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Debate No. 2: Who was the better player: Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer? (Debate/poll concluded - thread open)


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Debate No. 2 Post-debate Poll  

42 members have voted

  1. 1. Which debater was more persuasive?

    • Debater A: Kirby Puckett was the better player
    • Debater B: Joe Mauer was the better player
    • Both were equally persuasive

This poll is closed to new votes


55 minutes ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

On home/road splits, OPS+ and wRC+ already include park factors. (And to the extent that Puckett derived more benefit from the Metrodome than the park factor suggests, isn't that also a demonstrated skill above his peers?)

While park factor is a great addition to stats over the past 20 years, park factor doesn't work as well on an individual level with some outlier players whose strengths may play extremely up or down for their home park.

Puckett's BABIP was a whopping .060 higher in the Metrodome. That's insane! And it speaks to someone whose playing style greatly benefited from being drafted by the right team that played in the right stadium for that individual player.

And that mammoth BABIP effect isn't going to be captured entirely from a park adjustment. For example, after scanning a bunch of really good players who spent a lot of time in the 'dome (Brunansky, Hrbek, Gaetti, Mack, Knoblach), Hrbek had the second greatest advantage in the dome, around +.100 OPS. Everybody else was in the "expected home field range", usually +.000 to +.050 OPS.

So even the second place finisher in dome advantage, Hrbek, is still .050 below Puckett. Without modern batted ball numbers to show why Puckett benefited from the dome so much we'll probably never know why this was, but a .148 home/road gap is undeniably large and the dome had a huge impact on how the public perceived Puckett and his career.

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On 11/16/2021 at 11:28 AM, H2H Debater B said:

They receive a bad rap because they’re a terrible stat to evaluate individual performance, and that’s what we’re talking about here. But if we want to go that route, I’ll play. Runs and RBI are team contextual numbers. If we look at just the raw performance numbers over their careers:

Runners in Scoring Position
Mauer: .937 OPS in 2,107 opportunities
Puckett: .879 OPS in 2,146 opportunities

Men on Base
Mauer: .888 OPS in 3,548 opportunities
Puckett: .874 OPS in 3,567 opportunities

One aspect few ever mention is how “clutch” Joe was in two out situations. Look at this:

Runners in Scoring Position, Two Outs
Mauer: .943 OPS in 849 opportunities
Puckett: .854 OPS in 814 opportunities

Again, we see Mauer was better than Puckett across the board in run-scoring opportunities on a per-plate appearance basis. This is becoming a theme.

This debate, has been one of my favorites over the years, and I am 100% team Puckett, and it's not even close for me (Joe Mauer is great, too... But that doesn't mean I think it's close).

But this part of the argument in favor of Mauer is one of my favorites to (try to? you decide...) tear to shreds.

In this day and age, on-base-percentage is (rightly, to a degree) favored over batting average, but the thing about OBP is, the high values of it are driven by walks —which do absolutely nothing when it comes to scoring runs except on the most rare player on-base situation in baseball. They only give the rest of your team that opportunity to score a run, which you've been deriding in the arguments as something the player has to rely on as "team contextual" (which is hilarious to me in a comparison between these two players, as you'll discover below). What gets forgotten with this idea, is that hits are always better than a walk, a lot better, in fact... 

So, lets look deeper at Mauer vs. Puckett with Runners in Scoring Position, Men-On-Base, and in the Clutch:

RISP:

.334/.459/.477 line for Mauer absolutely looks great, and that's because it is! But... he had 540 hits, and 418 (!) walks leading to that line... So what you actually have here, is one of the greatest hitters of his era, actually being one of the most passive players ever in those situations. He drove in 756 runners, had 32 homers, 116 doubles, and 10 triples among his 540 hits.

Compare with Puckett, who had a .322/.383/.496 batting line in those situations, with 598 hits, and 204 walks. What you should notice right away in the batting line, is Puckett's average was close to Mauer's, but he also had .020 more points in slugging. This is because Puckett drove in 842 runners, had 57 homers, 114 doubles, and 19 triples among his 598 hits in comparison.

The point here is, Puckett did significantly more damage than Mauer in these situations despite the perceived difference in OPS, because he swung the bat more. The importance of this point will become even more apparent in the following.

Men-On-Base: 

This is where it gets really fun for me, and I'll tie it into batting with RISP. Over his career, adding together how many runners were in scoring position, Mauer had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,451 total runners in scoring position. He tallied the already mentioned 756 RBI in those situations, and 756 / 2451 means he drove in 30.8% of possible runners he could have (including himself with a HR and any stragglers that weren't actually in "scoring position").

