Big league baseball began in Houston, Texas in 1962 when the Colt .45s started playing. Since that time, the team has had a number of successful runs, and some standout catchers have worn Colt .45 and Astros jerseys over the years.
This post examines the best Houston Astros catchers in team history based on both career and single-season Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Keep scrolling to learn more!
The Best Houston Astros Catchers of All Time
A Quick History of the Houston Astros
Major League Baseball expanded in 1961, adding two new teams to the American League. Then the next year two new teams were again added, this time to the National League (NL).
One of the new NL teams was the New York Mets, and the other was the Houston Colt .45s.
The Colt .45s played their first three years at Colt Stadium and finished near the bottom of the NL each year.
As their fourth MLB season was about to start, some big changes were coming for the club.
The Eighth Wonder of the World
In 1965, the Astrodome was opened for Houston's MLB franchise, which subsequently changed its name from the Colt .45s to the Astros.
The Astrodome was an engineering and construction marvel, becoming the first indoor stadium in professional sports history. It was so unique that it got the nickname "the eighth wonder of the world."
Unfortunately, a new stadium didn't change the team's fortunes, as the newly named Astros remained at or near the bottom of the NL for the rest of the decade.
The 70s and 80s
The Astros had a more successful decade in the 1970s, thanks to good managerial leadership from Bill Virdon and solid play from guys like Cesar Cedeño, J.R. Richard and Jose Cruz.Houston's best season in the 70s came at the end of the decade, in 1979, when they barely missed first place in the NL West and finished with an 89 - 73 record.
The following season was even more successful as the Astros won the division and narrowly lost the NLCS to the eventual 1980 World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Houston continued to play mostly .500+ baseball in the 80s. Their best season of the decade came in 1986.
Thanks in large part to the dominant pitching performance of Cy Young award winner Mike Scott, the '86 Astros finished a then franchise best 96 - 66. However, they lost the NLCS to the eventual World Series champs, the New York Mets.
1990 to 2015
The Astros in the '90s had a ton of talent. Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley and future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are just a few of the names that led Houston throughout the decade.The Astros moved to the NL Central in 1994, and they won their division from 1997 - 1999. During the '98 season, the Astros crossed the triple digit mark in wins for the first time, finishing 102 - 60.
In 2000, the Astros left the iconic Astrodome and they moved into a new ballpark, Enron Field (now named Minute Maid Park).
This first decade of the 2000s saw new leaders take center stage in Houston, especially players like Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. These guys helped lead the Astros to the club's first World Series appearance in 2005.
Unfortunately, that would be the “high water mark” for the Astros over roughly the next ten years.
Between 2006 and 2015, the Astros went 709 - 910 (.438) and only finished .500 or above three times over those ten seasons.
Houston's "low water mark" came in 2013 when the team finished 51 - 111, the worst single-season record in franchise history.
Turning Things Around
Fortunately, the Astros had an incredibly talented farm system at that time and the team would turn things around in short order.
With its combination of young talent (Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, etc.) and strong pitching (Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, etc.), the revamped Astros won its first-ever World Series championship in 2017.
The Astros continued rolling in 2018 (finishing 103 - 59) and in 2019 they set the franchise record for most wins in a season with 107.
As of the date of publication (2021), the Astros remain super talented and they are sitting atop first place in the AL West.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
Typically referred to as WAR, Wins Above Replacement is a baseball metric developed to measure an individual player’s overall contributions to his team.
According to Major League Baseball, the definition of WAR is the following:
“WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent).”
There is a different WAR formula used for pitchers and for position players and the calculation for WAR can vary somewhat by publisher (such as Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs).
Still, it’s an incredibly useful and popular measure, since it does such a great job at capturing the overall value that a player gives to his team.
For this article, I researched every catcher that has ever put on an Astros jersey and ranked them by career and single season WAR, using Baseball Reference as my source. This means that I scanned data going back to 1962 - the first season in Astros (Colt .45s) history.
What follows is a summary of the top three Houston Astros catchers ranked by career WAR, while the second list showcases the top five best seasons by a Houston Astros catcher, ranked by single season WAR.
Top 3 Houston Astros Catchers by Career WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the Astros to be eligible for the career WAR list.
