Best Milwaukee Brewers Catchers in Team History

The Milwaukee Brewers began playing in 1970 after a single season as the Seattle Pilots. The club has had a colorful history since then, and some incredibly talented catchers have worn Brewers jerseys over the decades.

This post focuses exclusively on the best Milwaukee Brewers catchers in team history as ranked by both career and single-season Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Keep scrolling to learn more...

Best Milwaukee Brewers catchers in team history

The Best Milwaukee Brewers Catchers of All Time

A Quick History of the Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers were officially founded in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots, which played in the American League.

After just one season, the Pilots changed their name to the Brewers, relocated to Milwaukee and began playing their games in Milwaukee County Stadium. 

Milwaukee Brewers catchers inaugural season, 1970 opening day

The Brewers during opening day of their inaugural 1970 season.

First Season in Milwaukee Through 1977

The Brewers struggled in their first three seasons in Milwaukee, losing over 90 games each in 1970, 1971, and 1972.

Outfielder Tommy Harper was the star of the 1970 club, earning an all star selection with a 31 home run, 82 RBI season.

Closer Ken Sanders was brilliant for the 1971 team, posting 31 saves with an ERA of 1.91 in 136 1/3 innings.

The team inched towards the .500 mark in 1973 and 1974 led by power hitter George Scott, catcher Darrell Porter, and in 1974 the emergence of 18-year-old shortstop and future Hall of Famer Robin Yount

Adding to the excitement for Brewers fans was seeing the great Hank Aaron play out his career in Milwaukee in 1975 and 1976, hitting a combined 22 home runs and 95 RBI.

Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee Brewers

The legendary Hank Aaron during the end of his career with the Brewers.

Another 90-plus loss season followed in 1977, but better times were on the horizon for the Brewers.

The 1978 Season Through the 1982 World Series

New uniforms were unveiled for the 1978 season and the Brewers had additional talent as well. Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, and Ben Oglivie joined Yount as the Brewers became one of the best hitting teams in the American League.

Robin Yount Cecil Cooper Ben Oglivie Brewers new uniforms

Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie in the Brewers' new threads.

Add in the solid pitching of guys like Lary Sorensen, Mike Caldwell, and Jim Slaton, George Bamberger’s Brewers won 93 games in 1978 - the Brewers' first season above .500.

The Brewers had an even better record in 1979, winning 95 games.

Milwaukee slipped to 86 wins in 1980, but the Brewers advanced to the ALDS in 1981 and to the World Series in 1982

The 1982 World Series would prove to be a nail biter, as the Brewers took the St. Louis Cardinals to a full seven games. Heartbreakingly for Milwaukee fans, the Cardinals won game 7 in St. Louis, and took the Series.

Milwaukee in the 80s

The Brewers offense was powerful during this time in the team's history.

Milwaukee's pitching was also strong, and it was further bolstered by the addition of Rollie Fingers, the future Hall of Fame closer. Fingers was nearly unhittable, posting an ERA of 1.04 in 1981 and 2.60 in 1982. 

Pitcher Rollie Fingers while with the Milwaukee Brewers

Rollie Fingers during his tenure as a Brewer.

Following the near-championship in 1982, the Brewers had an additional winning season in 1983. After that, the Brewers had three seasons of sub .500 baseball. 

Thomas and Oglivie left, and father-time caught up to Fingers, who retired following the 1985 season in which he disappointingly went 1-6 with a 5.04 ERA.

Left-handed pitcher Teddy Higuera led a Brewers resurgence in 1987 and '88 on teams that still featured Yount, along with a young power hitter named Rob Deer and closer Dan Plesac. 

Milwaukee remained competitive through the early 90's, reaching 92 wins under manager Phil Garner in 1992 before another down period in the team's history.

The Sub .500 Years

After a strong 1992 campaign, the Brewers had twelve consecutive losing seasons between 1993 and 2004.

During this time, the Brewers were led by a number of different managers, such as Phil Garner, Jim Lefebvre, Ned Yost, Dave Lopes and Jerry Royster.

Still, there were some bright spots in this time period. Greg Vaughn emerged as a big power threat in the early 1990s, hitting 30 home runs in his all star campaign of 1993.

Right-handed starter Ricky Bones showed potential with a 3.43 ERA in 1994 but quickly phased out.

Ben McDonald won 12 games in his first year with the Brewers in 1996, but pitched only one more season in the big leagues before retiring at the age of 29. 

