Lindbergh: Mike Piazza was more than a big bat

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight on January 4, 2016:

It took four tries, but Mike Piazza looks like a likely candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame when voting results are announced on Wednesday. According to Ryan Thibodaux’s BBWAA ballot tracker, Piazza has been named on 86.5 percent of public ballots this voting season, with an estimated 34.7 percent of precincts writers reporting. Last year Piazza was named on 75.1 percent of public ballots but only 62.1 percent of private ballots, so we should expect his combined total to come in well under that 86.5 percent figure. But even if that split persists, Piazza — perhaps aided by this year’s more selective voter pool — should clear the 75 percent threshold and join Ken Griffey Jr. in the Cooperstown class of 2016.

Piazza’s bat makes his best case for enshrinement. The slugger, who played primarily for the Mets and Dodgers during his 16-year major league career, retired after the 2007 season with a career .308/.377/.545 slash line and 427 home runs, including a record 396 hit as a catcher. Even after adjusting for MLB’s high-offense environment during his years behind the plate (1992–2006), Piazza is the best hitter ever to play the position. Among catchers with at least 2,000 career plate appearances, only Buster Posey has hit better than Piazza on a per-plate-appearance basis, and the 28-year-old Posey hasn’t yet had his decline phase. Piazza’s career offensive value dwarfs any other catcher’s: His batting-runs total tops the second-ranked catcher’s by 35 percent, and the gap between him and the next-best backstop is greater than the gap between No. 2 and No. 15.

But Piazza was more than just his majestic home runs, and any accounting that dismisses his defense underrates his overall value.

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Originally published: January 5, 2016. Last Updated: January 5, 2016.