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Cooperstown Case: Should Joe Mauer Make the Hall of Fame?

Whenever Joe Mauer decides to hang up his cleats, he will go down as one of the best players in Twins history. That part is undeniable, but his larger legacy is still in question. As recently as 2013, Mauer seemed destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Concussions and a forced position switch have put his Hall of Fame resume into question.

Mauer is coming off his best season at first base and he’s been on a hot streak to start 2018. Will Mauer get the call? Let’s examine his Cooperstown Case…
Image courtesy of Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
JAWS
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).

Historical Perspective
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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68 Comments

Personally, I've always felt being a HOF inductee comes down to more than just numbers. I mean, decade by decade there have been different tendencies in ALL sports. Football used to be fewer games, much more rigid rules concerning things like pass defense, and the game evolved in to a passing first sport. So comparing pkayers from different eras becomes problematic. For example, all the records Manning and Favre broke were set by Tarkenton in a different style and ERA of play. Are they truly better QBs?

Baseball has also had different eras of small ball, dead ball, steroids, HR ball, etc. So numbers are great to compare in any sport and any ERA. And they are important. But to me, one primary criteria has always been: "for the time a player played, was he one of the best in the league, and at his position, for an extended period of time?"

If you examine the "numbers" posted above in comparison to those other great players and catchers, Mauer's numbers are even more impressive than just my memory recall. Then there are All Star games, 6 to be exact. The three batting titles, which is pretty amazing by itself, all the more so being a catcher. Then there is the MVP, 3 Gold Gloves and 5 Silver Slugger awards.

Pretty impressive stuff.

The injury factor is what holds Joe's case back, somewhat, unfortunately. I often think of fellow Twins great Tony Oliva when I think of Mauer. For years the argument has been made that Oliva might just be the best ballplayer not elected to the HOF, and everyone knows jts due to injuries that curtailed his career. Despite all his impressive accomplishments, does Mauer get "credit" for "what might have been" due to his concussions? It's a topic that 10 years ago wouldn't have even been discussed. But now?

Further, and I hate to even touch on this, but post-steroids ERA, does he get a little more credit for being such a good guy and clean player? I know it's sports politics, but we've witnessed the reverse trend in regard to other players listed as tainted.

For 9 season's the argument could be made he was the best overall catcher in baseball. That, his awards, the numbers listed above, would tell me he is deserving. Now, his 2017 re-surgance and over all re-invention as a top fielding 1B, and a repeat performance this season, (And he's off to a he'll of a start in 2018), plus another year or two similar season's, maybe with a Gold Glove thrown in, (I think he deserved it last year), and his case is only strengthened.

I don't know if he will make it, but 9 years as probably, arguably, the best overall player at his position is HOF worthy. At least, he should be seriously considered.
    • Jerr, nokomismod, h2oface and 10 others like this

Yes.

    • Jerr, Twins33, Rhino and Compass and 1 other like this
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OldManWinter
Apr 16 2018 10:02 PM
You bet.

He is a strong candidate, especially now that his concussion symptoms seem to be behind him and he is hitting like old Mauer.

I have had two concussions that caused hospital admissions.

Symptoms from the more serious of the two lingered for more than a few months. Processing things became slow, reading a newspaper became complicated.

I did not have a profession that required me to bat against guys who threw 95mph gernades at me. The point is that the injury that dropped his BA should not be held against his HOF canadacy.

His longevity is there before the injury.

Same with Oliva, same with Kaat. They were workhorses for the Twins before the injuries.

They are not the only ones.

Those type of players should be HOF enshrinees.
    • nokomismod likes this

I wonder what his odds will be with the voters. Mauer seems like a guy who would take a few years to build the votes up and won't be getting in on the first ballot. I would like to know what the national baseball pundits think of his odds.