Third baseman Jeff Cirillo emerged as a star of the team in the late 1990s, hitting over .320 in both 1998 and 1999 before moving on to the Colorado Rockies.

There was little to write home about from 2000 through 2005 with the exception of outfielder Geoff Jenkins, but one of the best eras in Brewers baseball was still to come.

Brewers slugger Geoff Jenkins

Former Brewers slugger Geoff Jenkins going yard.

Brewers Baseball in Recent Times

Jenkins ended his run in Milwaukee after the 2007 season, finishing his Brewers career with 212 home runs. He went on to the Phillies for one season, winning a World Series in 2008 before retiring.

The late 2000s were dominated by young stars like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Braun hit over 30 home runs each season from 2007 through 2009, while Fielder belted 50 homers in 2007 and had six consecutive seasons with over 30 home runs. 

The Brewers won a franchise record 96 games in 2011, but failed to advance beyond the NLDS that year.

After three mediocre seasons under Ron Roenicke, Craig Counsell took over as manager. 

Brewers Manager Craig Counsell arguing with an ump.

Brewers Manager Craig Counsell arguing with an ump [Darren Hauck, Associated Press].

The Brewers' resurgence under Counsell has been exciting, as the club has won two NL Central titles over the last four seasons.

Current Brewers stars include 2018 NL MVP winner Christian Yelich, who had two 30+ home run seasons, and pitcher Corbin Burnes, who led the NL with a 2.43 ERA in 28 starts in 2021.

In total, the Brewers have five divisional titles and one AL pennant, though they have yet to win a World Series.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Commonly referred to as WAR, Wins Above Replacement is a metric developed to measure a baseball player’s overall contributions to his team. 

According to Major League Baseball's website, WAR is defined as 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).”

Of note, there is a separate WAR formula used for pitchers and position players, and the WAR calculation varies slightly by publisher (such as Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference). 

Nonetheless, it is still a very useful and popular measurement since it does such a good job at capturing the comprehensive value that a player has.

For this article, I investigated every catcher that ever put on a Brewers uniform and ranked them by their career and single season WAR, using Baseball Reference as the source. Meaning, I scanned player data going back to 1970 - the first season the team played as the Brewers. 

What follows is a summary of the top three Milwaukee Brewers catchers ranked by career WAR, while the second list highlights the top three best seasons by Brewers catchers, ranked by single season WAR.

Top 3 Brewers Catchers by Career WAR

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

#1. Ted Simmons, 50.3 career WAR

Ted Simmons portrait. A Hall of Fame Milwaukee Brewers catcher

Hall of Famer Ted Simmons.

Ted Simmons had a 21 year career in the big leagues that was split between three teams: the Atlanta Braves, the St Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Simmons was a phenomenal switch hitting catcher and collected nearly 2,500 career hits. He owns a lifetime .285/.348/.437 slash line and smashed 248 career home runs.

Simmons' 2,472 lifetime hits is second all-time among catchers, trailing only Hall of Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.

The 8-time all star caught 15,092.2 innings behind the plate and had a career .987 fielding percentage as a catcher. He also threw out 34% of runners attempting to steal during his career. 

Simmons was a key figure on the pennant winning 1982 Brewers team. In recognition of his excellent MLB career, Simmons was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.

#2. Jason Kendall, 41.7 career WAR

Jason Kendall former catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers

Kendall in the dugout [Brad Mangin Photography].

Jason Kendall spent two seasons in Milwaukee (2008 and 2009) towards the end of his career. The three-time all star - who is the son of veteran MLB catcher Fred Kendall - had a productive 15 year career in the big leagues.

Kendall had 2,195 hits, 75 home runs, 744 RBIs, and a .288/.366/.378 slash line over the course of his career. In over 2,000 games behind the dish, Kendall maintained a .990 fielding percentage and a caught stealing percentage (CS%) of 29%. 

Of note, Jason Kendall's highest CS% in a season came in 2008 while with the Brewers. His 43% CS% in 2008 led all NL catchers, and Kendall also led all MLB catchers that season in runners caught stealing with 41.

#3. Darrell Porter, 40.8 career WAR

Darrell Porter while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers

Portrait of Darrell Porter while playing for the Brewers.

Darrell Porter was drafted fourth overall by the Brewers in 1970 and made his big league debut the following season at the tender age of 19. He went on to spend the first six of his 17 year big league career in Milwaukee. 

