Today, we begin the process of voting for the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team players, beginning with the position of catcher. The "Florida," of course, is an emphasis in that title because the team's move to the new stadium comes with replacing the "F" and changing to the Miami Marlins. With John Buck, John Baker, and Brett Hayes being the very last "Florida" Marlins to catch pitches for the team, we will remember a proud member of the team that will wear the tools of ignorance for the "F" forever.
The problem? The Marlins do not have a lot of catchers to choose from. Aside from two big names in the team's history, there are few players who can even be considered as worthwhile choices. What follows is our best effort to put out the five candidates for you, the Fish Stripes readers, to vote for. The winner will be placed in a reader ballot and be tallied along with my ballot and the rest of the Fish Stripes' crew's ballot, and the catcher with the most points will be deemed the winner!
What follows is a list of catchers that will be available for voting, listed in alphabetical order. After the list, each catcher will be discussed in order of descending FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) while on the team. Each catcher's discussion will include a table with their career batting line, fWAR, and Baseball-Reference WAR (rWAR), along with their time spent on the team.
Without further ado, your nominees for All-Time Florida Marlins catcher!
|Paul Lo Duca|
Johnson's biggest advantage over the other Marlins catchers listed above is longevity; no catcher spent more season with the Florida Marlins. Johnson split 2208 plate appearances between two stints with the Fish, one in their inaugural years leading up to 1998 and one beginning in 2001 when he returned as a free agent.
But do not take Johnson's stint with the Marlins lightly. While he was never a great hitter while he was on the team, the former number one draft pick of the Marlins' inaugural draft was at one point perhaps the best defensive catcher alive. From 1994 to 1998, Johnson was second in fielding runs as calculated by TotalZone behind only one of the above listed catchers. Few catchers boasted a better knack for knocking off baserunners; from 1994 to 1998, he caught 45 percent of baserunners attempting to steal. He was a master with the glove, which made his decent bat much more acceptable. While Johnson could never bring down his strikeouts (career 22.5 percent rate with the Marlins), he drew his fair share of walks (10.5 percent) and hit 75 of his 167 career homers while wearing some sort of teal.
If all of that was not enough to convince you to vote for Johnson, then perhaps his World Series ring from 1997 can entice you.
Don't scoff at Mike Redmond. Even though he was primarily a backup from his debut in 1998 until his departure in 2004, he collected 1504 PA and ended up being the second-longest tenured Marlins catcher in team history. In that respect, Redmond also derives value from longevity. But again, he was no slouch at the plate. While he had no power, Redmond benefitted from an extremely low strikeout rate (10.6 percent career with the Marlins) and thus hit for a very solid .280 batting average with a .348 OBP. His defense was solid if unspectacular as well, making him the premier backup catcher.
One wonders whether Redmond did not receive enough of an opportunity to become the man behind the plate. As a Marlin, he never made more than 74 starts in a season. He did get the most PA among all Marlins catchers in 1999 (.302/.381/.351), 2000 (.252/.316/.300) and 2004 (.256/.315/.341), but he was always kept back from receiving a full-time load. That may have been justified, as he spent much of his early career batting against lefties and held .266/.321/.324 line against righties over his career.
"Pudge" Rodriguez was the best hitting catcher to have ever donned the Florida Marlins uniform. The problem was that he only donned that uniform once in his career, during the magical 2003 season. But that year was special for the Fish and it was a good year for Rodriguez, who was trying to build his value up with the Marlins after being spurned in free agency in the prior offseason. It was no surprise that he was a wanted commodity after being one of the big pieces of a Florida Marlins World Series victory in 2003.
Rodriguez had the obvious reputation of being the best defensive catcher in the game; in that 1994 to 1998 period, he recorded the most fielding runs by TotalZone. After leading the league in caught stealing from 1996 to 2001, he threw out only 37 percent of would-be basestealers in his final season with the Texas Rangers, and he followed that up with an equally sub-par 33 percent performance as a Marlin. In those two seasons, Rodriguez was actually four runs below average defensively. But all accounts say that he managed the young Marlins staff well that season and added a bat that was 19 runs better than average at perhaps the toughest defensive position in baseball.
The World Series ring and the great memories that came with it (I can still see Pudge holding that ball after the J.T. Snow collision) were wonderful. The one season is the trickiest part of the voting.
Santiago was the Marlins' inaugural catcher, and that in and of itself means something. He was also a passable major leaguer, but as many players on inaugural teams often are, he was never anything that resembled a good player. He did, however, have a decent 1994 with the Marlins that I presume was cut short due to a combination of injury and Charles Johnson. Santiago's time with the Marlins was so short that it was difficult to make heads or tails of it; Johnson was in line to inherit the team, so Santiago was not long for the club, but he was not so terrible that the team might not have called him back. By the end of his career, he had actually strung along a few good seasons on the way to a World Series appearance with the San Francisco Giants.
Paul Lo Duca
Once upon a time, Lo Duca was a great catcher. Scratch that: once, in his first full season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was a great catcher. By the time he got to Florida he had regressed a lot, but was still a very valuable player. If you recall, he was picked up in the deal that sent Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi to the Dodgers and brought back Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion. When Lo Duca arrived, he was supposed to be the answer to the Marlins' loss of Rodriguez. He ended up hitting just .277/.332/.377 for his career with the Fish, including a late-2010 40 PA appearance that had him playing right field on occasion.
It turned out Lo Duca was just an average guy; he did not have a lot of power but did not strike out much and was thus able to maintain a decent batting average and OBP. In some respects, he was very similar to Redmond, but I think the disappointing aspect about Lo Duca's career (not his time with the Marlins necessarily) was that his first season held a lot of promise that he never ended up living up to. He was, in the end, just a decent player.
So, who do you readers think is the best Florida Marlins catcher of all time? Vote now, because voting ends on Thursday evening. We'll announce the first inductee into the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins team on Friday!