Best Pittsburgh Pirates Catchers in Team History [All-Time List!]

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been around since the 19th century, and over the years many solid catchers have played for the Bucs.

This article highlights the best Pittsburgh Pirates catchers in team history based on single-season and career wins above replacement (WAR).

Keep scrolling to learn more…

best pittsburgh pirates catchers of all time

Background on the Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of baseball's oldest teams. They began playing professionally way back in 1882 as a founding member of the American Association. 

Since that time, a number of legendary players have worn a Pirates uniform. These men include Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Ralph Kiner and Willie Stargell - to list just a few.

honus wagner

One of the greatest of all time, Pirates legend Honus Wagner.

Many talented catchers have also played for the Pirates over the decades. This article focuses specifically on these players, as it explores the best catchers in Pittsburgh Pirates history since the team's founding in 1882.

Wins Above Replacement

The baseball statistic which measures the comprehensive value that an MLB player has is called Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. 

If you're interested in learning more about WAR, we would suggest reading this article.  

We believe that WAR is the best single statistic out there for holistically measuring player value from both a defensive and offensive point of view. 

So for this article, we researched every catcher to have played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and ranked them by WAR (following the WAR calculation from Fangraphs, or fWAR).  

The following showcases the top five Pirates catchers in franchise history based on career WAR, followed by the top five seasons among Pittsburgh Pirates catchers based on single-season WAR.

Top 5 Pirates Catchers by Career WAR

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

#1. Russell Martin, 55.1 career WAR

Russell Martin pirates throwing

[Image Source: Daniel Shirey, USA TODAY Sports]

The best catcher to have ever played for the Pirates, according to fWAR, is Russell Martin. 

Martin came up with the Los Angeles Dodgers and made a name for himself in LA, before moving on to a two year stint with the New York Yankees. After that, he went to Pittsburgh and played for two seasons (2013 - 2014).

Over the course of his 14 year MLB career, Martin hit .248/.349/.397 with 191 home runs, 771 RBIs and a .746 OPS.

Martin was a solid defender and had a lifetime .993 fielding percentage behind the plate, in addition to a 30% caught stealing percentage (CS%).

Martin was named to four all star games and he won one gold glove and a silver slugger award. He also received MVP shares in three consecutive seasons (2013 - 2015).

#2. Jason Kendall, 37.1 career WAR

Jason Kendell pirates at bat

[Image Source: Brad Mangin Photography]

Drafted by Pittsburgh in 1992, Jason Kendall made his big league debut for the Pirates in 1996. Though he ended up playing for five different teams, Kendall spent the majority of his career with the Bucs. 

A three-time all star, Kendall had a career marked by consistent production. He is one of the few catchers in history to have reached the 2,000 hit mark. In fact, his 2,195 career hits ranks fifth all time among catchers. 

Kendall's lifetime slash line is .288/.366/.378 and he collected a total of 75 home runs and 744 RBIs. Defensively, he caught in over 2,000 games and maintained a .990 fielding percentage and 29% CS%. He also led league catchers for multiple seasons across various defensive categories.

#3. Smoky Burgess, 34.2 career WAR

Smoky Burgess pirates

One of the top catchers of the 1950s, Forrest "Smoky" Burgess had an 18 year career in the big leagues. The short and stocky North Carolina native spent six years with the Pirates, and he started five of the seven games in the 1960 World Series.

A nine time all star, Smoky had a .295/.362/.446 career slash line with 126 home runs, 673 RBIs and more than 1,300 hits.

In 1,139 games played behind the plate, Smokey had a fielding percentage of .988 with a 36% CS%. 

The only defensive position that Smoky ever played was catcher, although he did appear in a significant number of games as a pinch hitter, especially later in his career.

#4. Manny Sanguillen, 27.7 career WAR

manny sanguillen backwards cap

(Image Source: Getty Images)

With the exception of a solitary season with the Oakland A's, Manny Sanguillen spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Panamanian native was one of the most dependable and productive catchers of the 1970s.

Over the course of his career, Sanguillen hit .296/.326/.398 with exactly 1,500 hits, 65 home runs and 585 RBIs. Behind the plate, he kept a .986 fielding percentage and he gunned down a total of 316 runners attempting to steal (39%).

Manny made three NL all star teams during his career (1971, 1972, 1975). He also won two World Series rings with the Pirates, one in 1971 and the other in 1979.

#5. Tony Peña, 23.9 career WAR

tony pena at bat

A member of the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame (Salón de la Fama del Béisbol Latino), Tony Peña caught in the major leagues for 18 years. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 1980 and he went on to spend a total of seven seasons in Pittsburgh (1980 - 1986).

