The San Diego Padres have been playing in the MLB since 1969. In that span of time, a number of talented and productive catchers have been on the Padres roster.
This article showcases the best San Diego Padres catchers in team history based on each player's career and single season wins above replacement (WAR).
Keep scrolling to learn more...
A Brief History of the San Diego Padres
The 1969 MLB Expansion
Major League Baseball (MLB) expanded three times in the 1960s with their largest expansion coming in 1969.
That season, MLB added four new teams to its ranks. They were the Montreal Expos, The Kansas City Royals, the Seattle Pilots, and the San Diego Padres.
The Padres got their name from the minor league team that played in San Diego from 1936 to 1968. Padres means fathers in Spanish, and the name is an ode to the Catholic friars who founded San Diego in the 18th century.
The original Padres played in San Diego Stadium, which was later named Jack Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium.
Like many expansion teams, the Padres had their fair share of struggles right out the gate. In fact, the Padres finished last in the NL West for the first six years of their existence.
The Padres started playing slightly better in 1975, which was the first season that they didn't finish last in the division.
Thanks to the play of future hall of famers like Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield and Gaylord Perry, San Diego had its first winning season (84 - 78) just three years later, in 1978.
The 80s and The First Pennant
The first two seasons in the 1980s were nothing to write home about. San Diego was a bit better in '82 and '83, finishing .500 each season.
In 1984, however, the Padres broke out.
They finished 92 - 70 and won the division, and then the NL pennant over the Chicago Cubs.
Their stellar season would disappointingly come to an end in the World Series at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, who won four games to one.
Even though the Padres would finish above .500 in three of the next five seasons, 1984 would prove to be the high water mark for the team in the '80s.
The 90s and Pennant Number Two
The first few seasons in the next decade had their share of ups and downs.
One of the most notable in this time period came during the strike shortened season of 1994, when legendary Padre Tony Gwynn nearly reached the vaunted .400 mark in batting average.
He would go on to finish the season with a .394 batting average, which was the closest anyone had come to reaching Ted Williams' .406 average that he had in the 1941 season.
Two years after Gwynn's pursuit of Teddy Ballgame, the Padres had another strong season and won the NL West in 1996.
Then two years after that, the Padres went even further.
In 1998, the Padres had the best record in franchise history at 98 - 64. Like 1984, the Padres went on to win the pennant that year.
And like 1984, the Padres lost the World Series, this time to the New York Yankees dynasty of the late '90s and early 2000s.
The Early 2000s to Slam Diego
After the 1998 pennant, the Padres went the next six seasons without finishing higher than third in the NL West. Then in 2005 and 2006, the Padres won back to back division titles.
Longtime Padres manager Bruce Bochy left San Diego for the San Francisco Giants after the '06 season, where he would go on to win three World Series championships with the Giants. Bochy remains the winningest manager in San Diego Padres history.
Over the following four seasons, from 2007 - 2010, the Padres had two years with above .500 records and two years below .500.
Then, a long period of sustained, below average seasons occurred. Between 2011 and 2019, the Padres failed to reach the .500 mark.
During the coronavirus shortened season in 2020, the Padres had a strong year at 37 - 23 (.617) under Padres manager Jayce Tingler. However, they lost the NLDS to a Dodger team that went on to win the World Series.
As of 2021, the Padres are one of the most stacked teams in the majors. They have great pitching with guys like Yu Darvish and Blake Snell.
And with guys like Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. on the team, it's no wonder that the Padres got the nickname Slam Diego.
Interestingly, the Padres got the Slam Diego nickname following a four game away series against the Texas Rangers in August of 2020. During that series, the Padres became the first team in MLB history to hit a grand slam in four consecutive games.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
Referred to as WAR, Wins Above Replacement is a Baseball metric which was developed to measure an individual player’s overall contributions to his team.
According to the MLB, 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 by publishing outlet (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 comprehensive value that a player provides.
For this article, I researched all catchers that played for the Padres and ranked them by career and single season WAR, utilizing Baseball Reference as the source. So, I scanned player data going back to 1969 - the first season in Padres history.
The rest of the article contains a summary of the top three San Diego Padres catchers ranked by career WAR, while the second list highlights the top three best seasons by a Padres catcher, ranked by single season WAR.
Top 3 Padres Catchers by Career WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the San Diego Padres to be eligible for the career WAR list.
