Cooperstown Case: Should Joe Mauer Make the Hall of Fame?
Image courtesy of Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsJAWS
For those unfamiliar with JAWS or Jaffe WAR Score system, it was developed by Jay Jaffe as “a means to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to players at his position who are already enshrined, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game’s history.” Players' JAWS score takes their career WAR and averages it with their 7-year peak WAR.
When the 2018 Hall of Fame voting started, there were 15 elected catchers and 20 elected first baseman. Mauer scores very well when compared to Hall of Fame catchers. Catchers' weighted career WAR is 53.4, WARpeak is 34.4, and JAWS is 43.9. Mauer currently has a 54.5 career WAR, a 39.0 WARpeak, and a 46.7 JAWS. This would rank him as the seventh best catcher all time.
First base is a different story but Mauer has only played 36% of his games at first base. Hall of Fame first basemen have a 66.1 career WAR, a 42.6 WARpeak, and a 54.3 JAWS. Obviously, Mauer doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of a first baseman at the plate. However, he has developed into one of the best defensive first basemen in the game. Last season, Mauer ranked as the third best first baseman according to SABR’s Defensive Index.
JAWS isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to the Hall of Fame so let’s look at some other parts of Mauer’s Cooperstown Case.
Mauer’s Statistical Legacy
Counting statistics like hits, home runs, and stolen bases go a long way toward improving a player’s Cooperstown Case. Mauer is never going to be remembered for his power but other statistical areas paint him in a favorable light. With his 2,000th hit last week, Mauer is approaching other top catchers on the all-time hit list. Johnny Bench finished his career with 2,048 hits, while Gary Carter (2,092) and Mike Piazza (2,127) could also be in Mauer’s reach this season.
As the voting bloc for the Hall of Fame gets younger, other statistics are going to improve Mauer’s chances at making the Hall. He is currently in some very elite company when it comes to his hit total, batting titles and career slash line.
The hitters on that list are basically a who’s who of all-time best hitters. At this season’s early stage, Mauer is currently near the top of the AL in hitting. A fourth batting title would place him in even more elite company. He is already the only catcher to win the batting crown in the American League and he has the most batting titles for a catcher all-time.
Mauer gets a lot of negative publicity for his lack of power. However, Mauer ranks 14th among all catchers in OPS. This puts him in front of all-time catching greats like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, and Ivan Rodriguez. All three of those players were elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
On the bases, Mauer also separated himself from other catchers. In fact, he might have been one of the best base-running catchers of all-time. Up to the 2013 season, Mauer’s last as a catcher, he ranked fifth all-time according to FanGraph’s BsR calculation. BsR combines Weighted Stolen Base Runs, Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR).
Ernie Banks and Don Mattingly provide some historical perspective for Mauer’s Hall of Fame case. Banks hit .290/.353/.552 with 296 home runs in his first eight seasons. As part of that stretch, he won back-to-back MVP awards. Knee problems forced Banks to move off shortstop in 1962. He finished his career as a first baseman, where he hit .260/.308/.450 and posted a 104 wRC+. Banks ended up playing 200 more games at first base than shortstop.
Like Banks, Mauer was forced to move from an up-the-middle position to first base. Mauer is 400 games away from having more starts at first base than at catcher. As a first baseman, Mauer has hit .282/.362/.397 so his numbers are a little higher than Banks'. However, the baseball environment has been very home run happy in recent years so one could expect Mauer’s number to be even higher.
Mattingly, like Mauer, was one of the best hitters in the game for a stretch of time. From 1982-89, Mattingly won an MVP and a batting title, while hitting .323/.368/.521. At the end of that run, Mattingly suffered a back injury and was never quite the same player. Baseball in the early 1990s was becoming a slugger’s paradise and Mattingly hit .286/.345/405 over his last five seasons.
For 15 years, Mattingly went through the Hall of Fame voting process. His highest season was his initial year on the ballot, 2001, when he had a 28.2% of the vote. His voting totals dropped from there and ranged from 20.3% to 8.2% before his time on the ballot expired in 2015. Mattingly never played a premier defensive position like Mauer so this could help Mauer’s overall case.
So, is Mauer a Hall of Fame player? There is plenty left to be decided. How much longer will he play? Can he earn another batting title? Could he win a Gold Glove at first base? Mauer’s case is up in the air and a lot will depend on what he does with the rest of his career.
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