    • ThejacKmp and caninatl04 like this

I have a feeling Mauer isn't done. If he figures out launch angle to go with the resurgence, his next 5 years could make him a first ballot. I hope it is with the Twins. That sweet swing's evolution to the modern day. A series of one year contracts, believing in himself like Jordan did. That's the ticket.

    • bdodge22 likes this
I think he’s getting in. The point made by DocBauer on how today’s voters will look at post-concussion performance is a good one and I think his numbers/comparisons plus that enlightenment is going to assure him a spot.

When talking about Mauer should the discussion also include pitches per appearance?

Without looking up all the years he seems to be to in the top of even in his off years. In the current state of baseball getting pitch counts up is almost as important as scoring a run or two early in the game.

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killertwinfan
Apr 17 2018 05:38 AM

I am largely puzzled by the HOF criteria.I think Joe will struggle to get in because his stat line is not sexy enough.Some guys I think about who were great players and are still not in.  

 

Tim Raines career WAR~60, .294/.385/.425OPS .8102600 hits, 800 stolen bases...

Piazza and Bagwell have 427 and 450 home runs respectively while hitting ~.300

Jeff Kent.290/.356/.500 with 2500 hits and 377 HR. ~60 WAR

Fred McGriff .284/.377/.509 with ~2500 hits, 493 HR and ~56 WAR

 

    • Mike Sixel, LaBombo and KGB like this

This is going to depend entirely on the individual perspectives of the voters.

 

Voter A thinks Mauer spent initial part and majority of his career as a catcher, thus classifies him as a catcher.Definitely yes for HOF.

 

Voter B thinks Mauer finished too many years as a first basemen, classifying him as a first basemen conservatively.Definitely no for HOF.

 

Voter C takes a totally analytical and mathematical approach, proportioning Mauer's career totals according to number of games played at each position.This approach disregards Mauer's specific WAR while at catcher, and proportions it. (e.g. two thirds career WAR for catcher, one third at 1B). Likely a no for HOF.Seems unfair but Mauer has an unprecedented situation here.

 

I think Voter A has the correct approach, and thus I think Mauer should be in the HOF regardless at this point.But I think there will be enough alternative viewpoints that he won't get the call.

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Tommygun921
Apr 17 2018 06:05 AM
He needs at LEAST one gold glove at 1st. Should've had one last year. I wish baseball would make changes to the GG voting so the best defensive players win.
    • Jerr and Twins33 like this
Yes. Good defensive catchers are hard to find. Good defensive catchers with a few gold gloves, and MVP, and 3 batting titles are even rarer. Actually I think non existent?
    • Jerr, Twins33, h2oface and 3 others like this
I have a conservative view of who should make the HOF. I'm also a Joe and Twins fan. Those biases probably cancel each other out. I look at Joe as a HOFer.

Catcher- Joe's defense was best in the league. Stopping balls in dirt, framing pitches, working a staff, positioning a defense. All top notch. On one of his rehab assignments he significantly reduced the minor league teams ERA. Offensively 3 batting titles as a catcher. Only catcher every with 3. That is elite. One MVP.

First base- If Joe can win a Gold Glove he cements his status as an elite defensive player irregardless of position. That is elite. Joe's power numbers are tricky. Home runs not HOF. Doubles and alley power outstanding.

DocBauer has a very interesting point about Joe's likability. I.E. non steroid or growth hormone usage. That lack of home run totals could work out in his favor.

I see Joe as a HOFer. Not first ballot, but about 5th year off eligibility.
    • Respy likes this
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Tom Froemming
Apr 17 2018 07:02 AM

It seems to me that Joe's biggest enemy is going to be the limit. He's going to need a lot of guys to get elected or drop off the ballot between now and when he appears. BBWAA members can only vote for 10 players. Here are the 10 guys who came the closest to election this year:

 

Edgar Martinez

Mike Mussina

Roger Clemens

Barry Bonds

Curt Schilling

Omar Vizquel

Larry Walker

Fred McGriff

Manny Ramirez

Jeff Kent

 

Some of those guys are going to get in, but there will be more players added to the ballot. This is one of the many problems I have with the HoF. The question isn't going to be is Joe Mauer a Hall of Famer, it's going to be is he one of the 10 best players on the ballot?

