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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

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nicksaviking
Apr 18 2018 11:36 AM

 

I get your point, Brock, but the wording brought a chuckle.

 

:)

 

Don't let Kurt Suzuki hear you laugh, he's suddenly feeling a bit optimistic about his chances of getting in.

    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 18 2018 12:29 PM

 

I don't know if it's the concussion symptoms clearing or what, but he seems to be back on a more graceful aging curve in 2017 and so far in 2018.

I don't know what else it could be but the concussion. It's not as if he has changed his approach or defenses stopped shifting against him.

 

I'm really relieved to see the old Joe back, aged to 34 years. I was a strong supporter of the contract because he always seemed like the type of player who would age gracefully. Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll ever know how gracefully he would have aged had he not suffered the concussion.

 

I don't know what else it could be but the concussion. It's not as if he has changed his approach or defenses stopped shifting against him.

Well, there was the marked rise in strikeouts, even before the concussion. I don't doubt the concussion was a factor, but it could have been compounded by the rising K's (and limiting his potential futuree adjustments).

 

Has it been reported that the symptoms have cleared? I wonder if he's just learned to manage/adjust to them better over time too.

 

I don't know what else it could be but the concussion. It's not as if he has changed his approach or defenses stopped shifting against him.

 

I'm really relieved to see the old Joe back, aged to 34 years. I was a strong supporter of the contract because he always seemed like the type of player who would age gracefully. Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll ever know how gracefully he would have aged had he not suffered the concussion.

 

The biggest reason for the upswing in 2017 was his reduction in strike outs.Not being a power hitter, he's got to put the ball in play and his strike out percentage was rising since the bilateral leg weakness year.So it maybe more a change of approach than recovery from a concussion.

 

Season K%
2011 11.40%
2012 13.70%
2013 17.50%

-------------------------Concussion
2014 18.50%
2015 16.80%
2016 16.10%
2017 13.90%
2018 14.30%

 

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 18 2018 01:19 PM

 

The biggest reason for the upswing in 2017 was his reduction in strike outs.Not being a power hitter, he's got to put the ball in play and his strike out percentage was rising since the bilateral leg weakness year.So it maybe more a change of approach than recovery from a concussion.

 

Season K%
2011 11.40%
2012 13.70%
2013 17.50%

-------------------------Concussion
2014 18.50%
2015 16.80%
2016 16.10%
2017 13.90%
2018 14.30%

The strikeouts blipping upward before the concussion throw a bit of a wrench in the analysis but there was a lot more going on with Joe than missing the ball... when he actually connected, the ball wasn't hit very hard, which strongly implies that something was wrong with Mauer's vision and/or coordination.

 

Hard Hit %

2012: 37.1%

2013: 37.4%

-----------------Concussion

2014: 28.0%

2015: 29.8%

2016: 31.3%

2017: 36.4%

2018: 36.7%

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diehardtwinsfan
Apr 18 2018 02:24 PM

all of MLB was going through changes at that point. The shift was a bit one, as was an infusion of more high K pitchers into the league. Don't forget that Mauer started seeing some really odd shifts and needed to reinvent his swing on the fly. That probably compounds things a bit.

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 18 2018 02:30 PM

 

all of MLB was going through changes at that point. The shift was a bit one, as was an infusion of more high K pitchers into the league. Don't forget that Mauer started seeing some really odd shifts and needed to reinvent his swing on the fly. That probably compounds things a bit.

Yeah, in no way do I believe that the concussion is 100% responsible for his decline.

 

But I'd be surprised if it's less than, say, 60% of the reason. Mauer didn't just decline... he literally lost 150 OPS points season-over-season. It's hard to suggest a shift could be responsible for even half that number.

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this

The biggest factor in favor of Joe's HOF case is that he was an elite player at his position for quite a few years. This is a pretty important criteria for me.

 

He did things statistically that are unheard of as a catcher. Especially one that was at least very good defensively (hello Piazza - another great hitting catcher).

 

The negatives are that his raw counting stats (HR's, hits, etc...) don't measure up. I don't know how much HOF voters will focus on that or if they will take into account that he played much of his career as a catcher with days off and extra injuries. Or if they will take into account the concussion (much different than Puckett's career ending glaucoma though). The other negative is that he will have spent a substantial time at 1B but so have other HOF catchers.

