After twelve All-Star Game appearances, ten Silver Slugger awards, a Rookie of the Year award (1993) and an All-Star Game MVP (1996) Mike Piazza has certainly earned his spot in Cooperstown. His former teammate, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, once called Piazza a, “first-ballot Hall of Famer, certainly the best hitting catcher of our era and arguably the best hitting catcher of all time”.
There is a reason Piazza is known as the greatest offensive catcher. His 1997 season is all the proof you need to see how good Piazza was at the plate. That year, he had a .362 batting average, a 1.070 OPS, forty home runs, 124 RBIs, an 8.7 WAR, an All-Star appearance, and Silver Slugger award. He finished second in the MVP voting that year behind Larry Walker, but certainly made a strong case for the award. He finished his sixteen-year career hitting an amazing .308/.377/.545, with 427 home runs, 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBIs, a .922 OPS and a 59.4 WAR.
While Piazza is considered to be the greatest offensive catcher, he is also just as well known for his perceived defensive shortcomings. The most notable of those were Piazza’s inability to throw out baserunners attempting to steal and or to effectively frame pitches. But in recent years, and with new defensive metrics and analytics, Piazza’s career is being reevaluated, and one of the biggest revelations is that Piazza was actually a very competent catcher. In his essay on Piazza’s career, John Dewan writes, “The most important part of a catcher’s job is handling his pitchers and in this area Piazza was superb. Here is one of the most telling statistics. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when Piazza was catching. If you look at all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. That’s a major difference, much more important than a few extra bases stolen. (In fact, Piazza’s catcher ERA of 3.81 includes the run value of any extra stolen bases he allowed.)”
Piazza has missed induction into the Hall of Fame twice since his eligibility started, and this is most likely due to the nasty lingering steroid accusations that are now plaguing his career. While Piazza has never failed a drug test and was not named in the Mitchell Report, the allegations of his steroid use have been enough to keep him from Cooperstown enshrinement. BBWAA member, Bill Madden, has admitted that the suspicions of steroids have kept him from voting Piazza into the Hall of Fame. “A number of players, told me he used steroids.” Madden wrote in 2015 article for the New York Daily News. “So with all of that, I decided to withhold my vote on Piazza, the reason being I did not want to vote somebody into the Hall of Fame who I would then find out two or three years later had, in fact, been a steroids cheat.”
Based on his career accomplishments alone, it’s clear that Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame. And if it wasn’t for the steroid allegations, I have no doubt that he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. But because of the lingering suspicions about him, I have a hard time believing he’ll be inducted this year. Piazza seems to be in a strange ‘guilty until proven innocent’ situation, which is unfortunate considering his amazing career.