All-Time All-Mariner Roster: Catcher

DMZ · June 12, 2008 at 9:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Dave and I have decided to write about something fun this year, and since the 2008 Mariners won’t give us anything good to write about, we’re finding it ourselves. So, today, we launch out on a 25 part series where we build the All-Time roster for the organization, going from the starting catcher all the way down to the long man in the bullpen, picking the best single season at each position. In most spots, there are arguments for more than one season, so we’ll talk through our thoughts before coming to a conclusion.

Today we discuss the catcher: Kenji Johjima 2006 or Dan Wilson 1996?

When we talk about the best seasons in franchise history, I think there’s an immediate expectation that the performances we’re going to be talking about are obvious, huge offensive years. However, we have to remember that value is relative, and that the scale for a quality season for a catcher is vastly different than at other positions. So, while Kenji’s 2006 batting line of .291/.332/.451 might not jump off the page, it’s actually a very valuable performance, especially considering the context. There isn’t a park on earth worse suited to Johjima’s offensive skillset than Safeco Field, and he still managed to perform well while transitioning to Major League Baseball.

In fact, his OPS+ for 2006 was 103, meaning that he was a better than league average hitter. Not better than average hitting catcher – better than average hitter period. This isn’t a regular accomplishment for a full-time catcher. This decade, there have only been 42 seasons where a catcher has accumulated 500 or more plate appearances and had an OPS+ of 100 or higher. That’s an average of six catcher seasons per year. 2006 Kenji Johjima is part of that class.

He isn’t the greatest guy at blocking the ball in the dirt, and when compared with Dan Wilson, he’s going to come up short defensively, but there’s no doubt that Johjima’s 2006 season was the best offensive performance the Mariners have ever gotten from behind the plate. With our ability to evaluate catcher defense still a work in progress, I think we have to acknowledge that Johjima’s performance as a rookie was the best we’ve seen from a backstop since the franchise began in 1977.

Kenji’s 2006 is right up there, but Wilson’s 1996 is better. We may not know how to evaluate catcher defense nearly as well as other positions, but we know enough to establish that Wilson is superior, enough that it overcomes any differences in offense.

Having seen Dan Wilson’s long decline into awfulness, we forget just how good he was at his peak, and 1996 was absolutely primo Wilson: he was 27, had a great offensive year, and he played outstanding defense.

Johjima hit .291/.332/.451 in 2006, for an OPS+ of 103.
Wilson hit .285/.330/.444 in 1996, for an OPS+ of 94.

That’s a significant difference, but it’s not all that huge. And it’s the Kingdome, yes, but the Kingdome was never the offense-crazy haven it’s been made out to be. Looking at b-r, I see that in 1996, it rated out as 96, favoring pitchers, and the multi-year factor ran about even. That’s not a great park factor number.

Now compare defensive lines. First, the obvious: runners caught. Wilson allowed 61 stolen bases and caught 39, which works out neatly to a 39% thrown out rate (see how considerate Wilson was? He made sure the percentages were super-easy to calculate).

Johjima allowed 57 stolen bases and caught 29 runners, a 34% thrown out rate.

Wilson allows 4 more and nails 10 more in fewer innings. Using my handy run values from The Book, that’s about four runs worth of difference.
The difference isn’t in the staff, either — in 1996 the M’s got 66 starts out of left-handed starters, who generally dampen the running game, while the 2006 Mariners got 67 (as I count it – it’s Hitchcock + Mulholland + Moyer + 8 by Johnson against Washburn + Moyer + 8 Woods starts + 2 Feierabend + 1 Jimenez).

And that’s just with the running game. What about their ability as a backstop?

Wilson: caught 1130 innings, allowed 5 passed balls, 29 wild pitches, and made four errors.
Johjima: caught 1172 2/3 innings, allowed 10 passed balls and 39 wild pitches, and made seven errors.

I’m going to ignore the errors for a second. The run value of a passed ball or a wild pitch is about ~.285 runs (btw, not to plug Tango too often, but this chart is awesome). If we can credit those passed balls and wild pitches to Wilson, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t, that’s another four runs in his favor.

Already, not counting any mobility, foul-catching, pouncing-on-punt kind of more traditional defensive measures, you get +8 runs to Wilson. Was a 27-year old Wilson a better fielder than a 30-year old Kenji? It’s hard to make defensive comparisons, but yes.

Unfortunately, here the evidence fails me: I don’t want to get into separating out how many foul balls they caught, and when I look at the assists, plays where the catchers fielded the ball and then threw somewhere else to get the out He had 57 of them in 1996, while Kenji had 59 in 20 more innings caught. I wish I could get UZRs or PMRs or something useful for 1996 v 2006, but we don’t. I’ll throw my hands up here and call it even, but I suspect that if I really tried to suss an answer from the stats we can know, we’d find Wilson the more mobile and effective fielding catcher as well.

The eight runs saved we can easily grant Wilson make up for the offensive gap between them and more, and make his 1996 the better season.

