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They Aren’t Making Ballplayers Like Joe Mauer Anymore


GoGonzoJournal

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blog-0443165001538511788.jpgBaseball quite literally is not making ballplayers like Joe Mauer anymore. In fact, he’s potentially the last of a bygone era, during which striking out was still frowned upon by coaches and downright despised by some players.

 

Joe Mauer hates striking out — so much so he struck out just once in high school. Even as Major League Baseball evolved into a game with more pitchers throwing harder and nastier pitches than ever before, Mauer refused to change his approach and was good enough to not only get away with it, but force defenses to adjust to him just as Barry Bonds before him. Mauer received one of the most extreme defensive outfield shifts in baseball, and he got his hits despite it.

 

Of the top 21 seasons in overall strikeouts in MLB history, Mauer played in 15. He struck out more than 100 times just once, and his OPS+ was under 100 in just two seasons of his career. But some still think Mauer was overpaid given the expectancy for him to catch full-time.

 

Addressing Mauer’s Haters

Mauer, a soft-spoken, Minnesota-nice guy, has his share of haters who think he should have cowboyed up and got behind the plate to earn his $23 million every year despite a concussion issue that not only threatened his career but his life off the field. An issue that reappeared this season upon a dive for a ball at first base and might be responsible for Mauer’s indecision regarding his playing future.

Mauer’s haters should know over the course of his career, the Twins paid Joe just $374,856.42 more per win above a replacement player than the Marlins and Tigers paid Cabrera, and the Tigers still owe him at least $154 million. The Twins paid just $728,825.30 more per win above a replacement player than the Cardinals and Angels have paid Pujols, who’s still owed $87 million. If you average the WAR of both Cabrera and Pujols over their last seven years across the remaining years of their contracts, their cost per win above a replacement player balloons to $381,619.65 and $80,136.39 more per WAR than Joe, respectively.

 

Not being overpaid relative to his fellow first basemen won’t make Mauer a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Pujols and Cabrera, but it doesn’t hurt.

 

The Hall of Fame Question

Most will say Mauer’s six All-Star appearances and 2,123 hits aren’t enough. Most will say he never won a playoff series. Most will say his 55.1 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) isn’t even as good as another former Twin (David Ortiz, 55.3) despite it being top-100 all time amongst Hall of Fame position players and 151st all time in MLB history, according to Baseball Reference.

 

Mauer’s integrity and humility are Hall-of-Fame caliber, however. Unlike Ortiz, who failed a 2003 performance-enhancing drug test, Mauer’s legacy is unquestioned and untarnished. Although Mauer only played in the post-steroid era of Major League Baseball (the drug policy as we know it was first implemented and enforced in 2004), he’s someone who might have benefited from steroids and had an “opportunity” to use them after sustaining a knee injury in his rookie season. At 21, Joe knew better, and at 28, when his body struggled recovering from surgery and then fell ill with pneumonia, Mauer probably never even considered using steroids.

 

Mauer came back in 2012 to lead the league in on-base percentage (OBP), beating his 2011 OBP by 56 points (.420). His .351 OBP in 2018 is the worst of his career and was still the 50th-best in baseball and 10 percent better than the MLB average (.318). He was top-10 in league OBP and batting average seven times and top-10 in Adjusted OPS+ six times in his career.

 

Mauer’s .3063 career batting average is, ironically, identical to his Hall of Fame manager’s, good for 138th-best all time. But Paul Molitor has 1,196 more hits than Joe. Regardless, Mauer’s career batting average is sandwiched between Hall of Famers Ernie Lombardi and George Kell, and is better than that of the next-best hitting catcher of his era, Buster Posey (.306). Mauer’s the only catcher ever to win three batting titles, too.

 

But what makes Hall of Famers is their relative dominance of their respective eras. Barry Bonds didn’t have to beat Babe Ruth in career home runs; he just needed to dominate his era like Ruth his. Mauer is a Hall of Famer given his place amongst his peers.

 

When compared to his peers, from 2004 to 2018, Mauer’s batting average ranks ninth, between Mike Trout and Buster Posey. His OBP is twelfth, between Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and Bryce Harper. His Weighted Runs Created (WRC) is tenth, whereas Posey ranks 94th. On an All-MLB 2004–18 Team, Mauer would clearly be the catcher, and he’s probably the fourth-best first baseman of his generation, behind Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto — all first-ballot Hall of Famers.