A five-time all star, Peña hit .260 and collected 1,687 career hits, 107 home runs and 708 RBIs. 

Peña was a solid defensive catcher and won four gold glove awards (three while in Pittsburgh). His lifetime fielding percentage behind the dish is .991 and his CS% is 35%.

Honorable Mentions

  • Fred Carroll, 23.1 career WAR
  • Chief Zimmer, 21.6 career WAR
  • Don Slaught, 21.1 career WAR

 

Top 5 Seasons by Pirates Catchers, Ranked by WAR

Please note: The player must have at least 70 games played in one season as a member of the Pirates to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.

#1. 2014 - Russell Martin (6.2 WAR)

russell martin in 2014

Martin at bat during an April 2014 game [Image Source: Getty Images]

Russell Martin's second and final season as a Pirate was arguably the best among catchers in franchise history. 

Martin hit .290/.402/.430 in 2014 with 110 hits, 11 home runs, 67 RBIs and a career high 135 OPS+. He led all NL catchers in runners caught stealing (37) and he maintained a strong .994 fielding percentage behind the plate that year.

Although Martin was not selected as an all star in 2014, he had the highest MVP vote total of his career that season, finishing in the top 15 in the league.

#2. 2015 - Francisco Cervelli (5.9 WAR)

francisco cervelli 2015 pirates

Francisco Cervelli during opening day in 2015 at PNC Park [Image Source: Getty Images]

Russell Martin moved to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 but Francisco Cervelli stepped right in and had a fantastic season for the Bucs. 

Cervelli had a career year at the plate in 2015. His batting average that season was .295 and he had a .771 OPS. He also collected 133 hits, 56 runs, 17 doubles, and 181 total bases, all of which were career highs. 

Behind the plate in 2015, Cervelli led all catchers in the NL in assists (82), he threw out 22 runners trying to steal (22%), and he maintained a .994 fielding percentage.

#3. 1998 - Jason Kendall (5.8 WAR)

Jason Kendall one of the best pirates catchers of all time

Jason Kendall at bat during an August 1998 game at Three Rivers Stadium [Image Source: Getty Images]

Jason Kendall's 1998 season was his best as a Pirate, according to fWAR. 

That year, Kendall hit a (then) career high .327, and he had 175 hits with 12 home runs and 75 RBIs. Also of note, Kendall led all of the major leagues in '98 in hit by pitch (HBP) with 31 HBP.

Defensively, Kendall had a .992 fielding percentage and a 28% CS% in 1998. He led NL catchers that season in defensive games (144) and putouts (1,015). 

#4. 2013 - Russell Martin (5.4 WAR)

russell martin 2013 celebrating

Russell Martin celebrates after the Pirates win the 2013 NL Wild Card game [Image Source: Getty Images]

Russell Martin left the New York Yankees to join the Pirates in 2013. He helped lead the Bucs to the playoffs that season, in which the Pirates narrowly lost the NLDS to the Cardinals. 

Martin improved on his 2012 campaign in 2013 as he collected 99 hits, 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. 

In 1,015 innings spent behind the plate in 2013, Martin had a near perfect .998 fielding percentage as a catcher and he threw out 36 runners caught stealing - both of which led the league.

#5. (tied) 1971 - Manny Sanguillen (5.0 WAR) AND 1984 - Tony Pena (5.0 WAR)

manny sanguillen during 1971 world series

Manny Sanguillen during the 1971 World Series [Image Source: Getty Images]

Manny Sanguillen had a season to remember in 1971. Not only did he play incredibly well during the regular season but he hit .379 in the World Series, helping the Pirates win their first Series of the decade.

During the regular season, Manny hit .319/.345/.426 with 170 hits, seven home runs and a career high 81 RBIs. Behind the dish, he had a .994 fielding percentage and an impressive 50% CS%.

tony pena throwing

Tony Peña during a 1984 game [Image Source: Getty Images]

Tony Peña in 1984 matched Sanguillen's 1971 campaign with a 5.0 WAR. Peña hit .286 with 156 hits, 15 home runs and 78 RBIs that year. 

Defensively, Peña led NL catchers in 1984 with 895 putouts, 95 assists, 15 double plays turned, and 63 runners caught stealing. Peña's strong defensive play in '84 earned him a gold glove award, his second in as many years. 

List of All Pirates Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season

If a catcher has a 2.0 WAR or better season, it typically indicates that it was a productive year.  A substantial number of Pirates catchers have met or exceeded this mark since the franchise first began playing in 1882.  

The list below details every Pittsburgh Pirates catcher to have had a WAR that's 2.0 or better in a season.

