Many solid catchers have caught for the Angels since the team got its start in the early 1960s. This article showcases these men, focusing on the best Los Angeles Angels catchers in team history based on career and single-season WAR.
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A Brief History of the Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ First Decade
Baseball's expansion in 1961 ushered in two new major league teams: the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels.
The MLB's Angels first played at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field, home to the former Pacific Coast League (minor league) Angels team. They next moved to Dodger Stadium for four seasons before the team got their very own stadium in 1966, known as Anaheim Stadium (now called Angel Stadium).
Like many expansion teams, the LA Angels had a less than stellar inaugural season at 70 - 91 (.435). However, the following season the Angels finished above .500 with a 86 - 76 record, good for third in the AL. The Angels would go on to have two more winning seasons that decade.
In the 60s, early Angels standouts included shortstop Jim Fregosi, second baseman Bobby Knoop, outfield Rick Reichardt, and pitchers Dean Chance and Ken McBride.
The Angels of the 70’s and 80’s
In late 1971, Jim Fregosi was traded to the New York Mets for a number of players, including a young pitcher named Nolan Ryan.
The Angels hit the jackpot in that trade. In Ryan’s first season as an Angel (by this time called the California Angels), he collected 19 wins and an MLB-leading 329 strikeouts.
In addition to Nolan Ryan, all-star pitcher Frank Tanana was a key feature of the Angels’ rotation in the 70s. Infielder Bobby Grich also came on the scene after a trade from the Baltimore Orioles, becoming a key contributor to several teams later in the decade.
For the decade in total, the Angels had a 781 - 831 (.484) record and made their first playoffs appearance in 1979.
The Angels had an even more successful decade in the 80s, finishing the ten year span between 1980 - 1989 with an even 783 - 783 (.500) record.
In the 80s, future Hall of Famer Rod Carew, third baseman Doug DeCinces, pitcher Mike Whitt and others were key contributors.
The Angels reached the ALCS twice in the decade and came incredibly close to reaching the World Series in 1986, losing the ALCS in a heartbreaking seven games to the Boston Red Sox.
From the 90s to the 2002 World Series
The California Angels had a disappointing decade in the 90s. They went 738 - 817 (.473) that decade and failed to make the playoffs.
Still, some notable Angels played during this period. Guys like Chuck Finley, Jim Edmonds, Mark Langston and Tim Salmon to name just a few.
One notable thing about the team in the 90s is that they changed their name again from the California Angels to the Anaheim Angels.
A new manager joined the Angels for the 2000 season. Former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia took the helm and, two years later, led the Angels to their winningest season to-date (99-68) and their first World Series appearance.
In the 2002 World Series, the Angels faced Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. After an exciting seven games, Scioscia’s Angels won their first World Series title.
Recent Angels History
The Angels had a very successful decade in the 2000s, garnering a cumulative record of 900 - 720 (.555) between 2000 - 2009. Including 2002, they made the playoffs six times in the decade and they had their first 100 win season in 2008.
Also, the team changed its name during this period- again! They went from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which they kept through 2015 before dropping the word “Anaheim” from the name.
Scioscia remained at the helm for much of the following decade and the Angels finished another ten-year span above .500 (822 - 798 between 2010 - 2019).
We can’t mention this decade without talking about the greatest player in the game today, Mike Trout. He burst on the scene in 2011 at age 19 and has since won three MVPs, among a wide variety of other awards.
In addition to Trout, the Los Angeles Angels of today feature stars like Anthony Rendon and reigning American League (AL) MVP Shohei Ohtani.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
WAR is short for Wins Above Replacement. It's a baseball term that was developed to measure the value of a player’s contributions to his team.
According to the MLB, WAR is defined as follows:
“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).”
Different formulas exist for pitchers and position players. Additionally, WAR is calculated differently according to the publisher (e.g., Fangraphs vs Baseball-Reference).
Still, WAR can be an extremely useful measure since it does a great job at reflecting a player’s value that he brings to his team.
In this post, we reviewed all catchers that have ever worn an Angels jersey and ranked them by their career and single season WAR, using Baseball-Reference as our source. This means that we reviewed data going back to 1961 - the first season in Angels history.
What follows is a summary of the top three Los Angeles Angels catchers ranked by career WAR, and the second section highlights the top three seasons by Angels catchers as measured by a player's single-season WAR.
Top 3 Angels Catchers by Career WAR
Please note: The player must have at least 100 games played as a member of the Angels to be eligible for our career WAR list.
#1. Brian Downing, 51.5 career WAR
Brian Downing played twenty years in the major leagues and thirteen of those were with the Angels. He was a regular in the California Angels' lineups of the late '70s and '80s.
