Per opportunity, Piazza ranks in the fifth percentile as a thrower among regular catchers. But he also places in the 74th percentile as a pitch-framer, and the 89th percentile as a pitch-blocker. His arm was just as bad as the naysayers believed, but that weakness wasn’t crippling, and he more than made up for it by blocking balls in the dirt and eking out extra strikes. All of that context is lost to Wins Above Replacement models that aren’t built to account for Piazza’s receiving, and future frameworks that quantify game-calling might put an even more positive spin on his prowess behind the plate.
These rankings are from a new Baseball Prospectus release on catcher defense rankings, which should be available to the public on Jan. 12. As we get a better understanding about catcher defense, Piazza keeps moving up. It will be interesting to see once this new list is out how Piazza will rank compared to Ivan Rodriguez. When both were active, Rodriguez was considered miles better defensively because of his arm. But the gap, assuming there still is one, has narrowed considerably.
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