Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Catcher Project: Mike Piazza

Born: 9-4-1968
Career: 1992-2007
Hall of Fame: Not eligible
Career highlights: Widely regarded as the greatest hitting catcher ever. NL rookie of the year 1992. No MVP awards, but runner up twice and in the top 10 of balloting seven times. Nine seasons of 30-plus home runs. Twelve All-Star teams. Regular catcher on one World Series team.
Career slash line: .308/.377./545

Games caught after age 30 season: 690. Age during last season as regular catcher: 37. Win shares after age 30 season: 119. Win shares after age 33 season: 51

Evaluating Mike Piazza's career isn't easy. There's a lot of smoke about him and steroids and very little clarity. There are those who suspect his entire career was a chemical construct.

Whether he juiced or not, however, his aging pattern — which is, remember, our concern in all this — followed a traditional path.

His offensive numbers fell off in two steps — slightly as he entered his 30s, and more sharply in 2004, which happens to be both the season when the players union agreed to steroid testing and his age 34 season.

At that point — whether because he was old or because he wasn't juicing — he was breaking down physically. He fell off to being roughly a league-average hitter — and his defensive skills weren't strong enough to support that. The Mets tried making him a first baseman, but that didn't take, and he reverted to catching in 2005 before completing his career as a DH.

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