The Case For Cooperstown ’14: Mike Piazza

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it is one of the most loaded ballots the game has ever seen.

Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi break down the big names on the ballot this year, and give their opinions on who should be in, who should be out and why. 

Previous Analysis: Jeff Bagwell / Edgar Martinez / Greg Maddux / Craig Biggio / Barry Bonds / Roger Clemens / Curt Schilling / Frank Thomas / Jeff Kent / Mike Mussina / Tom Glavine / Larry Walker / Jack Morris

121213115742-mike-piazza-1-single-image-cutMike Piazza

Year(s) on ballot – 1 – received 57.2% of vote last year

The Numbers: 16 seasons (with Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s), 1,912 games, .308/.377/.545, 427HR 1,335RBI, 2,127 hits, 1,048 runs, 344 doubles, 143 OPS+, 140 wRC+, 59.2 bWAR, 63.6 fWAR – 12-time All-Star, 10-time Silver Slugger, 1993 National League Rookie of the Year, seven times finished in top 10 of MVP voting without winning (twice runner-up), 1996 All-Star Game MVP

GK: I’ll admit it right off the bat, I’m biased. However, bias or no bias, Mike Piazza being a slam-dunk Hall of Famer isn’t much of a debate.

Regardless of how you view his defensive credentials, there is little doubt that Piazza was the best offensive catcher the game of baseball has ever seen. Seven times in his career, he posted seasons of an OPS+ of 150 or better, twice leading the National League. He’s hit more home runs as a catcher than any player in the history of the game, and was the best player on some extremely talented Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets teams.

JAWS has Piazza ranked as the 5th-best catcher the game has ever seen, behind only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk. His 51.1 JAWS rating is better than the 43.1 Hall of Fame average, and higher than the likes of Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella and, well, every other catcher that has played the game.

The remarkable thing about Piazza is that despite battling injury after injury later in his career due to the wear and tear your body takes as an everyday catcher, he never posted an OPS below .770 in any season he played at least 100 games. Not once. His worst season, arguably, was his last in New York in 2005, when he posted a .251/.326/.452 line with 19 home runs in 113 games as a 36-year old. That slash line and OPS would’ve been the 6th-highest in 2013, better than Salvador Perez, A.J. Pierzynski and Matt Wieters, among others.

To me, there’s just no debate to have with Piazza. He was an all-time great, which is the whole purpose the Hall of Fame exists, to honor players like him. The reason he won’t go in this year (in all likelihood) is because he’s tied to the Steroids Era and has admitted to once taking Andro when it wasn’t an illegal substance.

If you want to tie him into the Steroids Era nonsense, that’s perfectly fine. It is the era he played in. However, to leave the greatest offensive force behind the plate the game of baseball has ever seen is irresponsible to the history of the game.

Verdict: In

VG: I’ll admit right off the bat, I’m not biased.

And, like Greg, I believe that Mike Piazza should easily be in Cooperstown.

The common argument that I see being made is that Piazza wasn’t good enough for long enough. With several of the other candidates we’ve discussed how they’ve been really good for 12 or 14 year stretches while Piazza’s stretch is more like nine years. But guess what? That’s the life of a catcher. Catchers’ careers aren’t as long as players at other positions.

Even still though, Piazza’s stretch was quite incredible.  From 1993-2000, Piazza boosted a wRC+ of 150 or higher six times, including his peak in ’97 when he put up a 183 (for comparison, only Miguel Cabrera’s was higher in 2013) and a triple slash of .362/.431/638. He finished with a career wRC+ of 140, which is around the same number we’ve seen from other members on this ballot. The difference is that Piazza was putting up these numbers while playing a position where offensive value is very slim. He also had four seasons with at least a WAR of 6.0 or higher, including a peak of 9.1 (again in ’97). And if it wasn’t for the strike in 1994, Piazza likely would have finished with a WAR of 4.5 or higher every year from 1993-2001 (3.8 through 107 games in ’94).

To me, that more than meets the standards.

Verdict: In