In earlier posts, I compared Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell to all-time top second basemen and shortstops respectively using the FanGraphs WAR Grids. Today, I'm going to look at the careers of some great Tigers catchers and see how they rank on the all-time list. For an explanation of WAR and WAR grids, refer to the Whitaker post.
The top 25 catchers by WAR are shown on the chart below (Click on it to make it bigger). If you peruse the list carefully, you will find four former Tigers in the top 15: Ivan Rodriguez at number three, Mickey Cochrane (11th), Bill Freehan (13th) and Lance Parrish (15th).
Table: All-Time Top 25 Catchers by WAR
(CLICK ON CHART TO MAKE IT BIGGER)
With 73 WAR in his twenty year career, Pudge Rodriguez trails only Reds great Johnny Bench (82) and Red Sox and White Sox stalwart Carlton Fisk (74). Pudge may pass Fisk before he is done. Pudge was good for a long time posting 15 consecutive years of 15 WAR or better. He had his best years with the Rangers contributing six WAR or better each year between 1996-1999. Rodriguez had five WAR in his first year with the Tigers in 2004 and 13 in his four tears in Detroit. Rodriguez would be a slam dunk Hall of Famer based on his performance, but his rumored steroid use may hold him back.
Mickey Cochrane played only four years in Detroit. but is typically identified as a Tiger because he led them to pennants as player/manager in 1934 and 1935. Black Mike had his best WAR years in 1929-1933 playing for the Philadelphia Athletics. However, he was considered indispensable to the Tigers in 1934 and 1935 and went into the Hall of Fame as a Tiger in 1947.
Some Tigers fans have suggested that the underrated Bill Freehan desrves to be in the Hall of Fame. Like most catchers, he didn't have a lot of great seasons (just eight years of three WAR or better) but he had some outstanding peak years for the Tigers. He had seven WAR in 1967 when the Tigers barely fell short of a pennant and eight WAR for the 1968 world champions. He finished in the top three in the MVP voting both years. He added six WAR in 1964 and 1971.
I don't know if Freehan is a Hall of Famer but has enough peak value to make a case at a position which is underrepresented in Cooperstown. Given that writers tend to remember big years for players who played on pennant winners, it's a little surprising that he received just two votes in his only year on the ballot in 1982.
Big Lance Parrish accumulated 48 WAR playing mostly for the Tigers. He had his best year in 1982 when he had six WAR. He was an outstanding catcher and an important piece of some strong Tigers teams in the 1980s, but doesn't have enough career value or peak value to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate.