Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher

The legendary sabermetrician Craig Wright publishes a semi-regular baseball column called The Diamond Appraised (subscription required). In his most recent issue, he recounts the career of the great Mike Piazza and includes stories of his time with the Dodgers when Piazza was establishing himself in the minors. It’s a fantastic read and easily worth the subscription price. Here are a few of the highlights…

Wright discusses how scouts were skeptical about Piazza’s swing, and shares his own thoughts:

I remember my own first time seeing Piazza hit and having two distinct thoughts. One, that he must be incredibly strong in his wrists and forearms to make that swing work, and, two, this guy isn’t going to get hit by too many pitches. (He ended up never being hit more than 3 times in a season, and his overall hit-by-pitch rate during his career was less than half the normal rate.)

I don’t want to give away the entire story, but Wright began to champion Piazza after the catcher’s 1991 season in the California League.

I personally started to get excited about Piazza’s big league prospects during his 1991 season in the California League. He made gigantic strides in his command of the strike zone and led the league in slugging percentage. When I park adjusted his numbers, he really stood out as being in a class by himself as the best power-hitter in the 10-team league – and he was doing this while playing the most physically demanding position on the field (5th in the league in games caught). When I expressed my excitement about Piazza that off-season to general manager Fred Claire, I was very surprised to hear that the assessments of Piazza by our scouts and player development people were very mixed, and the consensus was, at best, lukewarm about his prospect status. Some felt he would never be more than a “minor league hitter,” and some also thought he would never make it as a catcher and would have to move back to first base.

Claire eventually saw the light and essentially handed the 1993 starting job to Piazza by releasing Mike Scioscia. The rest is history.

Craig’s column includes his thoughts about Piazza’s defense and the issue of scouting and drafting young catchers. As I said, it’s a fantastic read.

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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