 

Mauer’s numbers aren’t first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame worthy, but the way he represented the game of baseball and himself on and off the field is worthy of first-ballot consideration, which he’ll receive. Joe might even be a victim of the Hall of Fame shrinking the length of time players stay on the ballot from 15 years to 10. Mauer won’t be eligible for induction until 2023 at the earliest, but judging from the lack of retirees expected this season, he could benefit from a lack of competition. We don’t know if this is Adrian Beltre’s final season, and if it isn’t, Mauer could be sharing the ballot with holdovers from previous years, not including Bonds or Roger Clemens, who will fall off the ballot in three years.

 

Even if Joe isn’t voted into the MLB Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he will most certainly get support from the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. One way or another, Joe Mauer is a Hall of Fame player. Personally, I’d like to see if he’s a Hall of Fame manager.

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Joe Mauer belongs. 

 

Catchers in this era don't win multiple batting titles, and they don't bat over .300 for a career.   

 

But for the concussions, Joe would've caught for at least 3 or 4 more years - he might still be taking some turns behind the plate, where his defense was "All-Star" caliber.

 

 

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Will baseball writers take that into consideration, though? Injuries aren't typically considered valid excuses when considering HOF worthiness. For what it's worth, Mauer's career WAR is four better than Kirby Puckett's, but Puckett had four more All-Star appearances, three more Gold Gloves, one more Silver Slugger, and two more World Series Championships, including an ALCS MVP Award. 

Joe Mauer belongs. 

 

Catchers in this era don't win multiple batting titles, and they don't bat over .300 for a career.   

 

But for the concussions, Joe would've caught for at least 3 or 4 more years - he might still be taking some turns behind the plate, where his defense was "All-Star" caliber.

 

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I often wonder how much better Joe could have been if he would have taken a different approach at the plate. We can all agree that he knew how to work a pitcher into deep counts and then still get a base hit but if he would have went up to bat looking to hit the first good pitch that was right over the heart of the plate he very possibly could have hit even better than what he did. I watched a lot of games where he would watch 2 pitches go right down the middle and then have to swing at a pitch later in that same at bat that was not a good pitch to hit because he put himself into that situation. Yes sometimes he still got a hit but a lot of those times he didn't and sure as shootin he let the best pitches to hit go by without swinging.

 

He was a really good player, the best hitting catcher of his time, but if you compare him to another great hitting catcher like Mike Piazza who hit for average AND power he doesn't come close. 

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I often wonder how much better Joe could have been if he would have taken a different approach at the plate. We can all agree that he knew how to work a pitcher into deep counts and then still get a base hit but if he would have went up to bat looking to hit the first good pitch that was right over the heart of the plate he very possibly could have hit even better than what he did. I watched a lot of games where he would watch 2 pitches go right down the middle and then have to swing at a pitch later in that same at bat that was not a good pitch to hit because he put himself into that situation. Yes sometimes he still got a hit but a lot of those times he didn't and sure as shootin he let the best pitches to hit go by without swinging.

 

 

I wish he had swung at first pitches a little more often but two myths about Mauer abound.    One is that he was a great two strike hitter.   While its true he was better than most batters when behind in the count he only hit .226 with an 0-2 count and .215 with a 1-2 count.   Even at 2-2 he only batted .251.   The other perception is that he was always behind in the count.   If that were in fact true then the stats listed above would prevent him from being anywhere near a .306 batter.    His stats for all counts are similar to a lot of decent but not great hitters in that they do much better when ahead in the count so what separates Joe from decent hitters like Delmon Young and Mike Cuddyer is that Mauer was actually ahead in the count way more than the others.   The only way to get ahead in the count is to not swing early in the count.   I wish Joe had been a little more aggressive early in the counts but not a lot more because there is logic to his approach that worked for him.

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If he would have had to retire after his concussion episode..... he would have been a shoo-in, like Kirby Puckett. Playing out his contract as a light hitting first baseman.... could very well make that not happen. The bi-lateral leg mystery doesn't help, either.

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