Puckett, over his career had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,456 runners in scoring position (See where this is going, and why that "team contextual" argument is meaningless in this comparison, yet?). He totaled 842 RBI, 842 / 2456 means he drove in 34.3% of those possible in comparison, and is the first of what I'll call a "significant difference."

When going to all runners ever, including themselves as the batter, Mauer had 12,695 possible "opportunities" to put a run on the scoreboard in his career. He had 923 career RBI. 923 / 12695 means he put 7.3 % of all possible runs he could have in his career, on the scoreboard.

Puckett had 12,630 of these same possible "opportunities" in his career (again, basically an identical number to Mauer) to put a run on the scoreboard, and did so 1085 times. 1085 / 12630 = 8.6%.

(In case you're not really familiar with the mathematics subject/concept of "statistics," it's at this point I'd point out that the larger of a sample size you have, which these arguments definitely are a large sample, the less and less any concept of "team contextual" or "opponent" argument becomes relevant in a game of baseball context, to the point of being meaningless here.)

If you don't think that 1.3% is another significant difference... Well, it's incredibly significant. Especially when you take into account, that per the OPS argument being made above, Mauer "should" have been better than Puckett was in this regard.

To give you a different level of comparison with this type of number, Mike Trout has scored a run on 9.3% of all possible "opportunities" in his career. So, Puckett is a lot closer to Trout in this regard, than Joe was to Kirby.

Clutch:

The big crux here again, is how Mauer arrives at this OPS versus Puckett. Joe's batting average of .321 is .019 points higher than Kirby's, but has a mammoth .150 Isolated discipline in comparison to .090 for Puckett. That OPS difference is mostly due to the fact that Joe, again, was much more willing to take walks rather than try to do damage. Sure, if he swung more, that batting average would likely go down, but the tradeoff for an elite hitter like Joe, most certainly would be a net-win when it comes to scoring runs.

849 career Plate Appearances for Joe with RISP and 2 outs: 278 RBI.

813 career Plate Appearances for Kirby with RISP and 2 outs: 267 RBI (extrapolated to 849 PA = 278 RBI)

For a difference of .089 in OPS, literally nothing was gained for Mauer in terms of putting runs on the scoreboard over Kirby in these "clutch" situations.

For me, these ideas formulate the main rub in this argument and comparison: Mauer absolutely SHOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER than Puckett... but he wasn't, for the simple fact he didn't swing enough (hits are better than walks, friends!). 

And please don't take these points as a knock on Mauer, they're absolutely not. He was great! Just different, but if he ever had added a more aggressive situational hitting approach (in my opinion, he had the same approach for everything, which worked great for him, obviously, but...), he probably also could have been even more.

Also just for funsies, more simple arguments I like to point out: 

Kirby scored more than 80 runs in a season 9 times out of 12 in his career (Mauer had: 5/15), drove in 80+ runners in 10/12 (Mauer: 4/15), batted .300+ in 8/12 (Mauer: 8/15), had more than 160+ hits in 11/12 (Mauer: 6/15), had 250+ TB in 9/12 (Mauer: 2/15), had 35+ doubles in 7/12 (Mauer: 4/15), was an All-Star in 10/12 (Mauer: 6/15), won a Gold Glove in 6/12 (Mauer: 3/15), and Silver Slugger in 6/12 (Mauer: 5/15). Mauer has that MVP over him, but Kirby has the 2 World Series Titles.

Much different players, you can make great arguments for either, both are among my favorite Twins ever, and Joe gets a lot of credit for being a catcher. But Kirby is undisputed on the top of this podium for me. 

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41 minutes ago, Steve Lein said:

This debate, has been one of my favorites over the years, and I am 100% team Puckett, and it's not even close for me (Joe Mauer is great, too... But that doesn't mean I think it's close).

But this part of the argument in favor of Mauer is one of my favorites to (try to? you decide...) tear to shreds.

In this day and age, on-base-percentage is (rightly, to a degree) favored over batting average, but the thing about OBP is, the high values of it are driven by walks —which do absolutely nothing when it comes to scoring runs except on the most rare player on-base situation in baseball. They only give the rest of your team that opportunity to score a run, which you've been deriding in the arguments as something the player has to rely on as "team contextual" (which is hilarious to me in a comparison between these two players, as you'll discover below). What gets forgotten with this idea, is that hits are always better than a walk, a lot better, in fact... 

