I’ve been thinking of ranking the Jays by position for awhile now and after J.P. Arencibia delivered on opening day once again what better time than to rank the best Jays catchers. I expect to go position by position (1B, 2B, SS, etc.) with one every two weeks, so the rest are coming.
Catcher is an interesting position to try and rank because solid offensive catchers are really a rare breed. You can judge a catcher by his bat, but also by how well he gets down to block balls in the dirt or how well he calls a game. You can also judge him by how well he throws out base runner trying to steal.
Before we start the countdown there are a few rules. First, to be included on the list a player has to have played a majority of his games at catcher. So, just because Carlos Delgado played a first games at catcher for the Jays doesn’t make him the Jays best catcher. Second, only a player’s time with the Jays counts. Benito Santiago may have won gold gloves and silver sluggers, but he sucked with the Jays which is why you won’t find him on the list.
Myers spent two stints in Toronto at the beginning and the end of his career. During his first go around with the Jays he didn’t play that much, acting mostly as the backup to Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders. In 1991 he did get into 107 games though, hitting .262 with eight home runs and 36 RBI. A year later he was traded along with Canadian Rob Ducey to the Angels for Mark Eichhorn.
His best season as a Blue Jay came in his return in 2003. That season he split times behind the plate (81 games) and at DH when he had the best season of his career at the plate with a .307 average, 15 home runs and 52 RBI in 121 games.
Buck only spent one season in Toronto, but it was a memorable one at the plate. The Jays were home run crazy in 2010 and Buck got in on the act launching a career-high 20 homers in 118 games to become an All-Star. Buck also posted career highs in RBI with 66 and batting average by hitting .281. Prior to that season Buck had never hit over .247.
When Buck left Toronto his bat lost some of it’s pop. In his first year with the Marlins in 2011 Buck hit still hit .277 but saw his home run total drop to 15 despite getting almost 100 more at bats. One weird stats jump though were his walk total that went from 16 in 2010 to 54 in 2011.
Rod Barajas spent a couple years in Toronto during the Jays never-ending catcher switcheroo in the late 2000s. You know Barajas isn’t going to give you much of an average and that proved true during his days in Toronto as he hit .249 in 2008 and .226 in 2009. Barajas did have some pop in his bat though, hitting 11 home runs in 2008 and amping it up in 2009 to hit 19 home runs and drive in a career-high 71 runs.
Barajas was never known for his stellar defense behind the plate, but he wasn’t that bad in Toronto throwing out 34% of base runners in both 2008 and 2009.
Barajas also helped Toronto out when he left town as a free agent following the 2009 season. As a Type B free agent Barajas earned the Jays a compensation pick which they used to draft Asher Wojiechowski.
Everybody loved Jose Molina behind the plate in Toronto the last few seasons, but don’t forget about the quality year his brother Bengie gave the Jays in 2006.
In his lone season in Toronto Molina hit .284 with a 19 home runs and 57 RBI in 117 games. The former Gold Glove winner might have been a little higher up on the list if he had some better stats behind the plate. Before coming to Toronto Molina had been a great defensive catcher for the Angels winning two gold gloves in 2002 and 2003 when he threw out 45 % and 44% of base runners trying to steal. In Toronto that number took a nose dive as he only threw out 18% of runners trying to steal while we the Jays. Was that just an anomaly though, as Molina never dipped below 23% the rest of his career.
O’Brien only spent two seasons with the Jays but made some obvious impacts behind the plate. During O’Brien’s two years in Toronto the Jays were awarded their first Cy Young awards with Pat Hentgen capturing the honor in 1996 and Roger Clemens dominating to win the award in 1997. O’Brien was considered to be Clemens’ personal catcher during the 1997 season.
O’Brien wasn’t considered much of a hitter, but he actually had a solid season by his standards in 1996. That year he appeared in 109 games and hit .238 with a career-high 13 home runs and 44 RBI. That was the only season O’Brien hit double-digit homer and cracked the 40 RBI mark.
