Ivan Rodriguez came up as a defense-first catcher, and developed himself in to a pretty good hitter. Rarely was he great, simply great for his position.
In 2000, though, he was great, period.
Coming off an MVP year, he had a slash line of .347/.375/.667. His .425 weighted On Base Average would trail on Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer since the 1950s.
He was coupling together his typically jaw-dropping catcher defense with maybe the best bat in baseball outside of names like Ramirez, Helton, and Giambi. On July 22nd, he hit his 27th home run, playing a position where the record is 41.
Then, on July 24th, it was over. While trying to make one of his famous throws to second base, he struck the bat of Mo Vaughn, breaking his thumb and ending his season. How fitting it was the Angels.
That injury may have been the start of his decline, as his 2001 season -- at just age 29 -- was a step behind his 1996-99 peak, and his performance dropped steadily from there. Probably, his peak may have just been younger than the typical player, but who knows?
What it did certainly cause, however, was the loss of an all-time season.He had 27 home runs in 91 games. If he'd seen the 145-50 games he'd been playing to that point, at that home run pace, he tops 41. Even with likely regression, he probably still challenges 40. A catcher, girls and boys.
In terms of Wins Above Replacement, he ended the season at 4.8 per Fangraphs. In a partial season, he managed an elite level. Over 145 games, that pace comes out to 7.6 wins. An MVP-level guy, and one of the 15 greatest seasons ever from a catcher. That would have been in the company of a few players for best in the American League after Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, and Darin Erstad(???).
It's a little much to expect him to continue at that pace, but even with some regression based on his previous three years, it comes out close. He was almost certainly on his way to a historically great year, a year that would stand certainly at the time as the greatest ever from Texas Ranger, later to be challenged only by super talents Alex Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton.
I have not yet gotten over my frustration over seeing that year come to a screeching hault. If there is any major sadness from the Pudge's career in Texas, it's that we will never quite know just what he would have been in a full season at his very best.