So, lets look deeper at Mauer vs. Puckett with Runners in Scoring Position, Men-On-Base, and in the Clutch:

RISP:

.334/.459/.477 line for Mauer absolutely looks great, and that's because it is! But... he had 540 hits, and 418 (!) walks leading to that line... So what you actually have here, is one of the greatest hitters of his era, actually being one of the most passive players ever in those situations. He drove in 756 runners, had 32 homers, 116 doubles, and 10 triples among his 540 hits.

Compare with Puckett, who had a .322/.383/.496 batting line in those situations, with 598 hits, and 204 walks. What you should notice right away in the batting line, is Puckett's average was close to Mauer's, but he also had .020 more points in slugging. This is because Puckett drove in 842 runners, had 57 homers, 114 doubles, and 19 triples among his 598 hits in comparison.

The point here is, Puckett did significantly more damage than Mauer in these situations despite the perceived difference in OPS, because he swung the bat more. The importance of this point will become even more apparent in the following.

Men-On-Base: 

This is where it gets really fun for me, and I'll tie it into batting with RISP. Over his career, adding together how many runners were in scoring position, Mauer had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,451 total runners in scoring position. He tallied the already mentioned 756 RBI in those situations, and 756 / 2451 means he drove in 30.8% of possible runners he could have (including himself with a HR and any stragglers that weren't actually in "scoring position").

Puckett, over his career had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,456 runners in scoring position (See where this is going, and why that "team contextual" argument is meaningless in this comparison, yet?). He totaled 842 RBI, 842 / 2456 means he drove in 34.3% of those possible in comparison, and is the first of what I'll call a "significant difference."

When going to all runners ever, including themselves as the batter, Mauer had 12,695 possible "opportunities" to put a run on the scoreboard in his career. He had 923 career RBI. 923 / 12695 means he put 7.3 % of all possible runs he could have in his career, on the scoreboard.

Puckett had 12,630 of these same possible "opportunities" in his career (again, basically an identical number to Mauer) to put a run on the scoreboard, and did so 1085 times. 1085 / 12630 = 8.6%.

(In case you're not really familiar with the mathematics subject/concept of "statistics," it's at this point I'd point out that the larger of a sample size you have, which these arguments definitely are a large sample, the less and less any concept of "team contextual" or "opponent" argument becomes relevant in a game of baseball context, to the point of being meaningless here.)

If you don't think that 1.3% is another significant difference... Well, it's incredibly significant. Especially when you take into account, that per the OPS argument being made above, Mauer "should" have been better than Puckett was in this regard.

To give you a different level of comparison with this type of number, Mike Trout has scored a run on 9.3% of all possible "opportunities" in his career. So, Puckett is a lot closer to Trout in this regard, than Joe was to Kirby.

Clutch:

The big crux here again, is how Mauer arrives at this OPS versus Puckett. Joe's batting average of .321 is .019 points higher than Kirby's, but has a mammoth .150 Isolated discipline in comparison to .090 for Puckett. That OPS difference is mostly due to the fact that Joe, again, was much more willing to take walks rather than try to do damage. Sure, if he swung more, that batting average would likely go down, but the tradeoff for an elite hitter like Joe, most certainly would be a net-win when it comes to scoring runs.

849 career Plate Appearances for Joe with RISP and 2 outs: 278 RBI.

813 career Plate Appearances for Kirby with RISP and 2 outs: 267 RBI (extrapolated to 849 PA = 278 RBI)

For a difference of .089 in OPS, literally nothing was gained for Mauer in terms of putting runs on the scoreboard over Kirby in these "clutch" situations.

For me, these ideas formulate the main rub in this argument and comparison: Mauer absolutely SHOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER than Puckett... but he wasn't, for the simple fact he didn't swing enough (hits are better than walks, friends!). 

And please don't take these points as a knock on Mauer, they're absolutely not. He was great! Just different, but if he ever had added a more aggressive situational hitting approach (in my opinion, he had the same approach for everything, which worked great for him, obviously, but...), he probably also could have been even more.

Also just for funsies, more simple arguments I like to point out: 

Kirby scored more than 80 runs in a season 9 times out of 12 in his career (Mauer had: 5/15), drove in 80+ runners in 10/12 (Mauer: 4/15), batted .300+ in 8/12 (Mauer: 8/15), had more than 160+ hits in 11/12 (Mauer: 6/15), had 250+ TB in 9/12 (Mauer: 2/15), had 35+ doubles in 7/12 (Mauer: 4/15), was an All-Star in 10/12 (Mauer: 6/15), won a Gold Glove in 6/12 (Mauer: 3/15), and Silver Slugger in 6/12 (Mauer: 5/15). Mauer has that MVP over him, but Kirby has the 2 World Series Titles.

