As one of Baseball’s newest teams, the Tampa Bay Rays have already had a good deal of success in their team’s short history. Contributing to this success has been numerous Rays catchers over the years.
This article highlights the best catchers to ever put on a Rays jersey as determined by each player's career and single season wins above replacement (or, WAR).
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The Best Tampa Bay Rays Catchers of All Time
A Brief History of the Tampa Bay Rays
A New Team in Town
The Tampa Bay Rays are one of Major League Baseball’s (MLBs) newest teams. Together with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Rays got their start in 1998 thanks to Baseball’s most recent expansion.
Originally called the Devil Rays, their inaugural season in ‘98 was not spectacular, as they finished last in the AL East. This was not entirely surprising though, considering the dismal first season records of practically all expansion teams in the modern era.
Interestingly, the Devil Rays welcomed more than 2.5 million fans to Tropicana Field in 1998, which remains a franchise attendance record to this day.
The Devil Rays struggled during their first ten years of existence. Between 1998 - 2007, Tampa Bay never finished .500 or above, and only had one season where they were not last in the AL East (2004).
The Rays’ Transformation
The 2008 season ushered in a new name for the team. No longer would they be known as the Devil Rays - they were now just the Rays. They also got rid of the old colors and adopted the color scheme that the Rays use today.
The re-branding effort must have worked because the Rays had an incredible season in 2008. They not only had their first .500 plus season (97 - 65) in team history, but they also won the AL pennant and appeared in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies!
Though the Rays did not win the ‘08 Series, their successful season sparked a period of five straight years (2009 - 2013) of above .500 Baseball with three playoff appearances in that span.
Then, in 2014, the Rays had a challenging season, finishing 77 - 85. After the season the Rays’ manager Joe Maddon opted to leave the team, and Kevin Cash took over managerial duties beginning in 2015.
The next five seasons (2015 - 2019) had its share of ups and downs. Overall in this span, the Rays were 414 - 396 (.511) and saw some young talent like Blake Snell and Kevin Kiermaier begin making an impact.
During the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, the Rays had another incredible run. Just like 2008, the Rays won the pennant and made it to the World Series, though they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rays Catchers in the World Series
Let's take a quick sidebar to identify the catchers for the Rays to play in each of their World Series appearances (2008 and 2020).
The Rays have had three catchers play defensively behind the plate in their World Series appearances. They are Dioner Navarro in 2008, and Mike Zunino and Michael Perez in 2020.
Navarro appeared in all five games for Tampa in the 2008 Series. He hit .353 (6 for 17) with a double and two runs.
Zunino played in each of the six games of the 2020 World Series. He had just one hit in 16 at bats and struck out nine times.
Although he had no at bats, Michael Perez stepped in as a late game defensive replacement for Zunino in three games of the 2020 World Series, as Zunino was pinch hit for numerous times.
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 Rays and ranked them by career and single season WAR, utilizing Baseball Reference as the source. So, I scanned player data going back to 1998 - the first season in Rays history.
The rest of the article contains a summary of the top three Tampa Bay Rays catchers ranked by career WAR, while the second list highlights the top three best seasons by a Rays catcher, ranked by single season WAR.
Top 3 Rays Catchers by Career WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays to be eligible for the career WAR list.
#1. Wilson Ramos, 15.3 career WAR
The only active player to appear on this list (whose WAR is subject to change), Wilson Ramos has been in the big leagues for 12 seasons and made two all star teams thus far. He is currently a member of the Detroit Tigers.
The Venezuelan native made his MLB debut back in 2010 with the Twins before spending a number of seasons with the Washington Nationals. Ramos was a member of the Rays during 2017 and part of 2018, playing in a total of 142 games for Tampa Bay.
His career stats to-date include a .271/.319/.432 slash line with 939 hits and 134 home runs. He has logged nearly 8,000 innings behind the plate and owns a career .994 fielding percentage as a catcher and a caught stealing percentage of 27%.
#2. John Jaso, 10.9 career WAR
John Jaso spent the majority of his career as a catcher, though he made a substantial number of appearances (particularly later in his career) as a designated hitter, first baseman and an outfielder.
Jaso was drafted by the Devil Rays in 2003 and made his debut during the Rays’ famed 2008 season. While he spent 2009 in the minors, Jaso made it back to the bigs in 2010. That season and in 2011, he served in a platoon role behind the plate with Kelly Shoppach.
Jaso was traded after 2011 but came back to the Rays for the 2015 season (note: he did not catch in any games that season).
For his career, Jaso hit .258/.356/.407 with 573 hits and 55 home runs. Defensively, Jaso played 2,400 + innings behinds the plate and owns a lifetime .994 fielding percentage as a catcher.
#3. Kelly Shoppach, 8.3 career WAR
Alongside John Jaso during Tampa Bay’s 2010 and 2011 seasons was Kelly Shoppach. The nine year MLB veteran spent time with five big league teams during his career, his best years occurring while a member of the Cleveland Indians.
His lifetime slash line is .223/.312/.413 with 361 hits and 70 home runs. Behind the plate Shoppach had a career .990 fielding percentage and a 30% caught stealing percentage. He led the AL in caught stealing percentage (40.9%) in 2011 while a member of the Rays.
Top 3 Seasons by Rays 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 Rays to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.
#1. 2005 - Toby Hall (2.8 WAR)
The catcher with the best single season in Tampa Bay Rays history is Toby Hall, with a 2.8 WAR in 2005.
His solid season was due in large part to his outstanding defense. Hall led the entire AL - across all positions - in defensive WAR (dWAR) in 2005 with 2.7. In 1,061 innings behind the plate in '05, Hall had 759 putouts with a .989 fielding percentage and a caught stealing percentage of 42%.
During the Devil Rays 2005 campaign, Hall hit .287/.315/.368 with a career high 124 hits. Of those hits, 20 were doubles along with five home runs and 48 RBIs.
#2. 2010 - John Jaso (2.6 WAR)
Although John Jaso made his MLB debut in 2008, his true rookie season came in 2010. He had a productive season, appearing in approximately 109 games in 2010 for the Rays and finishing in the top five for AL Rookie of the Year.
Jaso hit .263/.372/.378 during the season with 89 hits, 5 home runs and 44 RBIs. He also had career highs in runs (57) and walks (59).
As a catcher, Jaso had a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 12 runners attempting to steal (23%). He finished in the top five among AL catchers for Range Factor/9Inn (9.02) and double plays turned (5) in 2010.
Dioner Navarro was the primary catcher for the AL pennant winning Rays in 2008. In 120 games that season, Navarro hit .295/.349/.407 with 126 hits, seven home runs and 54 RBIs. He was an AL all star that year, and he earned career highs in doubles (27) and in walks (34).
Defensively, Navarro had a fielding percentage of .994 and a caught stealing percentage of 38%. He led all AL catchers in Range Factor/Game (7.62) and in double plays turned (10) in 2008.
Navarro was the Rays' starting catcher in all five games of the 2008 World Series. He had a good offensive Series, going 6 for 17 (.353) with a walk and two runs.
Thank You for Reading
Hopefully you found this article to be a helpful and interesting read. I learned a lot about the Rays and these players in the process of researching and writing.
If you're interested in learning every catcher to play for the Rays over the last 10 seasons, then click here to see our article that covers this question.
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