O’Brien’s true value was behind the plate. Not only could he call a great game, he was also skilled at blocking balls in the dirt, which was a must when catching Clemen’s splitter. O’Brien was also pretty good at throwing out would be base stealers. In 1996 he threw out 38% of base stealers and in 1997 he was off the charts, throwing out 55% of runners in 69 games.
One other thing O’Brien is well known for is bringing the hockey goalie style catcher’s mask to the Majors. In 1996 O’Brien helped develop the new mask with Van Velden Mask Inc. in Hamilton, Ontario and got it approved for use in MLB games that season.
In a few years Arencibia could be higher on this list, but with only one full season under his belt in the bigs this is the spot he’s earned so far.
Aencibia may have only played 142 games for the Jays so far but he has been part of some pretty exciting moments. In his Major League debut he flashed his bat going 4-5 with two home runs and three RBI. Arencibia has also shown a knack for getting it done on opening day going 3-4 with a pair of homers and five RBI in 2011 and a three-run bomb in the 16th inning just last week in the 2012 opener.
Arencibia’s career numbers so far include a .212 average that could use some work, 26 home runs and 85 RBI. At only 26 year of age Arencibia appears to have a bright future in Toronto.
Gregg Zaun became a fan favorite while in Toronto and he’s maintained that as a analyst on SportsNet. Before arriving in Toronto in 2004 Zaun had appeared in more than 100 games only once in his previous nine seasons. That was in 1998 with the Marlins when he only hit .188 with five home runs and 29 RBI in 338 at bats.
In Toronto when finally given the opportunity he delivered. During his five years in Toronto Zaun hit .255 with 45 home runs and 219 RBI in 535 games. During the 2006 season he hit a career best .272 and clubbed a career-high 12 home runs despite playing in only 99 games due to injuries
Zaun saw action behind the plate in 483 games with the Jays, including a career-high 132 games in 2005. Zaun didn’t have the best arm behind the plate (he threw out only 23% of base stealers), but he did work well with pitchers and got to catch some of the best seasons Roy Halladay pitched in Toronto.
Borders played 17 years in the Majors, parts of eight of them with Toronto. One interesting fact I stumbled on when researching this when he debuted with the Jays in 1988 Borders started one game and second base registering three assists and also saw action at third base for one game, making two assists and an error. Craig Biggio eat your heart out!
Borders is best remembered for winning the World Series MVP in 1992 after hitting .450 with one home run and three RBI. Borders may have won the MVP for his proficiency with the stick in the series, but he made his career behind the plate in the dirt. Borders was a expert at blocking balls in the dirt and he had to be while catching pitches like Jack Morris’ fork ball, and hard moving sliders from Dave Stieb and Juan Guzman. Borders was behind the plate when Stieb finally pitched the only no-hitter in Jays history. In 691 games behind the plate for the Jays Borders made 49 errors and threw out 35% of base stealers, including 43% in 1990.
Fletcher is one of a number of players to suit up for both the Expos and the Jays. He is also arguably one of the best hitting catchers the Blue Jays have ever had. In five seasons with Toronto he compiled a .276 average with 61 home runs and 268 RBI. His best season was in 2000 when he posted a number of career highs, including a .320 average, 20 home runs and a .869 OPS. Oddly though he only had 58 RBI, which was down from the 80 runs he drove in a year earlier.
Defensively, Fletcher wasn’t a tremendous catcher, but he was more than adequate. In 516 games behind the plate for the Jays Fletcher made only 19 errors, but his caught stealing percentage was rather low at 25%. The league average for that time was around 30-32%.
Whitt played more games behind the plate than any other player in Blue Jays history with 1159 over his 12 years with Toronto. He was known more for his bat than for his prowess behind the plate, but Whitt had some solid defensive numbers, with only 56 errors in his Jays career and throwing out 33% of base stealers which was around the Major League average.
With the bat Whitt hit .253 with the Jays, with 131 home runs and 518 RBI. He was an All-Star in 1985, but his best season at the dish was in 1987 when he tied his career-high in home runs with 19, while setting career best marks in RBI (75), batting average (.269), and WAR (2.8)
Ken Huckaby (c’mon he took out Derek Jeter!)