Mauer would be a HOF for me. And I would consider him a HOF'er over most of the other borderline Twins candidates (Johan - Morris - Bert - Oliva - Kaat). Not saying that the others don't have a case but if I had one vote then it would be for Joe.

    • Brock Beauchamp and 70charger like this

 

The strikeouts blipping upward before the concussion throw a bit of a wrench in the analysis but there was a lot more going on with Joe than missing the ball... when he actually connected, the ball wasn't hit very hard, which strongly implies that something was wrong with Mauer's vision and/or coordination.

 

Hard Hit %

2012: 37.1%

2013: 37.4%

-----------------Concussion

2014: 28.0%

2015: 29.8%

2016: 31.3%

2017: 36.4%

2018: 36.7%

http://twinsdaily.co...et-again/page-3

 

As we discussed before the correlation between his hard hit rate and average of ball in play is close to poor, so I'm don't think it supports his drop in production being related to his concussion.

 

 

 

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 18 2018 06:37 PM

 

http://twinsdaily.co...et-again/page-3

 

As we discussed before the correlation between his hard hit rate and average of ball in play is close to poor, so I'm don't think it supports his drop in production being related to his concussion.

But we established there was a moderate correlation... which doesn't tackle the rest of the problem, that Mauer struck out more in 2014 than he had in any previous season while also hitting the ball more softly than any point in his career.

 

BABIP and hard hit is a correlative argument but it still doesn't explain why Joe missed the ball so often and so rarely squared up.

 

And, yes, his 2013 season saw an increase in strikeouts... but the rest of his stats, even the underlying ones, stayed strong. He posted one of the highest OPS seasons of his career with that strikeout rate because those underlying stats stayed at his career norms (his BABIP was a bit high but only .040 over his career rate, nothing even close to explaining a .150 OPS drop).

 

So what changed? People who argue the concussion wasn't the most significant impact on his career throw out "shifts" and "harder-throwing pitchers" but that doesn't pass the smell test. It's not as if shifts and harder-throwing pitchers showed up overnight. Those are gradual game changes not implemented by every team to this day, yet it's used as a reason why Mauer went from great to pedestrian in ten months.

No HOF for Mauer... just like Don Mattingly, Mark Grace, and Wally Joyner. 

 

But we established there was a moderate correlation... which doesn't tackle the rest of the problem, that Mauer struck out more in 2014 than he had in any previous season while also hitting the ball more softly than any point in his career.

 

BABIP and hard hit is a correlative argument but it still doesn't explain why Joe missed the ball so often and so rarely squared up.

 

And, yes, his 2013 season saw an increase in strikeouts... but the rest of his stats, even the underlying ones, stayed strong. He posted one of the highest OPS seasons of his career with that strikeout rate because those underlying stats stayed at his career norms (his BABIP was a bit high but only .040 over his career rate, nothing even close to explaining a .150 OPS drop).

 

So what changed? People who argue the concussion wasn't the most significant impact on his career throw out "shifts" and "harder-throwing pitchers" but that doesn't pass the smell test. It's not as if shifts and harder-throwing pitchers showed up overnight. Those are gradual game changes not implemented by every team to this day, yet it's used as a reason why Mauer went from great to pedestrian in ten months.

At .437 it falls in the moderate range, but closing out on the weak rating.

 

.00-.19 “very weak”
.20-.39 “weak”
.40-.59 “moderate”

 

And the "great to pedestrian in ten months" is very misleading when you actually look at his BABIP during those 2 years.He had a 10 year average BABIP of .340 but jumped up to .383 in 2013.I think any other player, this board would be all over with prediction about his upcoming drop in production due to going back to is norm. In 2014, that is exactly what he did with a BABIP of .340, but somehow the reasoning is it has to be related to his concussion. 

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 19 2018 09:03 AM

 

At .437 it falls in the moderate range, but closing out on the weak rating.

 

.00-.19 “very weak”
.20-.39 “weak”
.40-.59 “moderate”

 

And the "great to pedestrian in ten months" is very misleading when you actually look at his BABIP during those 2 years.He had a 10 year average BABIP of .340 but jumped up to .383 in 2013.I think any other player, this board would be all over with prediction about his upcoming drop in production due to going back to is norm. In 2014, that is exactly what he did with a BABIP of .340, but somehow the reasoning is it has to be related to his concussion. 

Except your .040 BABIP doesn't explain the .150 OPS drop from 2013 to 2014.

 

Using Joe's 2013 season, normalizing his BABIP from .380 to .340 is a difference of only 15 hits over the course of a season.

