Best Detroit Tigers Catchers in Team History [All-Time List!]

Some great catchers have taken the field for the Tigers since the team joined the majors back in 1901. 

In this article, we showcase the best catchers in Detroit Tigers history using single-season and career wins above replacement (WAR).

Keep scrolling to find out more!

Best Detroit Tigers catchers of all time

Background on the Tigers

The Detroit Tigers first played in the late 19th century as a member of the Western League. They joined the American League in 1901, which marked their first official season in the major leagues. 

Since their inaugural season in 1901 the Tigers have had significant success, to include four World Series titles (1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984).

1984 Tigers world series champs

The Tigers celebrate their 1984 World Series title

Legendary players like Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer and Alan Trammell spent their entire Hall of Fame careers in Detroit and are common names that come to mind when thinking about the Tigers franchise.

In addition to these players, a number of talented and noteworthy catchers have also spent time in a Tigers uniform. This article focuses specifically on these men, as we highlight the Detroit Tigers’ best backstops in team history.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

The statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, or WAR for short, is used to quantify the value that an MLB player has and it also helps to communicate how well a player may or may not contribute to their team.

A discussion of what WAR is and is not is beyond the scope of this article. If you’re curious to learn more, we’d suggest reading this article.

In our humble opinion, WAR is the best metric available to easily understand the value of a player from a combined offensive and defensive perspective.

Based on this, we researched each catcher that has ever suited up for the Detroit Tigers and ranked them by highest career and single-season WAR (utilizing the Fangraphs calculation, also known as fWAR).  

Keep on reading to learn who each of the top Detroit Tigers catchers are based on WAR.

Top 3 Detroit Tigers Catchers by Career WAR

Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the Tigers to be eligible for the career WAR list.

#1. Ivan Rodriguez, 69.2 career WAR

Ivan Rodriguez Tigers

One of the best catchers ever, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez

One of the greatest catchers of all time, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez had a 21 year big league career and five of those years were spent in Detroit (2004 - 2008). 

Pudge batted .296 and collected 2,844 career hits, which is a record among catchers. He also smashed 311 total home runs and had 1,332 lifetime RBIs.

On the defensive side, Pudge spent more than 20,000 MLB innings behind the dish. He maintained a .991 fielding percentage as a catcher and he gunned down 661 runners attempting to steal, good for a 46% caught stealing percentage (CS%).

His many accolades include 14 all star game selections, 13 gold gloves, seven silver sluggers, one MVP award, and a World Series ring with the Florida Marlins.

Pudge was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.

#2. Mickey Cochrane, 50.6 career WAR

Mickey Cochrane Tigers

Legendary catcher Mickey Cochrane

Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane spent the final four years of his MLB career with the Detroit Tigers. 

Cochrane was a dangerous hitter and owned a .320/.419/.478 slash line. He finished his career with 1,652 hits, 119 home runs and 830 RBIs. 

Cochrane's lifetime fielding percentage as a catcher was .985 and he had a 39% CS%.

He was a member of three World Series championship teams, including the 1935 Tigers club in which he served as Player-Manager. 

Cochrane was also a two-time AL MVP, once with the Philadelphia Athletics (1928) and once with the Tigers (1934).

#3. Bill Freehan, 44.8 career WAR

One of the best Detroit Tigers catchers of all time, Bill Freehan

Tigers icon, former catcher Bill Freehan

Bill Freehan was a Michigan native who spent his entire MLB career with the Detroit Tigers. 

The University of Michigan product had a lifetime .262 average in the big leagues with 200 career home runs. 

An incredible defensive catcher, Freehan had a career fielding percentage behind the plate of .993 and a CS% of 37%. 

Freehan was an 11 time AL all star, won five gold glove awards and was an important part of the Tigers 1968 World Series championship team. 

Top 3 Seasons by Detroit Tigers Catchers, Ranked by WAR

Please note: The player must have at least 70 games played (as a catcher) in one season with the Tigers to be eligible for this single-season WAR list.

#1. 1968 - Bill Freehan (7.0 WAR)

Bill Freehan on deck

Freehan on-deck during the 1968 regular season [image source: Getty Images]

The best single-season of any Detroit Tigers catcher in team history was Bill Freehan's 1968 campaign.

He hit .263/.366/.454 that season with a career high 25 home runs, 84 RBIs and a league leading 24 times hit by pitch (HBP).

Defensively, Freehan was second among AL catchers that year with a .994 fielding percentage and he led the league with 38 runners caught stealing (37%). 

He ended the season in second place behind teammate Denny McLain for the 1968 AL MVP.

Freehan caught all seven games in the 1968 World Series, helping the Tigers win their third title in team history up to that point.

#2. 1967 - Bill Freehan (5.8 WAR)

Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich

Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan during a mound visit in 1967 [image source: Getty Images]

Bill Freehan had the second best WAR of his career just one year prior to the Tigers' famous '68 season.

In 1967, Freehan hit .282/.389/.447 with 146 hits, 20 home runs and 74 RBIs. He led the AL that year in intentional walks (15) and HBP (20).

Behind the plate, Freehan had a .992 fielding percentage and a 36% CS% in 1967. He led league catchers that season with a career high 147 defensive games and with 950 putouts.

Freehan was selected for his fourth consecutive all star game in 1967, he won his third straight gold glove award and he finished the season in third place for AL MVP. 

