Catcher’s Week: Joe Mauer
This past Thursday, catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants announced his retirement from the MLB after one of the best seasons in his 12-year career.
That brought about “Catcher’s Week”, a time I’m taking to evaluate 7 catchers’ cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Today we start with Minnesota Twin lifer Joe Mauer.
Joe Mauer’s Career and Stats:
A three-sport player in high school, Joe Mauer was committed to player football at Florida State University but also made the decision to enter the 2001 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Ultimately, this was the right choice for Mauer as he was selected 1st Overall by the Minnesota Twins. He would play in the 2003 All-Star Futures Game, and made his MLB debut on April 5th, 2004 going 2-3 as a 20-year old in a Twins win against the Cleveland Indians. That would begin a 15-year career for Joe Mauer with many accolades to be achieved.
Over that career, Joe Mauer would go on to be an MVP (2009), 6-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove Winner, 5-time Silver Slugger, and a 3-time Batting Champ (while also being the first- and only- AL catcher to win a batting title).
Statistics wise, Mauer finished his career with a .306/.388/.439 triple-slash (.827 OPS/124 OPS+/123 wRC+). Over the 1858 games in his career (7960 PA’s and 6930 AB’s), Mauer would go on to collect 2123 Hits, 143 Home Runs, and 923 RBI’s while maintaining a very close walk-to-strikeout numbers (939:1034). Defensively, Mauer played 921 games at catcher, 603 at first base, 310 as a DH, and 1 game (in 2011) as a right fielder. In his 7883.0 innings at catcher, Mauer had a .995 fielding percentage, +17 DRS, and +27.6 Framing. As a first baseman, in his 5136.1 innings Mauer had a .996 fielding percentage, +21 DRS, and +18.1 UZR.
Combined over the course of his career, Joe Mauer had a +55.2 bWAR (Baseball Reference), a +52.5 fWAR (Fangraphs), a 48.1 WARP (Baseball Prospectus), and a +47.1 JAWS (Jay Jaffe). This helps Mauer stand out among catchers already in the Baseball Hall of Fame as he beats the average bWAR (+55.2 to 53.8), WAR7 (+39.0 to +34.8), and JAWS (+47.1 to +44.3). However, Mauer collected just 15 Black Ink (leading his league in a statistic; average HOF ~27), 43 Gray Ink (top-10 in a league in a statistic; average HOF ~144), 92 in Hall of Fame Monitor (average HOF = 100), and a 41 in Hall of Fame Standard (average HOF = 50). In the advanced metrics, Mauer looks to be a solid choice for the Hall of Fame, however, as a player who was predominantly a catcher he lacks across some of the league-leading statistics.
The Case For Joe Mauer’s Induction into the BBHOF:
When we look at many of the Hall of Famers in the MLB, we consider them players at the position that we want to best remember them for. This is why many people who come out against Joe Mauer as a future Hall of Famer (he first makes an appearance on the BBWAA ballot in 2024) highlight the fact that he stopped playing as a catcher in 2013 and he spent his final 5 years in the MLB as a first-baseman/DH. However, this is a flawed way to look at the BBHOF and the many great players in the history of the MLB.
Ernie Banks is considered a shortstop (1125 games) even though he played more games as a first baseman (1259 games). Frank Thomas played in many more games as a DH (1310 games) than as a first baseman (971 games), and he was inducted as a first baseman. We didn’t take away from their significance to the game because they had to transition away from the harder defensive position. So, why should we do the opposite as a target against the case for Joe Mauer (who moved away from being a catcher in 2013 for his health and safety after many concussions)? This attempt to undermine his career is especially egregious because Mauer spent more games as a catcher (921) than he did across all of 1B, DH, and OF (915).
To better argue against this idea that voters should not see Mauer as a catcher, if we consider his statistics only in the years where he played more catcher than any other position (this includes every season from 2004 to 2013), then we arrive at a bWAR of +44.6. For comparisons sake, Buster Posey in his 12-year career put up a +44.8 bWAR. (I’ll be talking more about Buster Posey tomorrow.)
We also can’t hold the natural transition of baseball teams away from using the same catcher everyday behind the plate against Mauer. In his era, starting catchers were used less frequently than the days of Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. If we hold fewer games (and thus fewer counting stats) against Mauer (and his compatriots) we’d likely never really see a catcher inducted to the BBHOF again. Instead, we should consider how the game of baseball evolves.
Joe Mauer was one of 12 catchers to win an MVP award (going back to 1931), was the first AL catcher to win a batting title, has the most ever batting titles held by a catcher, surpassed 2000 hits (8th among all catchers), had a .300+ batting average (10th among all catchers), has over 55 bWAR (9th among all catchers), was 5th among all catchers in WAR7 and 7th among all catchers in JAWS. By means ranging from standard to advanced, Joe Mauer has the career marks that represent that of a Hall of Fame player.
When Joe Mauer gets onto the 2024 Hall of Fame ballot, I will gladly be checking his name for the IBWAA.Embed from Getty Images