    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, Danchat and 2 others like this

I think everyone is making really great points, but at the end of the day, if I had a vote I would put him on my ballot. 

 

I can't worry about the other voters or trying to campaign for him, I can only vote my heart and conscience... and those tell me he's on my ballot no matter what.

    • highlander and Platoon like this

 

I am largely puzzled by the HOF criteria.I think Joe will struggle to get in because his stat line is not sexy enough.Some guys I think about who were great players and are still not in.  

 

Tim Raines career WAR~60, .294/.385/.425OPS .8102600 hits, 800 stolen bases...

Piazza and Bagwell have 427 and 450 home runs respectively while hitting ~.300

Jeff Kent.290/.356/.500 with 2500 hits and 377 HR. ~60 WAR

Fred McGriff .284/.377/.509 with ~2500 hits, 493 HR and ~56 WAR

 

Raines, Piazza and Bagwell are all in.

    • caninatl04 likes this

As with most HOF arguments it's a peak vs. longevity thing.

 

If you care about peak, then it's hard to beat a gold glove, silver slugger, MVP catcher.

 

Longevity is typically where you accumulate counting stats. Mauer will not really have any impressive counting stats other than times on base, which no one cares about. Also this is where you think about him spending several years as a light hitting first baseman, which is a description a LONG way from the HOF.

 

I personally think if he can add another GG and batting title at first base, it really helps his case. The only player with 4+ batting titles (14 of them) who isn't in the HOF (besides Miguel Cabrera) is Bill Madlock, which um, he's certainly the odd one out on that list.

 

If Mauer just has a couple more mediocre years and retires, I don't think he has enough "good" years to compliment his "great" years, and his "great" years aren't "great" enough to dismiss that.

A twilight batting title would likely seal the deal for Joe.I hope he can stay healthy and make that a reality.

 

Players with four or more batting titles:

 

Honus Wagner HOF

Ty Cobb HOF

Rogers Hornsby HOF

Harry Heilmann HOF

Ted Williams HOF

Stan Musial HOF

Roberto Clemente HOF

Rod Carew HOF

Bill Madlock

Wade Boggs HOF

Tony Gwynn HOF

Miguel Cabrera

 

Cabrera is probably first ballot.

 

That leaves Madlock as the only player to win four batting titles and not make the Hall.One of his titles came in the strike shortened season of '81.

 

That's quite a list, and I would think if Mauer joined it, he gets the call.

 

    • Respy likes this
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Richard Karn's Beard
Apr 17 2018 08:03 AM

 

his next 5 years could make him a first ballot.

Projections for another 5 years of Joe would have gotten you a one way ticket to the loony-bin not too long ago.  

 

I want to weigh in because I read all the time but never comment.When Joe was in line for hit #2000 I had thought there would be more coverage of it.I waited around to see what type of stuff some of the baseball channels would run about Joe because 2000 hits is a BIG deal (or at least I thought it was).TBH, there wasn't much national coverage on it..and that tells the story for me about how the baseball world views Joe.Great player, but not worthy of that much coverage in mainstream media's eyes.Now....if he makes a nice run at another batting title, and solidifies the Twins lineup through an epic World Series run...we might be cooking with gas...Point being: he needs a title and he needs to produce in the biggest way on the biggest stage in the playoffs and THAT is what I believe will push him into HOF consideration.But that's just my opinion.  

 

Sincerely,

 

RKB

    • ashburyjohn and h2oface like this

 

I waited around to see what type of stuff some of the baseball channels would run about Joe because 2000 hits is a BIG deal (or at least I thought it was).TBH, there wasn't much national coverage on it..and that tells the story for me about how the baseball world views Joe.  

