The Toronto Blue Jays have fielded many catchers since their inaugural season in 1977, yet only a few stand out above the pack.
This article focuses on those best catchers in Toronto Blue Jays history based on a player's career and single season wins above replacement (WAR).
Keep scrolling to learn more!
The Best Toronto Blue Jays Catchers of All Time
A Quick History of the Toronto Blue Jays
The First Season Through the '93 Series
Major League Baseball expanded in 1977 bringing two new teams into the American League: the Seattle Mariners, and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The three seasons the Blue Jays played in the 70s were not spectacular, with Toronto compiling a .347 record during this period.
However, the 1980s were far more successful as the Jays finished 817 - 746 (.523) for the decade.
They had an exciting playoff run in 1985, falling to the eventual world series champion Kansas City Royals in a seven game ALCS. Toronto also reached the ALCS in 1989 but lost to the Oakland A's, the eventual World Series champs.
As a new decade arrived, the Blue Jays continued their winning ways. In '91, the Jays again reached the ALCS and again lost to the eventual World Series champions, the Minnesota Twins.
The 1992 season was different. Not only did they make the ALCS, they won it and went on to defeat the Atlanta Braves to claim Toronto's first World Series title in team history. Jays catcher Pat Borders earned World Series MVP honors.
With a stacked team and a skilled manager in Citi Gaston, the Blue Jays repeated as World Series champs in 1993. They won it in dramatic fashion too, with Joe Carter hitting a walk off home run in game six.
From 1994 to Today
Although the second half of the 90s were not as successful for the Blue Jays as the first half, there are still some bright spots in the team's history during this span.
For example, Toronto had three consecutive Cy Young Award winners from 1996 - 1998 (Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens).
The Blue Jays went 805 - 814 (.497) during the 2000s and did not make the playoffs during the decade. Some notable players during this time include Hall of Famer Roy Halladay (2003 AL Cy Young winner), Eric Hinske (2002 AL Rookie of the Year winner), Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells.
The Blue Jays went 794 - 826 (.490) the following decade. Their playoff drought ended in 2015 with a victory in the ALDS, though the Jays dropped the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
Toronto again made it to the ALCS in 2016, but lost that year to the Cleveland Indians.
The 2020s began in atypical fashion for all MLB teams, but perhaps none more so than the Blue Jays. Due to COVID-19 related international travel restrictions, the Blue Jays were forced to play the shortened MLB season at their triple-A club's stadium in Buffalo, NY.
As of the date of publication, the Blue Jays are still not playing back at the Skydome.
On the bright side, the Blue Jays are currently loaded with young talent. Players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette (among others) should power the Jays for many seasons to come.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
Generally 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 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).”
Interestingly, there is a different WAR formula used for pitchers and for position players, and the calculation for WAR can vary slightly by publisher (such as Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs).
Still, it’s an extremely useful and popular metric, since it does such a good job at capturing the overall value that a player provides.
In this article, I researched every catcher that has ever put on a Blue Jays jersey and ranked them by career and single season WAR, using Baseball Reference as my source. Thus, I scanned player data going back to 1977 - the first season in Blue Jays history.
What follows is a summary of the top five Toronto Blue Jays catchers ranked by career WAR, while the second list highlights the top five best seasons by a Jays catcher, ranked by single season WAR.
Top 5 Blue Jays Catchers by Career WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the Blue Jays to be eligible for the career WAR list.
#1. Russell Martin, 38.9 career WAR
Russell Martin spent four of his 14 MLB seasons in a Blue Jays uniform. He made four all star games during his career, including his first season in Toronto (2015). Martin also earned one gold glove, one silver slugger, and MVP shares in three seasons.
A career .248/.349/.397 hitter, Martin collected 1,416 hits and 191 home runs during his big league career. Martin was especially strong defensively and had an excellent career fielding percentage of .993 as a catcher. He also threw out 365 runners attempting to steal, good for a career 30% caught stealing percentage.
#2. Benito Santiago, 27.4 career WAR
Benito Santiago had a productive MLB career and was particularly dominant behind the plate in the late '80s and early '90s. He spent a total of 20 seasons in the majors, two of which were in Toronto (1997 - 1998).
Santiago was the 1987 NL Rookie of the Year while playing for the San Diego Padres. He was a five time all star, three time gold glove winner and four time silver slugger awardee. He owns 1,830 career hits, 217 career home runs, and a lifetime .263/.307/.415 slash line.
Defensively, Santiago had a career .987 fielding percentage as a catcher and a total caught stealing average of 35%. He led league catchers in defensive games twice, in assists three times, in double plays turned twice, and in total zone runs three times.
#3. Ernie Whitt, 18.3 career WAR
Ernie Whitt spent the large majority of his 15 year MLB career as a Toronto Blue Jay. Toronto's primary catcher for most of the 1980s, Whitt was an AL all star in 1985, the same season he helped lead the Jays to their first ALCS.
