(Minimum 500 innings caught in 1999)
Clearly 1999 was a year to remember for Ivan Rodriguez, who stroked a career-high 35 homers while batting .332, broke the 100-RBI plateau for the first time and won the American League MVP Award for the West Division champs. And for a fifth straight season, he took top honors among major league catchers for throwing out baserunners.
Some things simply don't change. Rodriguez' caught-stealing percentage has been inching upward in each of the five seasons he has led his big league colleagues. He boosted his league-best mark from 52.5 percent in 19998 to 52.8 in '99, and that was his third straight season with a caught-stealing percentage better than 50 percent.
Take a look at the following chart. It lists the runners each catcher caught stealing (CCS), the stolen bases (SB) while he was behind the plate, the caught stealing percentage (CS%), the runners he picked off (CPk), the stolen bases allowed per 9 innings (SB/9), and the runners caught stealing (PCS) and picked off (PPk) by his pitchers.
Once again Ivan outdistanced his AL competition by a significant margin, as he finished more than 14 percentage points ahead of runner-up John Flaherty of Tampa Bay. And as Rodriguez has been known to do in recent seasons, he easily led the majors in picking off baserunners as well. In 1999 he nailed 10 wayward runners, twice the combined total of pickoffs recorded by the AL's next four finishers in caught-stealing percentage.
Another statistic that demonstrates Rodriguez' dominance in throwing out runners is the number of stolen bases he allows per nine innings. He gave up just 0.25 stolen bases per nine frames in 1999. The next-best figures were generated by Benito Santiago (0.45) and part-time catcher Tony Eusebio (0.46).
While Flaherty allowed 0.71 stolen bases per nine innings - the major league average, but a high figure among caught-stealing leaders - he still was successful at thwarting 38.6 percent of all basestealing attempts. The fact is, men on base ran on Tampa Bay pitching and didn't give Flaherty the respect he deserved. No catcher retired as many baserunners as the 33-year-old veteran, who has ranked in the top five in caught-stealing percentage two years in a row.
Returning to this list after a one-year absence is Charles Johnson, who has ranked in the top five in three of the last five seasons. Johnson finished behind Rodriguez and Flaherty during his first season in the AL, proving he can stunt the running game in either circuit. Despite his reputation as a fine defensive backstop, he faced 98 stolen-base attempts. That's a high figure. Still, Johnson allowed just 0.51 steals per nine frames, a very respectable number.
All but one of the catchers who finished at the back of the pack faced more than 100 stolen-base attempts in 1999. It's not surprising that baserunners frequently challenged two players who made a return behind the plate last summer, Todd Hundley and Dave Nilsson. Hundley struggled after coming back from major elbow surgery, and Nilsson arguably had his best year at the plate after spending the last few years playing elsewhere on the diamond. He wasn't quite as effective behind it.