Much different players, you can make great arguments for either, both are among my favorite Twins ever, and Joe gets a lot of credit for being a catcher. But Kirby is undisputed on the top of this podium for me. 

Fair enough, I actually don't disagree with a lot of the RBI/Run stuff. Puckett was more aggressive, which is great, but Mauer's "passiveness" also has its benefit of not making an out and turning the PA over to Morneau. Advantage to Kirby but it's not a huge gulf because counting stats are pretty meh when comparing a guy who plays 140 games versus a guy who plays 160.

But in response to this, I'll ask you one question, Steve:

Explain why your "easy choice" wasn't much better than average outside the Metrodome. If he was so great, why was he so damned normal outside that one, way-out-of-the-ordinary, batting environment? If he was so naturally talented as a player and hitter, why couldn't he hit within 100 points of his Metrodome OPS on the road?

Not a single Puckett supporter will recognize and rebut this obviously important aspect of evaluating Puckett's true talent level as a baseball player.

It's just bonkers when you look at it. Kirby Puckett scored 626 runs in the Metrodome and only 445 on the road. He drove in 601 runs in the Metrodome and only 484 on the road.

All of this stuff is linked but no Puckett supporter will even acknowledge the greater point because I think it completely torpedoes Puckett's case against Mauer.

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11 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Fair enough, I actually don't disagree with a lot of the RBI/Run stuff. Puckett was more aggressive, which is great, but Mauer's "passiveness" also has its benefit of not making an out and turning the PA over to Morneau. Advantage to Kirby but it's not a large one because counting stats are pretty meh when talking about a guy who plays 140 games versus a guy who plays 160.

But in response to this, I'll ask you one question, Steve:

Explain why your "easy choice" wasn't much better than average outside the Metrodome. If he was so great, why was he so damned normal outside that one, way-out-of-the-ordinary, batting environment? If he was so naturally talented as a player and hitter, why couldn't he hit within 100 points of his Metrodome OPS on the road?

Not a single Puckett supporter will recognize and rebut this obviously important flaw in evaluating Puckett's true talent level as a baseball player.

It's just bonkers when you look at it. Kirby Puckett scored 626 runs in the Metrodome and only 445 on the road. He drove in 601 runs in the Metrodome and only 484 on the road.

All of this stuff is linked but no Puckett supporter will even acknowledge the point.

It's a fair question to ponder!

I look at it this way, and maybe it's a bit era dependent, but his .761 OPS on the road wasn't exactly what I'd call, just "normal," for the time. It was in fact, still very above average.

The highest average OPS across the league during Puckett's early and middle career was in the range of .695-.710, and in 1987 when it was .747, his was .921 on the road.

In the last three years of his career the average OPS was .736-.763. His was .895 on the road in 1995, and .726 in the two years preceding.

You certainly can make the conclusion the Metrodome was nice to him, but it's not like he didn't ever crush on the road either in a season-to-season look.

Definitely other thins I'd want to look at too.

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Just now, Steve Lein said:

It's a fair question to ponder!

I look at it this way, and maybe it's a bit era dependent, but his .761 OPS on the road wasn't exactly what I'd call, just "normal," for the time. It was in fact, still very above average.

The highest average OPS across the league during Puckett's early and middle career was in the range of .695-.710, and in 1987 when it was .747, his was .921 on the road.

In the last three years of his career the average OPS was .736-.763. His was .895 on the road in 1995, and .726 in the two years preceding.

You certainly can make the conclusion the Metrodome was nice to him, but it's not like he didn't ever crush on the road either in a season-to-season look.

Definitely other thins I'd want to look at too.

Oh, he was above average on the road, for sure, but not miles above average compared to the median player (for much of Puckett's career, some truly embarrassing players filled the back of lineups).

But breaking down singular season home/road stats just muddies the conversation. We all know YoY splits analysis just lead to madness. Puckett had literally thousands of PAs to examine and there's no need to start breaking down those thousands into smaller numbers when the big number tells a rather clear picture.

And the Metrodome wasn't "just nice" to him, his BABIP was literally 60 points higher there. That's ****ing insane. Puckett had a BABIP over .370 in the dome.

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2 hours ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

FYI, using Mauer's peak or even career to define this range can introduce a "selective endpoint" problem -- most other careers or peaks don't line up exactly with Mauer's timeline, and other players may have contributed value outside those years where Mauer generally didn't. (This is similar to the conditions that allow Jack Morris to be one of the best pitchers of the 1980s -- that is true, although many of the other best pitchers of the 1980s were also among the best pitchers of the 1970s or 1990s too!)

