I was ten years old, so it was the perfect year for me to become a fan.
And I still believe, despite the enormous asterisks (*), that it was the best season of baseball I could have become a fan during.
-There was the McGwire/Sosa homerun record-breaking chase.
-For the first time in history, 4 players (the above 2 along w/ Griffey and Greg Vaughn) hit 50 homeruns.
-There were two brand new expansion teams.
-Kerry Wood had a breakout rookie year, including a record-tying 20 strikeout season.
-The Yankees set a record with a 114 win season.
-Cal Ripken ended his consecutive games streak.
And on May 22, the New York Mets, the team I was biologically preordained to root for (while my Mom was pregnant, my parents referred to me as Mookie) traded Preston Wilson and a couple of prospects to the Florida Marlins for catcher Mike Piazza.
Piazza had been a star with the Dodgers, and was traded to the Marlins just a week earlier for a large package including Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, and Charles Johnson as part of the Marlins 1997 Fire Sale. But when Piazza came to the Mets, he instantly became their best player; the face of the franchise.
That offseason Piazza signed a 7-year extension, the biggest contract in baseball history for like a week until Kevin Brown signed with the Dodgers. He became arguably the best hitter in Mets history (the other arguable ones are Darryl Strawberry- who I say Piazza passed, and David Wright who, if the rumors of an extension through 2020 are true, will pass Piazza).
There are a lot of memorable Piazza moments. Thrown bats, taken wild pitches, heterosexual press conferences, blond dye jobs, and recovery-launching homeruns. But as Mike Piazza appears on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot for the first time tomorrow, here are 15 statistical reasons why he is a Hall of Famer.
"MVP Share" is a Baseball-Reference stat measuring the number of votes a player gets for MVP out of the total number of votes cast. Mike Piazza ranks 30th all time, and is the 2nd highest of any player who did not win an MVP during his career. Of the players above Piazza, 23 are Hall of Fame eligible (the other 6 are either active, recently retired, or Pete Rose.) Of those 23, only 1, Dave Parker, did not get elected into the Hall of Fame. Of the next 9 eligible players, 8 are in the Hall.
During his career, Mike Piazza started 10 All Star Games, and made 12 All Star teams. The 10 starts ties him for the 14 most of all time. Of the other 17 players with 10 or more All Star starts, 14 are Hall of Fame eligible (Ivan Rodriguez and Barry Bonds are recently retired, ARod is still playing), and all 14 of those are in the Hall. Additionally, 4 of the 5 eligible players with 9 All Star starts are also in the Hall.
Of the ten players that Baseball-Reference gives the highest Similarity Score to Mike Piazza, nine of them are Hall of Fame eligible (Jorge Posada is recently retired). Seven of those nine, including the six "most similar" scoring players, are in the Hall of Fame. In comparison, Johnny Bench has only four of his top ten in the Hall, Yogi Berra has four, Carlton Fisk has five, and Gary Carter has four. Piazza is more similar to Hall of Famers than the top four Hall of Fame catchers.
Mike Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers with the second pick in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. The draft went 75 rounds. No player drafted after Piazza ever played in the Major Leagues. No other player in the 62nd round made it, or in the 61st. One pitcher drafted in the 60th round, Don Wengert, pitched in 160 games over 7 years with an ERA over 6. In the 1988 draft, only one player, Jim Edmonds, had a higher career WAR than Piazza.
Mike Piazza is tied for 66th all time in Offensive WAR. The man he is tied with is Tony Gwynn. Gwynn played from 1982-2001 with the San Diego Padres, a career that overlapped in part with Piazza's. When Gwynn hit the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, he was elected with 532 of the 545 votes. That 97.6% of the vote is the 7th highest total of all time of elections where ballots were released, behind only Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Ty Cobb, George Brett, and Hank Aaron.
Again, Mike Piazza is tied for 66th all time in Offensive WAR. Including Gwynn, of the 66 players ahead of Piazza, 54 are Hall of Fame eligible. Of those 54, 50 have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Two of the four, Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell, remain on the ballot and should eventually be elected. A third, Lou Whitaker, is widely considered an error by the writers in knocking him off in one year. The fourth, Dick Allen, hung around on the ballot for all 15 possible years.