#3. 1991 - Mickey Tettleton (5.6 WAR)

Mickey Tettleton Tigers

Mickey Tettleton warming up prior to a 1991 game [image source: Getty Images]

Mickey Tettleton was traded in early 1991 from the Baltimore Orioles to the Tigers. 

He had a productive first season in Detroit. Tettleton hit .263/.387/.491 in ‘91 with a career high 132 hits, and he smashed 31 home runs and 89 RBIs on his way to winning a second silver slugger award.

Tettleton had a .990 fielding percentage as a catcher in 1991 along with a career high (more than 250 innings) 37% CS%. That season he finished in the top five among league catchers in defensive games (125), assists (55) and runners caught stealing (38).

List of All Tigers Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season

When catchers have a season with a 2.0 or better WAR, it typically indicates they had a pretty productive year. 

A variety of Tigers catchers have reached or exceeded this mark since the team first started playing in the AL back in 1901. 

Take a look at the list below which shows every Detroit Tigers catcher to have a 2.0 WAR or better season.

SeasonNameWAR
1968Bill Freehan7.0
1967Bill Freehan5.8
1991Mickey Tettleton5.6
1982Lance Parrish5.2
1938Rudy York5.1
1964Bill Freehan5.1
1992Mickey Tettleton5.0
1971Bill Freehan4.9
1983Lance Parrish4.9
2004Ivan Rodriguez4.7
1935Mickey Cochrane4.5
2011Alex Avila4.5
1979Lance Parrish4.2
1924Johnny Bassler4.2
1985Lance Parrish4.1
2000Brad Ausmus3.9
1974Bill Freehan3.9
1980Lance Parrish3.9
1934Mickey Cochrane3.9
1993Chad Kreuter3.7
1937Rudy York3.7
1972Bill Freehan3.5
1987Matt Nokes3.4
1986Lance Parrish3.4
1999Brad Ausmus3.3
2005Ivan Rodriguez3.2
1984Lance Parrish3.0
2006Ivan Rodriguez2.9
1969Bill Freehan2.9
2012Alex Avila2.9
1923Johnny Bassler2.8
1988Matt Nokes2.8
1922Johnny Bassler2.8
1939Rudy York2.8
1970Bill Freehan2.8
1949Aaron Robinson2.7
1989Mike Heath2.6
1993Mickey Tettleton2.5
1961Dick Brown2.4
1919Eddie Ainsmith2.4
1921Johnny Bassler2.3
1956Red Wilson2.3
2001Robert Fick2.2
1925Johnny Bassler2.2
1981Lance Parrish2.2
1958Red Wilson2.0
1973Bill Freehan2.0
1975Bill Freehan2.0

Tigers Catchers over the Last 10 Years

Please note: the below list of catchers are ordered based on the number of games caught per season for the Tigers. Catchers with the highest number of games caught per season start at the top. 

2012 Tigers - Finished first in AL Central, lost World Series

  • Alex Avila (primary)
  • Gerald Laird
  • Bryan Holaday
  • Omir Santos

 

2013 Tigers - Finished first in AL Central, lost ALCS

  • Alex Avila (primary)
  • Brayan Pena
  • Bryan Holaday
  • Victor Martinez

 

2014 Tigers - Finished first in AL Central, lost ALDS

  • Alex Avila (primary)
  • Bryan Holaday
  • James McCann
  • Victor Martinez

 

2015 Tigers - Finished fifth in AL Central

  • James McCann (primary)
  • Alex Avila
  • Bryan Holaday

 

2016 Tigers - Finished second in AL Central

  • James McCann (primary)
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  • Bobby Wilson

 

2017 Tigers - Finished fifth in AL Central

  • James McCann (primary)
  • Alex Avila
  • John Hicks
  • Bryan Holaday
  • Andrew Romine

 

2018 Tigers - Finished third in AL Central

  • James McCann (primary)
  • Grayson Greiner
  • John Hicks
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia

 

2019 Tigers - Finished fifth in AL Central

  • John Hicks (primary)
  • Grayson Greiner
  • Jake Rogers
  • Bobby Wilson

 

2020 Tigers - Finished fifth in AL Central

  • Austin Romine (primary)
  • Grayson Greiner
  • Eric Haase

 

2021 Tigers - Finished third in AL Central

  • Eric Haase (primary)
  • Jake Rogers
  • Grayson Greiner
  • Wilson Ramos
  • Dustin Garneau

 

Complete List of All Tigers Catchers Over the Last 10 Years

The following list displays every Detroit Tigers catcher that played in one or more defensive games behind the plate for the team since 2012. 

Each player is listed in alphabetical order by first name.

  • Alex Avila
  • Andrew Romine
  • Bobby Wilson
  • Brayan Pena
  • Bryan Holaday
  • Dustin Garneau
  • Eric Haase
  • Gerald Laird
  • Grayson Greiner
  • Jake Rogers
  • James McCann
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  • John Hicks
  • Omir Santos
  • Victor Martinez
  • Wilson Ramos

 

That’s a Wrap!

We appreciate you stopping by Catchers Home and we hope you found this article to be useful.

If you’d like to reach out with any questions or comments, please do so. You can send us a message via our contact page or you can simply send an email to scott (at) catchershome (dot) com.

 

Sources for this Article

  • Baseball Almanac
  • Baseball Reference
  • Fangraphs
  • The Detroit News