Whitt hit .249/.324/.410 with 934 hits and 134 home runs during his career. He appeared in more than 1,200 MLB games behind the dish and maintained a solid .991 career fielding percentage as a catcher. Whitt also gunned down 347 runners caught stealing, good for a 33% average.
For his contributions to the Blue Jays and to Canadian baseball, Whitt was induced to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
#4. Gregg Zaun, 13.7 career WAR
Gregg Zaun played for the Blue Jays from 2004 - 2008. Despite playing for nine different MLB teams during his 16 year big league career, Zaun's most productive years came during his five seasons in Toronto.
The switch-hitting Zaun hit .252/.344/.388 with 878 hits and 88 home runs during his career. He appeared in over 1,000 games defensively as a catcher and owns a career 24% caught stealing average and .987 fielding percentage as a catcher.
#5. Alan Ashby, 11.1 career WAR
Alan Ashby broke into the majors in 1973 while with the Cleveland Indians. He would go on to spend 17 years in the big leagues. Ashby was a member of the Blue Jays inaugural 1977 team, serving as the primary catcher that season and platooning with Rick Cerone for Toronto in 1978.
The switch hitting Ashby collected a total of 1,010 hits, 90 home runs and owns a career slash line of .245/.320/.361. Ashby's career fielding percentage as a catcher was .986 and his caught stealing average was 29%. He led all catchers in the league in fielding percentage once, in range factor/game twice, and in range factor/9 innings twice.
Top 5 Seasons by Blue Jays 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 Blue Jays to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.
#1. 2005 - Gregg Zaun (3.6 WAR)
Veteran catcher Gregg Zaun was an important contributor to the '05 Jays, despite suffering a concussion in the first half of the season.
The 2005 season saw Zaun reach career highs in many important statistical categories. These included games (133), hits (109), RBIs (61), runs (61) and total bases (162). His slash line for the '05 season was .251/.355/.373 with a .729 OPS.
From a defensive perspective, Zaun spent a career high 1,088 innings behind the plate in 2005, earning a .990 fielding percentage for the season. He also had career highs in putouts (761), assists (49), and pickoffs (3). Zaun’s 3.6 WAR was second highest on the Blue Jays that season, after Roy Halladay.
#2. 1983 - Ernie Whitt (3.4 WAR)
Ernie Whitt's 1983 season resulted in his highest single-season WAR as a player at 3.4. The then 31 year old Whitt hit .256/.346/.459 for the Blue Jays with 17 home runs, 56 RBIs and a career high .805 OPS in '83.
He had the fourth highest WAR for the Jays that year, with Dave Stieb, Lloyd Moseby and Willie Upshaw finishing above him.
A big reason for Whitt's high WAR in 1983 was his defense, as he earned a career high dWAR that season of 1.7. In 1983 Whitt finished second among AL catchers in total zone runs (9), third in range factor/9inn (6.37), fifth in assists (50) and fifth in fielding percentage (.992).
#3. 2015 - Russell Martin (3.2 WAR)
Blue Jays' catcher Russell Martin was an AL all star in 2015 and even earned AL MVP shares that season. His 3.2 WAR was sixth best on a stacked Toronto team that nearly made it to the World Series.
Martin hit a career high 23 home runs in '15 along with 77 RBIs, 106 hits and a .240/.329/.458 slash line. Behind the dish, Martin led all AL catchers with a career high 44% caught stealing average and he led league catchers with runners caught stealing at 32.
His 2015 fielding percentage was .995 with 799 putouts and 70 assists across 994 innings catching.
#4. 1990 - Pat Borders (3.0 WAR)
Pat Borders hit a career high 15 home runs for the 1990 Blue Jays, a team that was filled with talent. The future World Series MVP had a 1990 season that yielded career highs in oWAR (2.3), dWAR (1.3) and overall WAR (3.0).
Borders' slash line in 1990 was .286/.319/.497 with an .816 OPS. His defensive statistics for the 1990 season included a fielding percentage of .993 and a 43% caught stealing percentage.
#5. 1988 - Ernie Whitt (2.8 WAR)
Ernie Whitt had the highest oWAR (3.0) of his career in 1988, which coincidentally was Pat Borders' rookie season. He also had career highs in runs (63) and walks (61), and hit .251/.348/.410 with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs that season.
Whitt finished second among AL catchers in 1990 for defensive games (123), putouts (643), double plays turned (10) and fielding percentage (.994).
List of All Toronto Blue Jays Catchers With a 2.5+ WAR Season
Earning a single season WAR that’s 2.5 or higher reflects a productive year for any MLB ballplayer.
A few Toronto Blue Jays catchers have met or exceeded this mark since the team first began playing in 1977.
The table below shows every Blue Jays catcher who has had a 2.5 WAR or better in a season.
Thank You for Reading
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