You know, when I was writing the pro-Johjima part, I had a feeling that I was arguing a losing position. Reading that, I know that feeling was right. 2006 Kenji was good, but 1996 Wilson was better.


122 Responses to “All-Time All-Mariner Roster: Catcher”

  1. msb on June 13th, 2008 10:36 am

    ah, if only Ibanez had caught ….

  2. et_blankenship on June 13th, 2008 10:41 am

    How do we decide on the winner?

    1996 Dan Wilson has been chosen. The Claw is our master. It decides who will go and who will stay.

  3. DMZ on June 13th, 2008 10:44 am

    Right now we have no plans for voting, surveys, or anything else. It’s just me and Dave, talking about the M’s.

  4. et_blankenship on June 13th, 2008 10:51 am

    The Claw has spoken.

  5. Jeff Nye on June 13th, 2008 10:53 am

    I’m not sure there’s always going to be a clear-cut winner on some of these, anyway. It’s okay if people disagree.

  6. bratman on June 13th, 2008 11:08 am

    Nye – Blasphemy. We must agree all the time. Mob mentality. [I know you were trying to make a joke but we don’t want any politics fights today! Sorry]

  7. Graham on June 13th, 2008 11:10 am

    And this looks like a bad direction for the conversation to wander down.

  8. NBarnes on June 13th, 2008 12:28 pm

    Will there be intra-player competition, between different years? I mean, A-Rod has, like, 149,355 of the 149,358 of the best Ms shortstop seasons ever.

  9. Xteve X on June 13th, 2008 12:59 pm

    [long link isn’t so much the problem, being off-topic is; I’m sure there’ll be a post upcoming about it]

  10. scott19 on June 13th, 2008 1:38 pm

    I mean, A-Rod has, like, 149,355 of the 149,358 of the best Ms shortstop seasons ever.

    And of course, the other three of those seasons would belong to either Omar or Mario Mendoza. 🙂

  11. Steve T on June 13th, 2008 1:40 pm

    Catching Randy once he learned control wasn’t that hard, no matter how hard he threw. Catchers can take the heat. The guys I feel sorry for had to catch Randy in his first several years here, when he threw 100 MPH but no one in the ballpark had any idea where. Dave Valle, mostly.

  12. scott19 on June 13th, 2008 2:01 pm

    Showing my age a bit, but I remember when I was a kid having felt sorry for Bruce Bochy when he playing for the Astros — between two 100-MPH fireballers (Ryan & JR Richard) and a knuckleballer (Joe Niekro) in that rotation…sheesh!

  13. bob montgomery on June 13th, 2008 2:06 pm

    so have we agreed that Wilson’s 96 season is the best season a Mariner catcher has ever had?

    Someone tell me how Dan Wilson 1996 was better than Dan Wilson 1997.

    See #10 for details, but basically: Hit better. Ran better. Threw out more basestealers. Threw out a higher percentage of baserunners. Played more. Fewer passed balls. (More wild pitches, so that’s an argument against.) What else am I missing?

    Sure, he was an All-Star in 1996, but they won more games and went to the playoffs in 1997.

  14. Mike Snow on June 13th, 2008 2:20 pm

    In what way are we saying Wilson hit better in 1997? His “triple-slash” stats were down across the board.

  15. mstaples on June 13th, 2008 2:53 pm


  16. JI on June 13th, 2008 3:39 pm

    In what way are we saying Wilson hit better in 1997? His “triple-slash” stats were down across the board.

    My guess would be that it was better when weighted against the quality of the league.

  17. Steve T on June 13th, 2008 3:43 pm

    It was; his OPS+ was 96 in ’97, 94 in ’96. That’s got park and league in it.

  18. DMZ on June 13th, 2008 3:52 pm

    Yeah, I think 96 and 97 are both equally good choices, and I can see the case for 97, as some metrics have him a little ahead on offense in that year, while others go for 1996. I’d be happy with either answer, though I went with 96.

  19. normstradamus on June 13th, 2008 4:47 pm


  20. mstaples on June 13th, 2008 4:49 pm

    [it’s still ot]

  21. Jeff Nye on June 13th, 2008 4:52 pm

    Apologies for the somewhat messy comment thread, those of you who are actually interested in discussing the topic; some people have difficulty understanding relatively simple concepts.

  22. chimera on June 14th, 2008 2:38 am

    Randy only started 8 games in 1996; that was the year he had the first back injury. So Wilson in 1996 shouldn’t get much credit for having to catch the Big Unit. Plus that’s the year we got Moyer.

    Fair enough, I was thinking of 1997 not 1996. I was sitting in the front row, next to first base the night he struck out 19 batters … and Mark McGwire bounced one of his fast balls off the back wall of the Kingdome, below or near the Jumbotron or whatever the screen was called. That was the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen. It was more like a line drive and it seemed as if it was still rising. I remember the big unit standing there and said something like “Wow”. But even with 19 strike outs, he still lost the game.

    In any case, I suppose my opinion is tainted, in watching Wilson stopping a lot of nasty pitches from Randy over the years.

    I still have to vote for Wilson though.

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