That said, unlike Morris, Mauer still ranks well by many other measurements, so this isn't a knock on him! Just a statistical thing to be aware of.

Edit to add: FWIW, Puckett ranks 11th in fWAR across his career too, and also 11th for his 10-year peak (1986-1995).

I made the argument not to say Mauer was better than Puckett, but in defense of the competition level Mauer played against. Mauer played in the same era as some other great players.

Puckett played a big part of his career in the steroid era so if he wasn't juicing, there's some argument his numbers would stack up better. Same argument I'd make for Fred McGriff who I believe should obviously be in the Hall of Fame. @Squirrel talked about a part 2, but I don't think that would work at this point since fans have now hotly debated about everything under the sun leaving little for a new debate to technically cover, haha.

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Just now, bean5302 said:

I made the argument not to say Mauer was better than Puckett, but in defense of the competition level Mauer played against. Mauer played in the same era as some other great players.

Puckett played a big part of his career in the steroid era so if he wasn't juicing, there's some argument his numbers would stack up better. Same argument I'd make for Fred McGriff who I believe should obviously be in the Hall of Fame. @Squirrel talked about a part 2, but I don't think that would work at this point since fans have now hotly debated about everything under the sun leaving little for a new debate to technically cover, haha.

I was joking, mostly commenting on the response this topic has generated ... :) 

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I crunched some numbers:

Cumulative road OPS for the AL from 1986-1995 was .721.

Puckett was at .793 on the road for that same time period, so about 10% better than league, or a 110 in OPS+ terms.

Puckett's overall OPS+ during those years was 132, which might imply his home OPS+ would be 154 or something. A stark difference, to be sure!

But I wonder how much to penalize him for it, if he was uniquely taking advantage of it, far better than any of his teammates or opponents.

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3 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

@Squirrel talked about a part 2, but I don't think that would work at this point since fans have now hotly debated about everything under the sun leaving little for a new debate to technically cover, haha.

 

2 minutes ago, Squirrel said:

I was joking, mostly commenting on the response this topic has generated ... :) 

Maybe you two could debate whether to have a second debate! :)

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8 minutes ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

But I wonder how much to penalize him for it, if he was uniquely taking advantage of it, far better than any of his teammates or opponents.

This I'm not sure about, either. Did Puckett intentionally change his approach to benefit the dome, knowing it would hurt his road numbers? I doubt it, at least not entirely, though he may have tweaked his approach to better suit the dome and his decline in road numbers followed suit. In that case, he should probably be punished for his road numbers but not to the tune of .148 OPS points. I suspect his true talent level is somewhere between those home and road numbers, though I don't know where.

But one thing we *haven't* talked about is what would have happened if someone put Mauer, with his almost-negative-launch-angle, into that Metrodome environment.

Mauer hit .365 in 2009. I think he may have challenged Carew's team record of .388 had he played in the Metrodome environment in which Puckett played. Mauer was the king of 100mph exit velos with -3 deg launch angle, which would have crushed in the 1980s Metrodome.

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8 hours ago, Squirrel said:

Yes. Between two posters. Each debater posts an opening statement that goes public simultaneously. Debater A gets the first rebuttal, then B, then A, then B. Then both submit closing statements that go public simultaneously. Debate over. So, basically, each has four posts to make their case. We post a pre- and post-debate poll for comparison and open the debate thread at the conclusion for public comment. This was the 2nd debate. The 3rd one starts today with opening statements on the topic ‘Building a strong lineup vs Building a string rotation -which is more important.’ And a 4th debate will begin Nov. 29. If you have topic ideas and/or want to participate, send a PM to @Squirrel and/or @Otto von Ballpark. Or, just check back and follow along!

Glad you enjoyed this. It’s a new thing we are trying. The posters involved have enjoyed the experience as well, I think. We will reveal identities soon, but wanted to get the poll and comments in first.

 

8 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

The posters’ names are obfuscated to avoid bias in reading and polling. 

Let me see if I can ask this again so it communicates ..... "Is this a debate between commenters with 3 and 5 previous posts? 

I have no question about the rules or anything that you have all posted to set this up. The question is specific. The little comment cloud thingy under each of our names provides us with the info on the total number of posts we all have made.... both of you have thousands and thousands. These clouds under the debaters showed 3 and 5, seeming to indicate that they were both new commenters to the site. Perhaps the comment cloud was reset for the a debate, for the temporary A and B name because you didn't want us to know? That is my question. Thanks for the repeat info, though I was still curious if the debaters were brand new to the site. I am sure it will be answered when they are revealed, but that was the question.