Porter's career slash line is .247/.354/.409. He had a total of 1,369 hits, 188 home runs and 826 RBIs. Porter was the 1982 World Series MVP and he was named an AL all star four times. 

Defensively, Porter had a .982 fielding percentage as a catcher and 38% CS% in 1,506 games played behind the dish. 

Honorable Mentions
  • Jim Sundberg, 40.5 career WAR
  • B.J. Surhoff, 34.4 career WAR
  • Yasmani Grandal, 21.7 career WAR
  • Jonathan Lucroy, 17.7 career WAR
  • Ellie Rodriguez, 13.4 career WAR
  • Dave Nilsson, 10.6 career WAR
  • Charlie Moore, 10.3 career WAR
  • Charlie O’Brien, 9.7 career WAR
  • Damien Miller, 8.9 career WAR

 

Top 3 Seasons by Brewers 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 Brewers to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.

#1. 2014 - Jonathan Lucroy (6.4 WAR)

Jonathan Lucroy catching for the Brewers in 2014

Former Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy during a July 2014 game at Nationals Park [Getty Images].

Jonathan Lucroy had a career year in 2014. Not only did he earn his first all star game nod, but he finished fourth in NL MVP voting that year.

The Brewers' third round pick in 2007, Lucroy had career highs in 2014 in hits (176), doubles (53, leading the league), total bases (272), and more. 

Behind the plate, Lucroy had a .996 fielding percentage and threw out 26% of would-be base runners in 2014. He led all NL catchers in defensive games (136) and was third in fielding percentage that season.

#2. 1983 - Ted Simmons (4.0 WAR)

Ted Simmons hitting for the Brewers in 1983

Simmons at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in 1983 [Getty Images].

The 1983 season was Simmons' best as a Milwaukee Brewer. Coming off the Brewers 1982 pennant winning season, Simmons hit .308/.351/.448 with 13 home runs and a career high 108 RBIs. He would be selected to his eighth (and final) all star game that year.

Simmons spent 744 innings behind the plate in 1983, and he maintained a .975 fielding percentage as a catcher with a 29 CS%. 

#3. 1972 - Ellie Rodriguez (3.8 WAR)

Brewers catchers Ellie Rodriguez vs the San Diego Padres

Former Brewers catcher Ellie Rodriguez during a 1972 spring training game against the Padres [Getty Images].

Ellie Rodriguez had arguably the best year of his career in 1972. He was one of the team leaders on the three year old Brewers franchise that went 65 - 91.

Rodriguez had career highs in 1972 in hits (101), batting average (.285), OBP (.382), OPS+ (123), and more. Defensively, he had a .983 fielding percentage behind the plate and 41% CS%. Rodriguez was named an AL all star in '72.

Honorable Mentions by Decade
  • 1970s
    • 1975 - Darrell Porter (3.7 WAR)
  • 1980s
    • 1982 - Ted Simmons (3.4 WAR)
  • 1990s
    • 1999 - Dave Nilsson (2.6 WAR)
  • 2000s
    • 2008 - Jason Kendall (2.9 WAR)
  • 2010s
    • 2012 - Jonathan Lucroy (3.3 WAR)

 

List of All Milwaukee Brewers Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season

Reaching a 2.0+ WAR in a given season reflects a productive year for any MLB player. A wide variety of Milwaukee Brewers catchers have met or exceeded this mark since 1970, when the team first began playing. 

The below table shows Brewers catchers who have had a 2.0+ WAR season.

SeasonNameWAR
1971Ellie Rodriguez2.1
1972Ellie Rodriguez3.8
1973Ellie Rodriguez2.1
1973Darrell Porter3.6
1974Darrell Porter3.3
1975Darrell Porter3.7
1979Charlie Moore2.9
1982Ted Simmons3.4
1983Ted Simmons4.0
1984Jim Sundberg3.2
1987B.J. Surhoff2.5
1987Bill Schroeder2.3
1989Charlie O’Brien2.1
1990B.J. Surhoff2.5
1992B.J. Surhoff2.0
1999Dave Nilsson2.6
2008Jason Kendall2.9
2012Jonathan Lucroy3.3
2013Jonathan Lucroy2.9
2014Jonathan Lucroy6.4
2016Jonathan Lucroy2.2
2017Manny Piña2.6
2019Yasmani Grandal2.4

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