Mike Piazza's 427 homeruns place him at 44th all time in homeruns. Of the 43 players ranked ahead of him, 29 are Hall of Fame eligible. Of those 29, 22 are in the Hall of Fame. Of the 7 eligible players who are not in the Hall of Fame, 5 are facing PED accusations, either founded (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco) or unfounded (Jeff Bagwell). Outside of one column about back acne, the have never been steroid accusations about Mike Piazza, nor was he named in the Mitchell Report.
Mike Piazza's 427 homeruns are the most of any catcher all time. (He, as well as most of the others, have fewer HRs AS a catcher, but I'm counting all HRs by guys who caught) Johnny Bench has the second most homeruns for a catcher with 389, ranking 57th all time. Of the 5 catchers with 300 or more HRs who are eligible for the Hall of Fame, 4 have been inducted. The exception, Lance Parrish, received only 1.7% of the vote on his one and only ballot appearance.
Mike Piazza won every National League Silver Slugger Award from 1993 through 2002. Those 10 trophies are the most Silver Sluggers any catcher has ever won. Additionally, Piazza is the only player in MLB history to win 10 consecutive Silver Sluggers at any position in either league.
Mike Piazza ranks 32nd all time in slugging percentage, at .5452. Of the 31 players who rank ahead of him, 17 are eligible for the Hall of Fame. Of those 17, 13 have been elected into the Hall. These four have not been elected either due to steroid suspicions (McGwire, Juan Gonzalez), ballpark factors (Larry Walker), or an injury-shortened career (Albert Belle).
"Hall of Fame Monitor" is a Bill James stat that measures how likely a player is to make the Hall of Fame. Of all batters, Piazza ranks 42nd with a score of 207. Of the 41 players ranking ahead of Piazza, 31 are eligible for the Hall of Fame. All 31 of those players have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Rafael Palmeiro, ranked 59, is the highest ranked eligible player who has not been elected. The highest ranking, eligible, not elected player without steroid allegations is Jeff Bagwell at 87.
Again, Mike Piazza ranks 42nd in "Hall of Fame Monitor" with a score of 207. The highest ranking Hall of Fame eligible catcher who has not been elected is Ted Simmons, who ranks 111th with a score of 124. The next highest ranked with these qualifications is Bob Boone, who ranks 154th with a score of 102. 100 is ranked a possible Hall of Fame score, with 130 ranking as virtual guarantee.
"Hall of Fame Career Standard" is a stat similar to Monitor which measures a player's accomplishments rather than the likelihood of that player's election. Of all batters, Piazza ranks 26th with a score of 62. Of the 25 players ranking ahead of Piazza, 20 are eligible for the Hall of Fame. All 20 of those players have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Jeff Bagwell, ranked 36th, is the highest ranked eligible player who has not been elected.
Again, Mike Piazza ranks 26th in "Hall of Fame Career Standard" with a score of 62. This makes Piazza the highest ranking catcher of all time. The next highest ranked catcher is the also not-yet-eligible Ivan Rodriguez, who ranks 43rd with a score of 58. The highest ranked Hall of Fame eligible catcher who has not been elected is again Ted Simmons, who ranks 125th with a score of 44. A score of 50 is considered an average Hall of Famer, while 100 is the maximum possible score.
JAWS is a stat created by Jay Jaffe used to compare players to the Hall of Famers at their positions based on WAR and Peak WAR. The average Hall of Fame catcher has a JAWS of 41. Mike Piazza's JAWS is 48.4, which ranks 5th all time for catchers. Not-yet-eligible Ivan Rodriguez ranks 3rd with a JAWS of 50.7. Joe Torre is the highest-ranked, non-elected, eligible catcher, ranking 7th with a JAWS of 44.7. Wilbert Robinson is in the Hall as a catcher despite a JAWS of 11.2, ranking 139th.