For reasons lost to time, my favorite player as a kid was Duffy Dyer. My thoughts turned to Dyer again earlier this week when Jim posted his musical ode to Jerry Grote. My opinion has always been that Grote was overrated, and not just a little. You hear repeatedly that he was the second-best catcher in the NL at the time, behind only Johnny Bench. That never passed the smell test for me. At the very least, Manny Sanguillen and Ted Simmons had a better claim to that feat.
You never know what guys are like in real life. But, no doubt due to my Dyer fandom, my impressions of Grote were always that he was a “get off my lawn” guy, even as a young man. Probably those opinions were shaped by his 1966 Topps card as much as quotes attributed to him where he comes across as a grumpy hard ass.
Regardless, it’s time we look at the stats available to see how Grote and Dyer rate. Offensively, Grote was not very good but Dyer was worse. But it was defensively where Grote was supposed to be a star. So, let’s look at the numbers put up by the Mets’ pitchers when each of these catchers were behind the dish. Dyer caught one game in 1968 so let’s focus on the 1969-1974 seasons and see how they did in those six years.
Here are those numbers expressed in career (69-74) ERA and triple slash lines:
DD – 3.18, .240/.310/.353
JG – 3.11, .233/.302/.347
For a guy who made his reputation on defense, there’s not really a whole lot separating Grote and Dyer here. If you think – so what – the same pitchers performed remarkably similar, let’s take a look at the 2019 Mets. Mets pitchers had a 3.79 ERA and a .688 OPS when Tomas Nido was catching, compared to a 4.34 ERA and a .746 OPS when Wilson Ramos was the backstop. Well, you might say, that’s an extreme case. Everyone knows Ramos isn’t much of a defensive guy. Okay, let’s look at the 2017 Mets, which primarily featured Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera. The numbers with d’Arnaud were 4.80 and .780, respectively. They were 5.21 and .822, respectively, for Rivera. These differences were much larger than what we saw with Grote and Dyer.
Grote caught just shy of twice as many innings as Dyer in this span. The exact advantage is 1.95557 but that doesn’t mean that they caught the same pitchers a proportional amount of time. The biggest star was Tom Seaver and Grote was behind the plate for 1,039 innings for Seaver while Dyer logged 434.1 innings. Grote caught Seaver 2.4 times as much as Dyer. Jerry Koosman was right in line with their overall numbers, with Grote catching him 1.998 times as often. Jon Matlack is an interesting case. When he first came up in ’71, Dyer caught him 3X as much. Then in ’72, the only year where Dyer caught more than Grote, he still held an edge. But the next two years, Grote leaped ahead, with a final total of 375 innings for Grote compared to 283.1 for Dyer. Grote caught 342.1 innings for Jim McAndrew, while Dyer had 252.2 innings – meaning Grote caught him 1.35 times as often. With Gary Gentry, Grote held a 546.1 to 175.1 (3.1X as often) innings edge while with Ray Sadecki it was Grote 303.1 and Dyer 253.1 (1.2X as often.)
What would the overall numbers look like if Dyer caught Seaver and Gentry proportionally more often than Grote, rather than holding that edge with McAndrew and Sadecki?
Well, what about other areas of catcher defense? Dyer had 14 PB, 95 WP and threw out 39.8 percent (99-249) of opposing baserunners. For Grote, it was 28 PB, 149 WP and 40.1 percent (149-371) of opposing baserunners. The main difference is wild pitches and those are much more dependent on the pitcher than the catcher.
Just to state the obvious, Grote was better than Dyer. But that’s because Grote had an 80 OPS+ in the 1969-1974 period, compared to a 70 OPS+ mark for Dyer in the same span. But no one is ranking Grote up with Bench because of his offense, as Bench had a 135 OPS+ in the same period. If you’re going to say that Grote was a great defensive catcher, you should put Dyer in that exact same category because the overall difference between them was negligible.
Dyer played seven more seasons after he left the Mets, despite being a lousy hitter. Obviously, he was valued in the game for his defense, yet that value was never properly measured by fans of the time. Or now. You still hear today about Grote and his “impact” on the pitching staff but never hear the same thing about Dyer.
It didn’t make sense to a kid at the time and it doesn’t look any better 45 years later.