 

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There have been many worthwhile comments made, but some of them have diverged from the actual topic of debate. The topic is not which player accomplished more, especially in the postseason. The topic is not which player had better leadership characteristics. The topic is not which player had better statistics. The topic is not which was your personal favorite. The topic is who was the better player. I still say the answer to that is Mauer.

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53 minutes ago, Nine of twelve said:

There have been many worthwhile comments made, but some of them have diverged from the actual topic of debate. The topic is not which player accomplished more, especially in the postseason. The topic is not which player had better leadership characteristics. The topic is not which player had better statistics. The topic is not which was your personal favorite. The topic is who was the better player. I still say the answer to that is Mauer.

I disagree. Both with the conclusion that Mauer was the better player, and the opinion that accomplishments, including postseason, are not a part of "better." I disagree that leadership isn't part of "better player." And I strongly disagree that statistics can't be part of the evidence of better. 

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3 hours ago, USAFChief said:

I disagree. Both with the conclusion that Mauer was the better player, and the opinion that accomplishments, including postseason, are not a part of "better." I disagree that leadership isn't part of "better player." And I strongly disagree that statistics can't be part of the evidence of better. 

Was it “leadership” when Puckett was absolutely awful for the same number of postseason PAs that Mauer received in his entire career?

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5 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Was it “leadership” when Puckett was absolutely awful for the same number of postseason PAs that Mauer received in his entire career?

The question was, is leadership up for debate as part of the equation?

As to the two players, if we agree leadership can be part of the discussion, perhaps Puckett's leadership played some role in his getting so many more opportunities. 

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7 hours ago, Steve Lein said:

This debate, has been one of my favorites over the years, and I am 100% team Puckett, and it's not even close for me (Joe Mauer is great, too... But that doesn't mean I think it's close).

But this part of the argument in favor of Mauer is one of my favorites to (try to? you decide...) tear to shreds.

In this day and age, on-base-percentage is (rightly, to a degree) favored over batting average, but the thing about OBP is, the high values of it are driven by walks —which do absolutely nothing when it comes to scoring runs except on the most rare player on-base situation in baseball. They only give the rest of your team that opportunity to score a run, which you've been deriding in the arguments as something the player has to rely on as "team contextual" (which is hilarious to me in a comparison between these two players, as you'll discover below). What gets forgotten with this idea, is that hits are always better than a walk, a lot better, in fact... 

So, lets look deeper at Mauer vs. Puckett with Runners in Scoring Position, Men-On-Base, and in the Clutch:

RISP:

.334/.459/.477 line for Mauer absolutely looks great, and that's because it is! But... he had 540 hits, and 418 (!) walks leading to that line... So what you actually have here, is one of the greatest hitters of his era, actually being one of the most passive players ever in those situations. He drove in 756 runners, had 32 homers, 116 doubles, and 10 triples among his 540 hits.

Compare with Puckett, who had a .322/.383/.496 batting line in those situations, with 598 hits, and 204 walks. What you should notice right away in the batting line, is Puckett's average was close to Mauer's, but he also had .020 more points in slugging. This is because Puckett drove in 842 runners, had 57 homers, 114 doubles, and 19 triples among his 598 hits in comparison.

The point here is, Puckett did significantly more damage than Mauer in these situations despite the perceived difference in OPS, because he swung the bat more. The importance of this point will become even more apparent in the following.

Men-On-Base: 

This is where it gets really fun for me, and I'll tie it into batting with RISP. Over his career, adding together how many runners were in scoring position, Mauer had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,451 total runners in scoring position. He tallied the already mentioned 756 RBI in those situations, and 756 / 2451 means he drove in 30.8% of possible runners he could have (including himself with a HR and any stragglers that weren't actually in "scoring position").

Puckett, over his career had the "opportunity" to drive in 2,456 runners in scoring position (See where this is going, and why that "team contextual" argument is meaningless in this comparison, yet?). He totaled 842 RBI, 842 / 2456 means he drove in 34.3% of those possible in comparison, and is the first of what I'll call a "significant difference."

When going to all runners ever, including themselves as the batter, Mauer had 12,695 possible "opportunities" to put a run on the scoreboard in his career. He had 923 career RBI. 923 / 12695 means he put 7.3 % of all possible runs he could have in his career, on the scoreboard.

Puckett had 12,630 of these same possible "opportunities" in his career (again, basically an identical number to Mauer) to put a run on the scoreboard, and did so 1085 times. 1085 / 12630 = 8.6%.

