Phillies' Top 5 catchers: Zolecki's take

March 24th, 2020

Few people love a good debate like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it? If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Todd Zolecki's ranking of the top five catchers in Phillies history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Darren Daulton: 1983, 1985-1997
Key fact: led the NL with 109 RBIs in 1992

More than a decade ago, I wrote "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Philadelphia Phillies History." (The title really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) I wrote a chapter about the best players at each position in Phillies history. I chose Bob Boone over Daulton because Boone was a brilliant defensive catcher and served longer as an everyday player. But it was close. I knew it, even then.

Re-examining the numbers and careers, however, Daulton edges Boone for the No. 1 spot. He not only had monster offensive seasons for the Phillies, he led the pitching staff and the clubhouse. Daulton is one of only four catchers in baseball history to lead his league in RBIs: Roy Campanella (1953), Gary Carter ('84) and Johnny Bench ('70, '72 and '74) are the others. In Phillies history, Daulton ranks first at catcher in walks (607) and on-base percentage (.357); second in home runs (134), RBIs (567) and slugging percentage (.427); fourth in doubles (189); and sixth in hits (858). He ranks first in bWAR (22.5) and fWAR (24.4) among Phillies catchers in the modern era (post-1900).

Strictly comparing Daulton’s numbers to Boone’s, it surprised me to learn that they essentially had the same amount of plate appearances over their Phillies careers. Daulton had 4,188 plate appearances to Boone’s 4,152. Boone had more hits (957), but fewer doubles (172), home runs (65), RBIs (456) and walks (365). Daulton slashed .245/.357/.427 with a .783 OPS, while Boone slashed .259/.325/.370 with a .695 OPS.

I asked the late Dallas Green and Jim Fregosi back then about who should be on the all-time team. Not surprisingly, each picked their guy.

“Talent-wise, Boonie played on much better teams, which allowed him to be able to just catch and play defense and not swing the bat,” Fregosi said in 2008, making his case for Daulton. “But Dutch didn’t just catch every day. He also hit fourth in the lineup and had to carry the offense. Longevity and career-wise, there’s no question Boone had a better career. But in a short period of time, Dutch was the guy. I’d take Dutch because of his leadership qualities and the offensive player he became.”

2. Bob Boone: 1972-81
Key fact: won two Gold Gloves, made three All-Star teams

Boone won seven Gold Gloves in his 19-year career. Only Ivan Rodriguez (13), Bench (10) and Yadier Molina (nine) won more. But, for whatever reason, Boone rarely seems to be mentioned when people discuss the greatest defensive catchers in baseball history. Maybe it is the hardware. Boone played in the National League at the same time as Bench, who won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1968-77. If Bench played in the AL, maybe Boone wins a few more. Maybe he wins 10 or more, cementing his place in history as one of the best.

“Boonie really had no peer,” the late Dallas Green said in 2008. “What separated Boone was how he handled the pitching staff. He couldn’t hit a lick. He had an awful year in 1980, but I still counted on him to handle my pitching staff. He put the numbers down as good as anybody you’d want to see. And he made the pitchers pitch a game that sometimes they didn’t believe in. He did his homework. Daulton’s bag is leadership, but Boonie didn’t take a backseat to leadership because of his handling of the pitching staff. Offensively, there’s no contest with Dutch. But it’s still a team game.”

Boone is why WAR should not be everything when it comes to these rankings. He ranks just eighth at catcher in modern Phillies history in bWAR (13.0) and fifth in fWAR (16.0). Boone was so much better than that.

3. Carlos Ruiz: 2006-16
Key fact: Caught four no-hitters, including the postseason

Chooch never won a Gold Glove. He made only one All-Star team. But Chooch was a force behind the plate during the Phillies’ run of five consecutive NL East titles, two NL pennants and one World Series championship from 2007-11. Every Phillies pitcher swore by Chooch. He caught four no-hitters, which ties Jason Varitek for the most by a catcher in baseball history. Chooch came up as a light-hitting catcher, but eventually found his stroke at the plate. He had a .789 OPS and 114 OPS+ from 2009-14. He is second among modern Phillies catchers in bWAR (21.8) and sixth in fWAR (15.6).

4. Mike Lieberthal: 1994-2006
Key fact: 1,139 games caught is most in Phillies history.

Lieberthal ranks first in hits (1,137), doubles (255), home runs (150), RBIs (609), batting average (.275) and slugging percentage (.450) and third in on-base percentage (.338) among Phillies catchers. He won a Gold Glove in 1999 and made the NL All-Star team in 1999 and 2000. Lieberthal never made the playoffs with the Phillies, but it does not take away from his career.

5. Andy Seminick: 1943-51, 1955-57; Stan Lopata: 1948-58
Key fact: Combined 32.6 bWAR and 37.3 fWAR

We grouped Seminick and Lopata together because they served as a solid 1-2 punch from 1948-51 and 1955-57. Seminick ranked fourth in bWAR (16.4) and fourth in fWAR (19.0), while Lopata ranked fifth in bWAR (16.2) and fifth in fWAR (18.3).

Honorable mentions
Jack Clements
has the best bWAR (24.9) and fWAR (25.9) among Phillies catchers, but he played from 1884-97, so it is impossible to compare his career to Daulton, Boone, Ruiz, Lieberthal and the others. … If the Phillies sign J.T. Realmuto to a multiyear extension, he should be in this top five list in no time. … The Phillies had Smoky Burgess from 1952-55. He made the All-Star team twice before the Phillies traded him to the Reds. He later made four All-Star teams with Pittsburgh. … Clay Dalrymple had a nice career with the Phillies from 1960-68. But it was Gus Triandos that caught Jim Bunning’s perfect game in 1964.