SeasonNameWAR
2014Russell Martin6.2
2015Francisco Cervelli5.9
1998Jason Kendall5.8
2013Russell Martin5.4
1971Manny Sanguillen5.0
1984Tony Pena5.0
2000Jason Kendall4.8
1975Manny Sanguillen4.7
1886Fred Carroll4.6
2004Jason Kendall4.5
1889Fred Carroll4.5
1997Jason Kendall4.5
2003Jason Kendall4.2
1986Tony Pena4.0
1999Jason Kendall3.9
1945Bill Salkeld3.9
1970Manny Sanguillen3.8
1983Tony Pena3.8
1982Tony Pena3.7
1972Manny Sanguillen3.7
1909George Gibson3.6
1964Jim Pagliaroni3.5
1962Smoky Burgess3.5
1969Manny Sanguillen3.3
1987Mike LaValliere3.3
1965Jim Pagliaroni3.2
1961Smoky Burgess3.1
1959Smoky Burgess3.0
1887Fred Carroll3.0
1960Smoky Burgess2.9
1992Don Slaught2.8
1952Joe Garagiola2.8
1974Manny Sanguillen2.7
1940Spud Davis2.7
1891Doggie Miller2.7
2016Francisco Cervelli2.7
1973Manny Sanguillen2.7
2021Jacob Stallings2.6
2018Francisco Cervelli2.6
1988Mike LaValliere2.5
1886Doggie Miller2.5
1910George Gibson2.5
1990Don Slaught2.5
1985Tony Pena2.5
1960Hal Smith2.4
1888Doggie Miller2.4
1926Earl Smith2.4
1937Al Todd2.4
1951Clyde McCullough2.3
1922Johnny Gooch2.3
1925Earl Smith2.3
2002Jason Kendall2.2
1991Don Slaught2.2
1993Don Slaught2.2
1976Manny Sanguillen2.2
1963Jim Pagliaroni2.1
1892Doggie Miller2.1
1917William Fischer2.1
1967Jerry May2.1
1990Mike LaValliere2.1
2007Ryan Doumit2.1
1914George Gibson2.0
1991Mike LaValliere2.0

Pirates Catchers over the Last 10 Years

Please note: catchers in the below list appear in the order of games caught that season for the Pirates. Catchers with the most games caught per season start at the top. 

2012 Pirates - Finished fourth in NL Central

  • Rod Barajas (primary)
  • Michael McKenry

 

2013 Pirates - Finished second in NL Central, lost NLDS

  • Russell Martin (primary)
  • Michael McKenry
  • Tony Sanchez
  • John Buck

 

2014 Pirates - Finished second in NL Central, lost NL Wild Card Game

  • Russell Martin (primary)
  • Chris Stewart
  • Tony Sanchez

 

2015 Pirates - Finished second in NL Central, lost NL Wild Card Game

  • Francisco Cervelli (primary)
  • Chris Stewart
  • Tony Sanchez

 

2016 Pirates - Finished third in NL Central

  • Francisco Cervelli (primary)
  • Eric Fryer
  • Chris Stewart
  • Erik Kratz
  • Jacob Stallings
  • Elias Diaz

 

2017 Pirates - Finished fourth in NL Central, lost NLDS

  • Francisco Cervelli (primary)
  • Elias Diaz
  • Chris Stewart
  • Jacob Stallings

 

2018 Pirates - Finished fourth in NL Central

  • Francisco Cervelli (primary)
  • Elias Diaz
  • Jacob Stallings

 

2019 Pirates - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Elias Diaz (primary)
  • Jacob Stallings
  • Francisco Cervelli
  • Steven Baron

 

2020 Pirates - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Jacob Stallings (primary)
  • John Ryan Murphy
  • Andrew Susac

 

2021 Pirates - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Jacob Stallings (primary)
  • Michael Perez
  • Taylor Davis

 

Complete List of All Pirates Catchers Over the Last 10 Years

The list below shows every Pittsburgh Pirates catcher to have played in at least one game defensively as a catcher for the Bucs since 2012. 

The catchers shown below are listed in alphabetical order by first name.

  • Andrew Susac
  • Chris Stewart
  • Elias Diaz
  • Eric Fryer
  • Erik Kratz
  • Francisco Cervelli
  • Jacob Stallings
  • John Buck
  • John Ryan Murphy
  • Michael McKenry
  • Michael Perez
  • Rod Barajas
  • Russell Martin
  • Steven Baron
  • Taylor Davis
  • Tony Sanchez

 

That's A Wrap! 

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Sources for this article

  • Baseball Almanac
  • Baseball Reference
  • Fangraphs
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette