Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Baseball Trivia: Big Wheel In The Sky

I was recently reminded of Javy López. Despite him playing for the Atlanta Braves, a team I just never really liked (but didn’t hate either), I remember thinking he was an elite offensive catcher. So, digging around on his Baseball Reference player page, I was mildly surprised the numbers validated my perception and memory.

In his age-23-to-34 seasons (1994-2005), which covers 92.6% of his career major league games played, López put up some nice averages. Per 162 games played in that span, the Braves backstop slashed .289/.339/.497 and averaged 30 bombs and 96 runners driven in. That’s 29.7 total Baseball Reference war (bWAR), an average season clocking in at 2.5 bWAR. 

Now, he’s clearly a second-tier elite catcher when you bring up Mike Piazza, Iván Rodríguez, and Jorge Posada. But that gap isn’t an impassable chasm. Going off of 162-game extrapolations on traditional power numbers, he’s slightly better than Pudge, comparable to Posada, and irrefutably, everyone is behind Piazza.

Let’s look a bit more at players who played at least 85% of their games at catcher from ’94-’05. Javy has the second-most homers (251) to Piazza (361), he has the third most RBIs, fourth highest OPS, and fifth most bWAR, rounding out a generationally good class of catchers with the bat. Just for kicks, the top five catchers totaled 199.6 bWAR over that period, which is 1.23 Barry Bonds. I’d say that’s pretty good.

It got me to wondering if the previous 12-year period saw such offensive production from catchers. It’s a drastic difference – yes, I know it was a different style of baseball that didn’t emphasize offense from catcher and shortstop as much as we’ve become accustomed to. With a minimum of 1000 games played and at least 85% of those at catcher from 1983-’94, only five boast an OPS+ over 100; Gary Carter leads that bunch with a 109 OPS+. I skipped on over to my StatHead subscription to start snoopin’ around for a catcher comparable to López from ’83-’94. Keeping the initial search simple to keep it broad, I sought parameters of 250 or more homers and 800-plus RBIs. Nobody. Zip, zilch, zeeerooo. So I made incremental cuts to those minimums until I finally got a result with 200 or more homers and 700 or more RBIs.

One catcher from that timeframe, that’s it.

With a 104 OPS+ from ’83-’94, this backstop clubbed 218 home runs, drove in 720 runs, slashed .247/.311/.432, and posted 23.9 bWAR (basically averaging 2.0 wins a season). He outpaces Carter in Runs Produced ((R+RBI)-HR) by nearly a hundred (1038 to 943). In that span, our mystery man made six of his eight All-Star Game appearances, collected four of his six career Silver Slugger Awards, all three Gold Gloves above his fireplace, and was sized for his World Series ring. His lone homer in a World Series game came off of Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. He was the first batter Gossage faced in the game and he quickly lined an 0-1 pitch to the fans in the left field bleachers. Additionally, he can be happy to say he was part of Gossage’s worst postseason appearance, as it was the only time he gave up multiple home runs and did it in only 1.2 IP.

The man known as “Big Wheel” stayed in the majors for 19 seasons, playing for seven teams, and preferred to wear the number 13 most of the time. Give it a spin!

Video Credit: Journey YouTube Channel.

This song was released on Opening Day of Big Wheel’s first full season (he went 0-4 with three strikeouts).

After you get tired of listening to hits from Uncle Gabe’s record collection, hop on over here for the ANSWER REVEAL.

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