 

But to get his OPS to drop 150 points, you need to remove 25 doubles from his 2013 season. That's 50 bases removed to see a 150 point drop in OPS. Joe's 2013 season would have gone from 35 doubles all the way down to just 10. Not only do you need more than 15 hits to get a drop that large, you need every one of those hits to count for extra bases, which we know just isn't a reality in the game.

 

Your BABIP argument doesn't add up. A .040 swing in BABIP just isn't that much and, sure, it'll take a decent chunk out of a player's OPS season-over-season but nothing even close to 150 points. Something more like .075 of OPS at the upper end of the spectrum.

 

Except your .040 BABIP doesn't explain the .150 OPS drop from 2013 to 2014.

 

Using Joe's 2013 season, normalizing his BABIP from .380 to .340 is a difference of only 15 hits over the course of a season.

 

But to get his OPS to drop 150 points, you need to remove 25 doubles from his 2013 season. That's 50 bases removed to see a 150 point drop in OPS. Joe's 2013 season would have gone from 35 doubles all the way down to just 10. Not only do you need more than 15 hits to get a drop that large, you need every one of those hits to count for extra bases, which we know just isn't a reality in the game.

 

Your BABIP argument doesn't add up. A .040 swing in BABIP just isn't that much and, sure, it'll take a decent chunk out of a player's OPS season-over-season but nothing even close to 150 points. Something more like .075 of OPS at the upper end of the spectrum.

And a 15 hit difference is 30 points on his batting average.Here's a breakdown of the average drop from 2013 to 2014:

 

2013                   .324

2014                     .277

                           ------

Drop                    .047

 

change due to BABIP                 .030

change due to HR drop              .015

increased strike outs                    .002

                                                   --------

Total                                            .047

 

The BABIP and K's are reduction is clearly not concussion related.If you want to home run reduction or any reduction in slugging percentage is concussion related, I'm fine with that, but you really can't say that was a "great to pedestrian in ten months" drop since his home run total was always pretty pedestrian.

Hmmm.Based on current numbers, tough to say.5 more years of playing puts him around 650 more hits if he keeps hitting for his current average and plays 1B full time. 

 

However, there is one more factor that hasn't been discussed - likability.It's easy to vote for a guy that's humble, and easy to like vs.....oh, say...Gary Sheffield?

 

Hmmm.Based on current numbers, tough to say.5 more years of playing puts him around 650 more hits if he keeps hitting for his current average and plays 1B full time. 

 

However, there is one more factor that hasn't been discussed - likability.It's easy to vote for a guy that's humble, and easy to like vs.....oh, say...Gary Sheffield?

The other thing about this is if he is still considered a catcher on the ballot and by the voters. Guys like Sheffield, Grace, McGriff get ignored because they are a few of many 1B/DH or corner OF'ers that hit well. I still consider him a catcher.

Mauer is 4th in OPS for catchers between 2000-now. Piazza, Posada and Posey are the only catchers ahead of him. I am partial to the argument that at least a few players of each generation should be inducted. Piazza and IRod were closing their careersas Mauer was getting started.

 

Besides Posey what other catchers would be considered HOF'ers that were Mauer's contemporaries? Posada (not a bad case)? VMart? McCann?

 

I think when compared versus other catchers that played during his career it shows that he wasn't just 'very good'.

 

The other thing about this is if he is still considered a catcher on the ballot and by the voters. Guys like Sheffield, Grace, McGriff get ignored because they are a few of many 1B/DH or corner OF'ers that hit well. I still consider him a catcher.

Mauer is 4th in OPS for catchers between 2000-now. Piazza, Posada and Posey are the only catchers ahead of him. I am partial to the argument that at least a few players of each generation should be inducted. Piazza and IRod were closing their careersas Mauer was getting started.

 

Besides Posey what other catchers would be considered HOF'ers that were Mauer's contemporaries? Posada (not a bad case)? VMart? McCann?

 

I think when compared versus other catchers that played during his career it shows that he wasn't just 'very good'.

Yadi Molina.Best defensive catcher in baseball for like 15 years.Batted .284 which isn't bad for a great defensive catcher.

 

Yadi Molina.Best defensive catcher in baseball for like 15 years.Batted .284 which isn't bad for a great defensive catcher.

Good addition. That makes 3 including Joe. I think that is a decent minimum for a position over a 10-15 year span.


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