(In case you're not really familiar with the mathematics subject/concept of "statistics," it's at this point I'd point out that the larger of a sample size you have, which these arguments definitely are a large sample, the less and less any concept of "team contextual" or "opponent" argument becomes relevant in a game of baseball context, to the point of being meaningless here.)

If you don't think that 1.3% is another significant difference... Well, it's incredibly significant. Especially when you take into account, that per the OPS argument being made above, Mauer "should" have been better than Puckett was in this regard.

To give you a different level of comparison with this type of number, Mike Trout has scored a run on 9.3% of all possible "opportunities" in his career. So, Puckett is a lot closer to Trout in this regard, than Joe was to Kirby.

Clutch:

The big crux here again, is how Mauer arrives at this OPS versus Puckett. Joe's batting average of .321 is .019 points higher than Kirby's, but has a mammoth .150 Isolated discipline in comparison to .090 for Puckett. That OPS difference is mostly due to the fact that Joe, again, was much more willing to take walks rather than try to do damage. Sure, if he swung more, that batting average would likely go down, but the tradeoff for an elite hitter like Joe, most certainly would be a net-win when it comes to scoring runs.

849 career Plate Appearances for Joe with RISP and 2 outs: 278 RBI.

813 career Plate Appearances for Kirby with RISP and 2 outs: 267 RBI (extrapolated to 849 PA = 278 RBI)

For a difference of .089 in OPS, literally nothing was gained for Mauer in terms of putting runs on the scoreboard over Kirby in these "clutch" situations.

For me, these ideas formulate the main rub in this argument and comparison: Mauer absolutely SHOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER than Puckett... but he wasn't, for the simple fact he didn't swing enough (hits are better than walks, friends!). 

And please don't take these points as a knock on Mauer, they're absolutely not. He was great! Just different, but if he ever had added a more aggressive situational hitting approach (in my opinion, he had the same approach for everything, which worked great for him, obviously, but...), he probably also could have been even more.

Also just for funsies, more simple arguments I like to point out: 

Kirby scored more than 80 runs in a season 9 times out of 12 in his career (Mauer had: 5/15), drove in 80+ runners in 10/12 (Mauer: 4/15), batted .300+ in 8/12 (Mauer: 8/15), had more than 160+ hits in 11/12 (Mauer: 6/15), had 250+ TB in 9/12 (Mauer: 2/15), had 35+ doubles in 7/12 (Mauer: 4/15), was an All-Star in 10/12 (Mauer: 6/15), won a Gold Glove in 6/12 (Mauer: 3/15), and Silver Slugger in 6/12 (Mauer: 5/15). Mauer has that MVP over him, but Kirby has the 2 World Series Titles.

Much different players, you can make great arguments for either, both are among my favorite Twins ever, and Joe gets a lot of credit for being a catcher. But Kirby is undisputed on the top of this podium for me. 

Nice work. 

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11 hours ago, USAFChief said:

And I strongly disagree that statistics can't be part of the evidence of better. 

Point accepted, and I almost edited my comment to remove the sentence that referenced statistics. However, I think that statistics can miss important aspects of playing the game, particularly for catchers. I don't think one can quantify working with pitchers regarding pitch selection, adjusting mechanics, and so forth. There can even be quasi-psychological counseling. I recall reading a story about a time when Jack Morris, known to be high strung at times, was pitching for Detroit and got into a snit about something or other. Lance Parrish came out to the mound and told him that everyone hated it when he got that way and to knock it off.

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8 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Was it “leadership” when Puckett was absolutely awful for the same number of postseason PAs that Mauer received in his entire career?

Puckett had some similar poor overall numbers in that span, but as I noted earlier, a positive WPA.

In the very first game, ALCS Game 1, Puckett was responsible for the top play by WPA: down 1 in the 8th, he hit a first-pitch double to drive in the tying run from first. That hit also chased the starter, then Puckett later scored the go-ahead run in that rally.

Then ALCS Game 4, on the road, Twins down early 1-0 after losing game 3, Puckett hit a solo HR to tie the game at 1 in the 3rd. Then in the 5th inning, ahead by a run, Puckett led off with a single, advancing to third on an error, and scored on a sac fly. Those 2 runs proved to be the margin of victory in our first road win of that postseason.

Not quite “we’ll see you tomorrow night” stuff, but Puckett had a hand in taking a 3-1 series lead vs Detroit. (He also added an RBI single to chase the starter in our clinching game 5 road win too, although we were already up 3-0 in the 2nd inning at the time.)

