When talking about the best Cardinal catchers over the last 50 years the list is fairly long. Although some younger fans may struggle to come up with 5 names. That is understandable, when you consider Yadier Molina has been behind the plate for the last 16 years on a regular basis. Historically people can come up with Simmons since his recent induction into the baseball HoF. Some will remember Mike Matheny was a Cardinal Catcher before he was manager. But how many remember after Simmons and before Matheny? Ok, ok maybe I am building it too much but you get the point. Older fans like myself can remember most of them but how good were they? Who was better than who? How do we compare them?
St Louis has had a number of catchers over the last 50 years. Some were were good with a bat others were better on defense. Some came through our minor league system others via trade or Free Agency. Some were late season call ups or just backups that hung around. So I had to come up with some type or narrowing factor. There were a number of players who had just brief "cups of coffee", in all 77 guys played behind the plate for St. Louis since 1970. In an effort to narrow the field somewhat I was looking for catchers with multiple years with at least a year or years with at least 100 games as a starter. Then I looked at what criteria to use. offensive stats of course BA/OBP/ Slg%. Some know my dislike for OPS. So I took BA/OBP/Slg% added them then divided by three and came up with a Composite Production Percentage. (don't be a hater). I used average HRs, RBIs. oWAR, WAR and RAR(Runs against Replacements) Defensively I factored in Fielding PCT, avg dWAR and CS% I also factored in awards like Silver Slugger, Gold Gloves, Platinum gloves, All-Star appearances.
I was left With 13 candidates
Ted Simmons 1968 - 1980 (13 years)
Darrell Porter 1981 - 1985 (5 Years)
Tom Nieto 1984 - 1985 (2 Years)
Mike Levalliere 1985 & 1986 (2 years)
Tony Pena 1987 - 1989 (3 years)
Todd Ziele 1989- 1990 (2 years)
Tom Pagnozzi 1990 - 1996 (12 years)
Mike Difelice 1996, 1997, 2002 (3 years)
Tom Lampkin 1997 & 1998 (2 years)
Eli Marrero 1997 - 2003 (7 years)
Mike Matheny 2000 - 2004 (5 years)
Yadier Molina 2004 - Present (17 Years)
Tony Cruz 2011 - 2015 (5 years)
Before I get to my top 5 there are a couple of guys that just missed the list first is;
Steve Lake, 1986 - 1988, 74 games as a Cardinal Starter with a .254/.297/.362, .304 CPS, he had a .4 and a 4.6 RAR. Defensively a .4 dWAR, Better than 4 names on my list of 13. With 45 CS%. which is actually better than ANY catcher on my list of 13. A .990 Fld% better than almost half my list of 13. He was a very good back up catcher for Tony Pena.
The next on my list is also an unknown to many fans.
Danny Sheaffer, 1995 - 1997, 91 games as a Cardinal starter. Not a very big offensive threat .234/.291/.333 but he did manage an avg of 20 RBIs per year. He was adequate behind the plate with a .991 Fld%, .1 dWAR, although his CS% was a pedestrian 24%. He was the main back up to Tom Pagnozzi.
Ok, so I bet you will probably guess who the top two are but do which one grads out first? I will tell you it was very close. Ok, let's start.
#5 Mike Matheny, 2000 - 2004, Signed as a Free Agent Dec 15, 1999. 561 games 4th on my list, his .245 BA puts him 6th his 221 RBIs makes him 5th. Where Matheny placed high was on defense. He placed first on my list in fld% .995, avg/dWAR 1.18 and tied for first in CS Rate at 40%. He led the National league in runners thrown out in 2000 with 49 good for 53% CS Rate. Then there are the 3 Gold Gloves he won as the Cardinal backstop. Considered a good in handling pitchers. but it was his light hitting the pushed him down the list
#4 Darrell Porter, 1981 - 1985, Signed as a Free Agent December 7, 1980. 463 games makes him 5th. Offensively his BA (.237) was low, but he did average 10 HRs and 50 RBIs per season twice topping 65 RBIs Of the catchers on my list he was second in oWAR 2 and WAR 2.2. he had a low fld% .985 he had 3rd best dWAR 0.9 and had a CS Rate of 35% part of the 1982 World championship team. A good handler of pitchers and Over came heavy personal struggles with St Louis.
#3 Tom Pagnozzi, 1987 - 1998, Drafted in the 8th round in the 1983 June draft a Solid offensive slash .253/.299/.359 CPP .303, he was light in the power/RBI dept. With a dWAR of .84 and a 37% CS Rate his defense was above average and earned him 3 Gold Gloves and in 1982 he managed to make the ALL-Star game. Now most of his career he was a back-up/platoon catcher. However he was the Main starting catcher from 1991 - 1993 then again in 1996. His solid presence for more that a decade behind the plate make him 3rd on my list.
#2 Ted Simmons, 1968 - 1980, Drafted 10th in the 1st round in the 1967 draft. After 2 years of spot play Simmons took the reigns in 1970 and never disappointed. his slash .298/.366/.459 for a CPP of .374. easily tops my list as does his avg for HRs, RBIs, oWAR, WAR, RAR. He had 5 years of 20 or more HRs topped 90 RBIs 6 times as a Cardinal 8 years of 32 doubles or more Where Simmons fell short was in defense with a .987 fld% and a dWAR of 0.6 but he did have a respectable 35% CS Rate. Simmons was a 67 time All Star a silver slugger winner and was this year inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
#1 Yadier Molina, 2004 - 2020? Drafted in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. Yadi took over for Mike Matheny and held the title as starter for 16 years. Second in slash only to Ted Simmons with a .281/.333/.404. .339 CPP. He has topped .300 in BA 4 times. Averaging 54 RBIs per year topping 60 RBIs 6 times. his defense is always where he has shown the brightest. with a .995 fld% and a CS Rate of 40% he has become the gold standard for backstops 11 times he has thrown out over 40% of runners. 4 times he has led the league in that category then you add in 8 Gold Gloves, 4 Platinum Gloves, a Silver Slugger award,and a 9 time All Star. Even noticed for his work outside of baseball winning a Roberto Clemente award. It is easy to see with [possibly two tears left hew will set standards that will be hard for the next catcher to live up to.
That's my take so let me know what you think. You can hit me here or on twitter @Bortas2002