#1. Mike Piazza, 59.5 career WAR
Mike Piazza exceeded expectations by not only reaching the big leagues but winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1993 - despite being a 62nd round draft pick!
Piazza first came to fame with the Los Angeles Dodgers followed by the New York Mets. Later in his career, he spent one season as a Padre, in 2007.
During his career, Piazza was a regular NL all-star and appeared in 12 all-star games. He won 10 Silver Slugger awards and had a lifetime slash line of 308/.377/.545. Piazza also owns the record of most career home runs by a catcher with 427.
Defensively, Piazza had a .989 fielding percentage behind the plate and gunned down 423 (23%) base runners attempting to steal.
Pizza was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
#2. Gene Tenace, 46.8 career WAR
Gene Tenace spent 15 years in the big leagues, four seasons of which were with the San Diego Padres (1977 - 1980).
He came up with the Oakland Athletics and was a key part of the A's dynasty that won three straight World Series in the 1970s. Of note, Tenace was the MVP of the 1972 World Series.
Tenace smashed 201 lifetime home runs, collected 674 RBIs and had a .241/.388/.429 career slash line. The one time all-star had a .986 fielding percentage as a catcher and threw out 36% of would be base runners.
#3. Benito Santiago, 27.4 career WAR
Benito Santiago had a productive career in the big leagues and he was dominant behind the plate. He spent a total of 20 seasons in the majors, seven of which were in San Diego (1986 - 1992).
Santiago won the 1987 NL Rookie of the Year and was a five time all star, won three gold gloves and four silver slugger awards. He collected 1,830 career hits, 217 career home runs and 920 RBIs.
Behind the dish, Santiago's lifetime fielding percentage as a catcher was .987, and he threw out 35% of runners attempting to steal. Santiago often led the league in multiple defensive categories, such as in assists three times, in total zone runs three times, and in double plays turned twice.
- Ramon Hernandez, 22.0 career WAR
- Terry Kennedy, 21.6 career WAR
- Yasmani Grandal, 21.5 career WAR (note: active MLB player)
- Brad Ausmus, 16.5 career WAR
- Randy Hundley, 11.6 career WAR
Top 3 Seasons by Padres 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 Padres to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.
#1. 1979 - Gene Tenace (6.0 WAR)
Gene Tenace's 1979 season was one of the best of his career and is tops among Padres catchers based on WAR in a single-season.
In 1979 Tenace had 122 hits with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs. He hit .263/.403/.445 in 463 at bats for Roger Craig's '79 Padres, which finished fifth in the NL West.
Behind the plate Tenace had a near perfect .998 fielding percentage with only one error made over 680 innings, leading all NL catchers. His caught stealing percentage at 48% was the highest of his career and was second best in the NL that season.
#2. 1978 - Gene Tenace (5.2 WAR)
Gene Tenace's 1978 campaign resulted in the second highest single-season WAR among Padres catchers. Tenace slashed .224/.392/.409, collecting 16 home runs in 61 RBIs in 401 at bats that season.
It was Tenace's defense, however, that stood out in 1978. His 0.9 dWAR was the highest of his career. He had a .991 fielding percentage and gunned down 23 (35%) attempted base runners that year.
#3. 1977 - Gene Tenace (4.7 WAR)
Rounding out the list is Gene Tenace once again, this time for his strong 1977 season, which was his first as a Padre.
That year Tenace collected 102 hits, 15 home runs, 61 RBIs, and a .233/.415/.410 slash line. He also led the NL in both walks (125) and in hit by pitch (13), which helped support his high OBP.
In 99 defensive games behind the plate in 1977, Tenace had a .980 fielding percentage and a caught stealing percentage of 41%.
Honorable Mentions by Decade:
- 1973 - Fred Kendall (2.9 WAR)
- 1982 - Terry Kennedy (4.6 WAR)
- 1995 - Brad Ausmus (3.0 WAR)
- 2004 - Ramon Hernandez (3.0 WAR)
- 2011 - Nick Hundley (3.0 WAR)
List of All San Diego Padres 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 San Diego Padres catchers have reached or exceeded this mark since the team first began playing way back in 1962.
The below table highlights every Padres catcher who has had a 2.0 WAR or better season.
Thank You for Reading
Hopefully you found this article to be a helpful and interesting read. I learned a lot about the Padres and these players in the process of researching and writing.
If you want to get in touch about this article, please head over to the Contact Us page or send me an email to scott (at) catchersome (dot) com. I always enjoy hearing from readers.
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