#1. Craig Biggio, 65.4 career WAR
Though many remember him as a second baseman, Craig Biggio actually spent the first four years of his MLB career as a full time catcher.
Biggio's numbers speak for themselves. A member of the exclusive 3,000 hit club, Biggio has a lifetime .281 batting average with 291 home runs and 1,175 RBIs. He was a seven time all star, won five silver sluggers and four gold gloves.
As a catcher, Biggio had a career .989 fielding percentage and a caught stealing percentage of 23%. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
#2. Brian McCann, 31.9 career WAR
Brian McCann spent two years in Houston and was a member of the Astros' 2017 World Series championship team.
In his 15 year big league career, McCann hit .262/.337/.452 with 282 home runs and 1,018 RBIs. He caught over 13,000 MLB innings, had a strong .993 career fielding percentage and threw out 25% of attempted base runners.
McCann was a seven time all star, won the 2010 all star game MVP, and won six silver slugger awards. He retired after the 2019 season.
#3. Joe Ferguson, 21.0 career WAR
Although best known for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Joe Ferguson did spend two seasons as a Houston Astros catcher, one season of which was particularly productive (1977).
Ferguson slashed .240/.358/.409 over his 14 seasons in the big leagues. He collected a total of 122 home runs and 445 RBIs during his career.
From a defensive perspective, Ferguson maintained a .987 fielding percentage behind the plate and gunned down 34% of all runners attempting to steal on him.
- Brad Ausmus, 16.5 career WAR
- Milt May, 16.4 career WAR
- Cliff Johnson, 16.2 career WAR
- Johnny Edwards, 14.7 career WAR
- Gus Triandos, 14.1 career WAR
Top 3 Seasons by Astros Catchers, Ranked by Single Season WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 60 games played in one season as a member of the Astros to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.
#1. 1977 - Joe Ferguson (4.7 WAR)
Joe Ferguson had the best season of any Houston Astros catcher in 1977, based on WAR. That season he hit .257/.379/.435 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs, helping the Astros to their first .500 season since 1974.
Behind the plate, Ferguson led all NL catchers in '77 with 61 runners caught stealing. He also topped all NL catchers with 16 double plays turned and finished third among league catchers with 80 assists.
#2. 1991 - Craig Biggio (4.4 WAR)
Craig Biggio's final season as a regular catcher was 1991, which was the most statistically productive season of the four that he spent as a catcher.
Biggio set career highs - up to that point in his career - in hits (161), batting average (.295), and total bases (104), among others. Defensively, he had a .989 fielding percentage and led NL catchers in Range Factor/Game with 6.86 and putouts with 889.
Biggio was rewarded for his productive season in 1991 with his first MLB all star game selection.
#3. 2013 - Jason Castro (4.2 WAR)
In what became the worst season in Houston Astros history, catcher Jason Castro experienced the best season in his career.
Castro was a bright spot on the 51 - 111 Astros, as he hit .276/.350/.485 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2013. That season he had a .993 fielding percentage behind the plate and a 25% caught stealing average.
Castro was the Astros' lone representative at the 2013 all star game.
Honorable Mentions by Decade:
- 1966 - John Bateman (2.3 WAR)
- 1974 - Milt May (3.0 WAR)
- 1989 - Craig Biggio (2.7 WAR)
- 1990 - Craig Biggio (2.9 WAR)
- 2002 - Brad Ausmus (0.7 WAR)
- 2019 - Robinson Chirinos (3.9 WAR)
List of All Houston Astros Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season
Earning a single-season WAR that’s 2.0 or higher reflects a respectable year for any ballplayer in the big leagues. A number of Houston Astros catchers have reached or exceeded this mark since the team first began playing as the Colt .45s way back in 1962.
The below table highlights every Colt .45s or Astros catcher who has had a 2.0 WAR or better season.
Thank You for Reading
Hopefully you found this article to be insightful and helpful! As I always do, I learned a ton about the team from the time I spent researching and writing this.
If you're interested in getting in touch, please go to the Contact Us page or send me an email to scott (at) catchersome (dot) com. I’m always glad to hear from readers.
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