 

I noticed the lack of this as well.

 

For example, Topps has their moments of the week:

 

1) The Mets five pitchers starting together and the team going 5-0.

2) Andrew McCutchen getting two walk-off hits

3) Scott Kingery having a 6 game hitting streak (Dozier has 11)

4) Gerrit Cole striking out 10 guys in three consecutive games

5) Bryce Harper hitting his 7th home run

 

Joe couldn't even make that list, especially over Kingery, which I thought was pretty lame. 

    • Twins33 likes this

Slightly off topic:

 

I don't know much about modern defensive metrics and exactly how they are calculated, but the comments here seem to suggest that range on batted balls is the main factor. But (uniquely) for firstbasemen, the most important defensive action may be saving errors on other players' errant throws. Is there a defensive metric for firstbasemen that measures "defensive errors saved"? Joe sure has saved a lot of them, but I haven't watched enough other firstbasemen to know how he compares.

Personally, I think Joe is a Hall of Famer right now. He spent 10 years as a catcher. 2 of which were wrecked by injury (half a season or less...I'm fudging 2011 in here since he played 82 games) and 2 others were cut short ('07 & '13) at about 110 games. And he was a great catcher. A hitting machine who was constantly on base, played excellent defense and deserved the MVP. (and could have won a second one) he doubled the number of batting titles won by a catcher all by himself.

 

The second half of his career hasn't been as wonderful, but that's concussions for you. And now Joe seems to be swinging his way back out of it. Pretty unusual for a guy to be able to reinvent themselves at a new position late in their career and be great at it, but Joe's done it becoming a terrific defensive player at what is a very different position. He should have gotten the Gold Glove last year (which probably would have changed some minds on his HoF case)

 

Yes, the compilation stats are a little low for some people's taste, but let's project a little. Say Joe plays another 2 years after this, and stays healthy enough to play 130-140 games. That could easily add another 350-400 hits to his tally, and now he's a guy who spent half his career as one of the best catchers in the game and still ended with more hits than Carlton Fisk. Absent a sudden, catastrophic injury, he's going to pass Johnny Bench before the all-star break. He's on pace to pass Mike Piazza by the end of the year.

 

A few more fun things with stats: Joe is current 6th among active player in times on base. The guys ahead of him? Pujols, Beltre, Ichiro, Cabrera, and Cano. All of them are going to be in the Hall, and none of them played catcher.

 

Ernie Lombardi and Mickey Cochrane are both in the Hall, and deservedly so. Mauer was better than Lombardi, and very similar to Cochrane, who is frequently listed in the top ten all-time.

 

Forget about the contract. Forget the Dan Barreiro's of the world meowing about home runs and RBI. revel in the greatness of Joe Mauer and the sweetest swing Twins fans have probably ever seen.

    • 70charger, Dman and Platoon like this

I think he gets in fairly easily - maybe not first ballot but he won't wait long.

    • ThejacKmp likes this

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.

 

Kinda hate seeing math-based arguments that are kinda almost calculated all the way but stopped in the middle.

 

Based on the above, you can calculate the numbers for someone who has played 64% of the time as C and 36% of the time as 1B (and I kinda doubt that this is accurate, since he DHed a tad too.)

 

Sothe numbers for a HOF guy who played at those 2 positions with Mauer's percentages are:

 

58 career WAR, 37.3 WAR Peak47.6 JAWS

Mauer's

 

54.5career WAR, 39 WAR Peak, 46.7 JAWS.

 

 

FWIW.

 

But the discussion on whether Mauer deserves to be in the HOF or not, is too premature, since he is still playing.

Cannot make math-based arguments with incomplete data.

 

Give it a few years.

 

I don't care all that much.....but I think he'll get in.

 

submitted w/o comment:

https://www.fangraph...e-rule-of-2000/

 

First ballot?  No. But I do think he gets in, as he should.     


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