making an error, part of 1995, all of 1996 and part of 1997.

- Led American League in hitting with men on base 1997 - .429.

- Relentlessly gunning guys out over the years with an arm designed like a Howitzer for the battlefield.

- 15 of 17 steal attempts in 1998. Who says 6'4" guys can't steal?

- The only player in Major League Baseball history to play on the winning side of three perfect games (Browning, Wells and Cone).

- August 25, 2001 - Paul becomes the oldest major leaguer to steal twenty bases and hit twenty homeruns in the same season.

- As a full time, non-designated hitter, Paul was on the winning side of 16 of 19 post-season series.

- Paul is the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle from 1952-62 to hit at least 18 homeruns in nine consecutive seasons.

- Paul batted .474 in the 2000 Subway Series, tying a five-game record with nine hits.

- Had 24 hits and 16 walks in 27 World Series games.

- Led Reds in HRs, RBI, doubles and walks in 1991.

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Paul O"Neill's career statistics from

- Click Here to access Jack Curry's article Piniella Takes Advantage of Another Chance to Taunt the Yanks' O'Neill dated August 30, 1996 from the New York Times website.

- Click Here to access Jack Curry's article Yankees Trade Roberto Kelly to Reds for O'Neill dated November 4, 1992 from the New York Times website.

- Click Here to access Paul O'Neill's official website

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barry Larkin HOF 2012

It was announced today that former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin has become the 297th elected Hall of Famer with his election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with 86.4-percent of the vote (495 votes out of 573 ballots) in his just third year of eligibility. According to the Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) and National Baseball Hall of Fame press release :

His vote total reflected a 24.3-percent gain from the 2011 ballot, the largest jump in one year to gain election since 1948 when pitcher Herb Pennock received 77.7 percent of the vote after having tallied 53.4 percent in 1947. Larkin’s jump is the largest for any Hall of Fame election in which at least 400 ballots were cast. The previous highest was the 16.4-percent jump by first baseman Tony Perez from 1999 (60.8) to 2000 (77.2)

Larkin was a lifelong Cincinnati Red playing a total of 19 seasons where he batted .295 with 2,340 hits (441 2B/76 3B/198 HR). Larkin drove in 960 runs, scored 1,329, stole 379 bases and had more walks to strikeouts (939-817). Larkin was a 12-time All Star, a 3-time Gold Glove winner the National League Most Valuable Player in 1995. He was a pivotal player in the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 Championship team by hitting .302 in a career high 158 games hit .353 in the Reds’ World Series sweep of the Oakland Athletics.

I have to admit that my memories of watching Barry Larkin play are limited to seeing him on the occasional New York Mets broadcast, the times that the Reds played on the Game of the Week, in the All-Star game and in the 1990 World Series. By the time I got to see him play regularly on ESPN and other outlets, Larkin was reaching the twilight of his career. I got most of my information on him (and other players) on such shows like This Week in Baseball and George Michael Sports Machine and print media as the Sporting News and Street, Smith’s Baseball Magazine and old fashioned stats on the back of a baseball card and sticker book. It was a definitely a different era for Baseball fans than what see today. But even then without the constant media barrage of information I could tell that Larkin was an amazing player at the shortstop position. In tandem with Cal Ripken Jr., Larkin was the bridge that connected the era of good glove-no hit shortstops to today’s era of power hitting and high average shortstops. Had it not been for Ozzie Smith who dominated the shortstop position in the National League with his 13 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1980-1992, I believe that Larkin would have gone in first ballot into the Hall of Fame.

Congratulations Mr. Barry Louis Larkin, HOF 12.

For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Barry Larkin's career statistics from