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Splitsville - Mike Piazza Goes to Oakland
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
January 25, 2007

I used to disparage Mike Piazza by saying that he wasn’t a true catcher, because of the story of how he was discovered by the Dodgers. He was actually the last player taken in the 1988 draft, and it just so happens that his brother is Tommy Lasorda's godson.

The story goes that when Tommy Lasorda convinced the Dodgers to draft Piazza, they asked what position Piazza played. Piazza’s dad said, “What position do you need?” They said catcher, and Piazza’s dad responded, “Funny thing – he is a catcher.” He basically learned to catch just to be drafted.

This used to bother me, because we consider Piazza to be the greatest offensive catcher of all time, but the fact that he was a catcher was just dumb luck – he could have easily ended up being a left fielder or a first baseman, in which case his numbers would still be great, but he would probably not have been considered in the top ten of either of those positions.

For whatever reason, this no longer bothers me. Perhaps it is because I realize that whether he became a catcher randomly or not, he has still played the position at the major league level for 15 seasons, and he has been fantastic. I have a suspicion that, in the modern era, we are going to have to re-evaluate the fact that we credit similar players differently based purely on the position they played, because there is offensive productivity at all positions in the modern era. But I imagine that will become clear as time goes on, so I won't dwell on it now.

As Mike Piazza heads off to the fifth team of his career (and, interestingly, his third California team), he will be playing his home games in what is largely considered a pitcher's park. But this is nothing new to Mike Piazza.

In this era of tiny ballparks, Mike Piazza has spent his career playing his home games exclusively in pitcher's parks. He started his career out at Dodger Stadium in 1993, which in the 1990s drastically favored pitcher's (somehow, in 2006 it magically became a hitter's park). He was then traded to the Marlins for five games in 1998; the Marlins played in vast Joe Robbie Stadium. Then he moved onto the Mets, and Shea Stadium, which was also a pitcher's park, though not as drastically as Dodgers Stadium. Finally, Piazza moved last year to Petco Park in San Diego, which stands out as one of the only two or three pitcher's parks to have been built in the last decade.

The impact on Mike Piazza’s career numbers has been impressive:

Place G R H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
Home 896 465 931 128 193 608 0.297 0.368 0.525 0.893
Away 933 550 1111 199 226 683 0.321 0.390 0.576 0.966
Total 1829 1015 2042 327 419 1291 0.309 0.379 0.551 0.930


If you assume that a player naturally performs better at home than he does on the road, then Piazza’s road numbers are even more out of proportion to his home numbers.

Unfortunately for Mike Piazza, he will get little help in the coming year – with its relatively vast outfield and the largest foul territory in the majors, the Oakland Alameda Network Associates McAfee Coliseum generally plays like a pitcher's park, though in some years it favors hitters.

In fact, if Piazza wants an indication of how he should expect to perform in 2007 with Oakland, he should ask Frank Thomas, who spent a resurgent 2006 season with A's. Because Thomas was healthy and hitting homeruns, the impact on his season that playing his home games in Oakland had went largely unnoticed:

Place G R H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
Home 73 42 59 6 23 57 0.242 0.347 0.549 0.896
Away 64 35 67 5 16 57 0.302 0.417 0.541 0.958
Total 137 77 126 11 39 114 0.270 0.381 0.545 0.926


Ironically, Frank Thomas's OPS split for the 2006 season was remarkably similar to Mike Piazza's career OPS split. Which indicates that Piazza will probably perform in 2007 much the way he has throughout his career - better on the road.

That Mike Piazza has had these career while playing the position of catcher is impressive indeed. That he has put up the numbers he has put up while playing his home games exclusively in pitcher's parks should only make his first ballot election to the Hall of Fame that much more inevitable.

As an aside, I only just now realized - Frank Thomas is now a Toronto Blue Jay. This means I will have to amend the Top Ten Players to End Their Career with the A's. That's okay, though - Mike Piazza will take Thomas's place on the list capably.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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