Tunnels And The Hall: Mauer and Santana
Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsAs of this writing, 72 ballots have been made public (or roughly 17% of the total vote). The former Twins ace has yet to garner a single nod, and while I’d hope he gets at least a few, it’s all but certain he’ll fall below the necessary 5% to get a second go-round. While it’s fair for the argument to be made that he’s simply not a Hall of Famer, that argument has always been based on longevity, or its lack.
From 2002-2010, Johan Santana was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He compiled a 2.90 ERA with over 1,780 strikeouts in 1,779.0 IP. He picked up four All-Star appearances while winning two (should have been three, Bartolo) Cy Young awards. Across the entirety of Twins history, he is arguably the greatest starting pitcher to ever put on the uniform. This tale however isn’t one pushing for his enshrinement, as we know too well how it ends.
Santana missed the 2011 season, returned with the New York Mets in 2012, and tried numerous comeback attempts following that season. His career was done in by injuries, and his career of 12 big league seasons was brought to an end by those injuries.
When looking at enshrinement, Santana’s case is always argued alongside a current Hall of Famer known as The Left Arm of God. Sandy Koufax pitched just 12 years as well, while winning three Cy Young awards and an MVP. His career 2.76 ERA bests Santana (3.20) and he reached the 2,000 K plateau (2,396) while Johan did not (1,988). When the dust settles it appears that a lack of longevity (due to health issues) will be what causes an end to any hope for a plaque.
On the other side of the coin, it’s intriguing to look at the polar opposite case that current Minnesota Twins first basemen Joe Mauer will present to the voters in a number of years. Reading through Jay Jaffe’s Cooperstown Case Book, it couldn’t be any clearer that the JAWS system suggest he should be a lock for Cooperstown. Jaffe himself is of the opinion that on merits alone, Mauer has a place in upstate New York, but it comes with a single caveat. Where Santana’s tunnel was too short, the question for Mauer will be whether or not his was too long.
As a catcher, Mauer may have arguably been the greatest of all time. Through a decade, Mauer owned a .323/.405/.468 slash line while picking up six All-Star Game appearances, five Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, and an MVP. He also is the only catcher to win multiple batting titles (three), and was the first to do so since 1942 (only AL catcher to ever accomplish the feat).
In his ten years as a catcher, Mauer posted a 43.1 fWAR. That mark ranks 20th all- time, with an average yearly value of 4.13 fWAR. Applying that number to his 14-year career, he’d be staring at a 60.3 fWAR (as opposed to 48.1 fWAR), which would put him eighth all-time, of catchers. Of the seven ahead of him, only Mike Piazza played fewer than 17 seasons, and all of the names included (Torre, Piazza, Berra, Fisk, Rodriguez, Carter, and Bench) are enshrined.
When looking at Mauer, it’s relatively hard to predict how he’ll be received on the ballot. His time at first base, following the brain injury that forced him from behind the plate, has been far from noteworthy. Despite the metrics suggesting him as a lock for a Gold Glove in 2017 (making him just the third player ever to win one at multiple positions, and first former catcher), he was snubbed, not even being considered a finalist. While Gold Gloves hold little merit in most realms, they are a counting factor among Hall of Fame debates. With a year left on his contract, and limited time following, it’ll be hard for him to generate any noteworthy statistic in his new role.
By the time Mauer is welcomed onto the ballot, likely by 2024, the BBWAA voting contingent will look significantly different. As MLB.com writers have been ushered in, as well as a younger demographic overall, it will be interesting to see in what regard the Twins great is held. He could be heralded for his performance behind the plate, or he could be diminished for his time spent in decline playing a new role.
A plaque in the Hall of Fame is the ultimate goal for a major league baseball player. An acknowledgement that you’ve made it as one of the best to ever play the game, there’s no overstating how powerful that moment must be for a ballplayer. When retroactively viewing careers, it’s an interesting and difficult decision to decipher between what may be too little (Santana) and what may be too much (Mauer). The tunnel of time spent in the big leagues could hardly be more polar opposite for the two potential Hall-of-Famers, but they may end up seeing their detractors lead them to the same fate.
As Santana finds himself ushered off the ballot, fans from Twins Territory will be looking for their next great to latch onto. 2011 represents the enshrinement of Bert Blyleven, following a lengthy campaign, and hope for who’s next may rest on Mauer’s laurels. We won’t know how this story plays out for some time, but in 2017, we’ve seen how the flip side has been viewed.