Puckett also had hits in the first 4 World Series games, although nothing too decisive, it seems. Game 2, a first pitch, 1-out single in the 4th and came around to score our 2nd run of the game, starting the rally that chased the starter again.

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12 hours ago, USAFChief said:

I disagree. Both with the conclusion that Mauer was the better player, and the opinion that accomplishments, including postseason, are not a part of "better." I disagree that leadership isn't part of "better player." And I strongly disagree that statistics can't be part of the evidence of better. 

I guess the point I was trying to make is that any individual thing people have cited, including WAR, does not on its own indicate who was more talented or who was better at playing the game, and some of those things should not be considered at all. As an example, Ted Williams never played a postseason game, and I don't think anyone could legitimately say that that made him less of a player.

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2 hours ago, Nine of twelve said:

Point accepted, and I almost edited my comment to remove the sentence that referenced statistics. However, I think that statistics can miss important aspects of playing the game, particularly for catchers. I don't think one can quantify working with pitchers regarding pitch selection, adjusting mechanics, and so forth. There can even be quasi-psychological counseling. I recall reading a story about a time when Jack Morris, known to be high strung at times, was pitching for Detroit and got into a snit about something or other. Lance Parrish came out to the mound and told him that everyone hated it when he got that way and to knock it off.

Fair points. I agree those things add to the debate.

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12 hours ago, USAFChief said:

The question was, is leadership up for debate as part of the equation?

As to the two players, if we agree leadership can be part of the discussion, perhaps Puckett's leadership played some role in his getting so many more opportunities. 

You’re pretty far down the wormhole at that point, Chief. When we’ve entered the part of the conversation where “he sucked but still led his teammates to victory”, I’m pretty sure I just won the conversation.  

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3 hours ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

Puckett had some similar poor overall numbers in that span, but as I noted earlier, a positive WPA.

In the very first game, ALCS Game 1, Puckett was responsible for the top play by WPA: down 1 in the 8th, he hit a first-pitch double to drive in the tying run from first. That hit also chased the starter, then Puckett later scored the go-ahead run in that rally.

Then ALCS Game 4, on the road, Twins down early 1-0 after losing game 3, Puckett hit a solo HR to tie the game at 1 in the 3rd. Then in the 5th inning, ahead by a run, Puckett led off with a single, advancing to third on an error, and scored on a sac fly. Those 2 runs proved to be the margin of victory in our first road win of that postseason.

Not quite “we’ll see you tomorrow night” stuff, but Puckett had a hand in taking a 3-1 series lead vs Detroit. (He also added an RBI single to chase the starter in our clinching game 5 road win too, although we were already up 3-0 in the 2nd inning at the time.)

Puckett also had hits in the first 4 World Series games, although nothing too decisive, it seems. Game 2, a first pitch, 1-out single in the 4th and came around to score our 2nd run of the game, starting the rally that chased the starter again.

And had Mauer received the double he rightly deserved, I’m sure his WPA would be quite a bit different, as it was extra innings when it happened and a run would have scored, IIRC. 

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11 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

And had Mauer received the double he rightly deserved, I’m sure his WPA would be quite a bit different, as it was extra innings when it happened and a run would have scored, IIRC. 

Mauer still got +.082 WPA from that plate appearance, as he hit a leadoff single after the "foul" double. A double would have netted him an additional +.090 WPA, although that still leaves him slightly negative in WPA for his postseason career to that point (and overall). (Scoring later would have had no bearing on his WPA.)

 

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2 minutes ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

Mauer still got +.082 WPA from that plate appearance, as he hit a leadoff single after the "foul" double. A double would have netted him an additional +.090 WPA, although that still leaves him slightly negative in WPA for his postseason career to that point (and overall). (Scoring later would have had no bearing on his WPA.)

Slightly below average is about where you'd expect a .660 OPS to land, though. And frankly, if we're micro-managing individual plate appearances - or hell, even 10-20 plate appearances - the conversation has gone off the rails. My original point about Puckett and Mauer struggling over 40 postseason plate appearances was to show the problems of small sample sizes and opportunity, not a comparison of talent level.

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3 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Slightly below average is about where you'd expect a .660 OPS to land, though. And frankly, if we're micro-managing individual plate appearances - or hell, even 10-20 plate appearances - the conversation has gone off the rails. My original point about Puckett and Mauer struggling over 40 postseason plate appearances was to show the problems of small sample sizes and opportunity, not a comparison of talent level.

I didn't mean to make it part of the debate, I just thought it was interesting and probably contributed to the view of Puckett at the time.

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