Downing spent the majority of his career with the Angels as the designated hitter (DH) or as an outfielder. However, he was a catcher for a good portion of the early part of his big league career.
Over his twenty MLB seasons, Downing hit .267/.370/.425 and collected nearly 2,100 hits, 275 home runs, and 1,073 RBIs. He was an AL all-star once, earning the honor in 1979.
From a defensive perspective, Downing caught 675 big league games. He had a career .989 fielding percentage as a catcher and 34% caught stealing percentage (CS%).
#2. Lance Parrish, 39.5 career WAR
The majority of Lance Parrish’s career was spent with the Detroit Tigers. In fact, he came to fame as a member of the Tigers and won a World Series championship with them in 1984.
The eight-time all-star played for a total of 19 years in the big leagues, four of which were with the California Angels (1989 - 1992). Parrish also won three gold glove awards and six silver sluggers during his career.
He had a lifetime slash line of .252/.313/440 and collected 324 home runs and 1,070 RBIs. Parrish had a .991 fielding percentage as a catcher and threw out 39% of all baserunners attempting to steal. He led AL catchers in double plays three times (1984, 1988, 1990), caught stealing twice (1983, 1990) and in assists once (1990).
#3. Bob Boone, 27.4 career WAR
Bob Boone caught for the Angels between 1982 - 1988 after spending 10 productive seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.
A lifetime .254 hitter, Boone had 1,838 career hits, 105 home runs and 826 RBIs. He caught more than 12,000 MLB innings and had a .986 fielding percentage and a 40% CS% over the course of his career.
Boone was named an all-star four times during his career, he won seven gold glove awards and was a member of the Phillies' 1980 World Series championship team.
- Mike Napoli, 26.3 career WAR
- Chris Iannetta, 15.0 career WAR
- Ellie Rodriguez, 13.4 career WAR
- Andy Etchebarren, 10.8 career WAR
- Bengie Molina, 10.7 career WAR
Top 3 Seasons by Angels 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 Angels to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.
#1. 1979 - Brian Downing (5.6 WAR)
Brian Downing had one of his best seasons in 1979, as seen by his career-high .326 batting average and .418 OBP that year. He earned his first and only all-star game selection in 1979, and Downing was a key contributor to an Angels team that finished first in the AL West and made its first playoff appearance.
He collected a total of 166 hits, 12 home runs and 75 RBIs in '79. Downing's fielding percentage that year was .989 and his CS% was 25%.
#2. 1990 - Lance Parrish (4.5 WAR)
Lance Parrish was one of the best players on the 1990 California Angels. Despite being a veteran at 34 years old, Parrish had the second best offensive WAR (oWAR) of his 19 year MLB career at 3.7.
He hit .268/.338/.451 with 24 home runs and 70 RBIs, earning the AL silver slugger award for catchers. Defensively, Parrish maintained a .993 fielding percentage and gunned down 55 runners trying to steal (47%).
In 1990, Parrish led AL catchers in assists (88), double plays turned (15), caught stealing (55), and total zone runs (9). He was also elected to his eighth (and final) all-star game that season.
#3. 1974 - Ellie Rodriguez (3.9 WAR)
Former Angels catcher Ellie Rodriguez had a career year in 1974. Rodriguez joined the team in '74 following a successful three year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers.
During the 1974 season, Rodriguez had career highs in at bats (395), runs (48), doubles (20), home runs (7), RBIs (36), total bases (141), and more. In 1,111 innings behind the plate, Rodriguez threw out a career high 56 runners caught stealing (48%) and had a .992 fielding percentage behind the dish.
The 56 runners he threw out were tops among AL catchers in 1974. Rodriguez also led league catchers in putouts (782), assists (75), and range factor/game (6.26) that year.
Honorable Mentions by Decade:
- 1968 - Tom Satriano (2.0 WAR)
- 1978 - Brian Downing (2.8 WAR)
- 1982 - Bob Boone (3.5 WAR)
- 1991 - Lance Parrish (1.3 WAR)
- 2009 - Mike Napoli (3.0 WAR)
- 2014 - Chris Iannetta (2.3 WAR)
- 2021 - Max Stassi (1.8 WAR)
List of All LA Angels Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season
Reaching a 2.0+ WAR in a given season represents a productive year for a big league player. A number of Los Angeles Angels catchers have reached or exceeded this mark since 1961, when the team first began playing.
Check out the below table to see all Angels catchers who have had a 2.0+ WAR season.
Thank You for Reading
We hope you enjoyed reading this article! We learned a lot about the Angels and the team's history from the time we spent researching and writing it.
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