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  • Joe Mauer’s Cooperstown Case: Assessing Value


    Cody Christie

    For many Twins fans, 2024 might seem like light years away, but that year will mark Joe Mauer’s first year of eligibility of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There are many things that go into a player’s “Cooperstown Case,” but Twins fans got a first-hand look at one of the best players of his generation. All things considered, what was Mauer’s value during his Twins tenure?

    Image courtesy of © Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    Was Mauer Clutch?

    There are many ways to look at the value a player brings to a team. One that has gained popularity in more recent years is Win Probability Added (WPA), a stat that has been kept since 1974. Among catchers during that time, Joe Mauer ranks second and he only trails current HOF member Mike Piazza. It took Piazza four trips through the BBWAA voting process to be elected, but this has been the case with multiple power hitters from the steroid era.

     

    Another FanGraphs statistic that uses WPA is Clutch, which measures how well a player performed in high leverage situations. Piazza does great when it comes to WPA because he had an extended career, but his Clutch score is actually negative. Joe Mauer ranks seventh all-time in Clutch due in large part to having a .943 OPS in nearly 850 plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position.

     

    Clutch as a statistic does have flaws because it compares a player to himself. Mauer hit .306/.388/.439 for his career so to have a positive Clutch, he has to hit better than those numbers in high leverage situations. Good hitters hit no matter the situation, so Clutch is something that is almost impossible to quantify.

     

    Going to WAR

    Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has become the common measuring stick for the value players accrue for their team. Currently, there are 16 catchers who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Mauer ranks ninth all-time in WAR and his total is also higher than current catchers like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina that might be on the path to Cooperstown. Also, his WAR total is higher than the average of those already elected to the Hall.

     

    The players ahead of him on the WAR catching leaderboard are a who’s who of all-time catching greats. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, and Yogi Berra are among the greatest players of all-time and Mauer is right there with them. Mauer is also within 4.3 WAR of passing Berra and Piazza to place him fifth all-time. He’d have been able to reach that total with one more good season behind the plate.

     

    Show Me the Money

    Mauer signed the largest contract in Twins history following his MVP performance in 2009. For many fans, Mauer’s contract became a point of contention later in his career. His overall value and performance on the field were worth every penny out of the Pohlad’s pocketbooks.

     

    Prior to signing the contract, Mauer had provided the Twins with $160.8 million in value while his salaries had totaled $21.53 million. For his career, he provided the Twins with $329.5 million in value and he was paid just over $218 million. Obviously, his years after concussions forced him to move to first base weren’t worth $23 million per year. The Twins signed him to be a Hall of Fame catcher and he could wind up being the second Hall of Fame player to play his entire career in a Twins uniform.

     

    Was Mauer’s value enough to help his Cooperstown case?

     

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    Non-concussed Mauer fits in just fine with Mickey Cochrane as a comp, so I have a hard time thinking this should be a close decision for the voters. Catchers should be considered apart from other players, for a variety of reasons, and stats that accumulate (as opposed to rate stats) will always feel a little light compared to players who are expected to play every day.

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    I posted in a similar article not too long ago.  I believe he should be in, but think it will take the vets committee to do it.  The problem with the hall of fame is that it makes unfair comparisons to others in other eras, but does not look at the era the player played in.  One reason many starting pitchers will have issues for awhile.  Also, voters look at other things, like personality, which Joe had none of in the media.  He lacked leadership and post-seasons success, which will hurt him as well. 

     

    However, he was one of the best hitting catchers ever.  Sure, no power compared to some, but he still was one of best hitting catchers ever.  The position eventually hurt him late in his career.  Which will hurt his candidacy, for some, but other will accept it is hard for catchers. 

     

    Now, I do feel he was greatly overvalued as a defensive catcher.  He was league average overall, and depending on the defensive evaluators you look at they agree. He was above average at throwing out runners and general covering his position.  However, he never tried to pick off runners, and was terrible at blocking balls in dirt.  His lack of blocking pitches led to the average defense.  Sure, you can point to times he made great snags on wild pitches, every catcher does.  However, so many times he would not get low and block a ball in dirt and would get under him. 

     

    I also had personal issues with his approach with runners on base, but he was still a great hitting catcher, and considered top catcher for most of the years he was catching and that should be HOF worthy.   

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    Correct me if I'm wrong in how I think about this. Up to his first concussion he was having a near MVP year. Whatever the bilateral leg weakness thing was must have been something (We joked about it at the time). He's won 3 batting championships which is 3 more than all of AL catchers in modern era Defensively.Piazza had as many Passed Balls in 2001 than Mauer had in 10 yerars of catching (Not trying to cherry pick stats, but that's impressive). He should have had a Gold Glove at 1B (I know, that's the Homer-ism shining through) Yes, the teams post season record was terrible, but at least they were in post-season. I don't think he'll be first ballot, but for sure in years 3 or 4.

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    Mauer should absolutely be in. Even if you're a "small hall" proponent. The peak is absolutely hall worthy with the MVP, three batting titles as a catcher and five silver sluggers. The longevity is just good enough; the 2000 hits is an important milestone.

     

    No other AL catcher won a batting title; Mauer won three. Only catcher to do it in the modern era period. Only five catchers have won an MVP.

     

    Mauer's HOF resume compares favorably/slightly better than that of Mickey Cochrane. He won't be first ballot, but he better get in within the first four years. 

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    While he missed time here and there, as most all players do, I believe he was a starting catcher for 9yrs. Now that's not 12-14yrs, but it's a long time. Multiple All Star games, MVP, THREE batting titles, etc. IMO his career behind the plate speaks for itself. And then you look at some of the other criteria posted in the OP, and the arguement for him in the HOF just continues to grow.

     

    IMO, baseball writers are "smart enough" about all he did/was behind the dish before the move to 1B and won't hold it against him. In fact, his ability to still be a solid player and re-invent himself in to a Gold Glove worthy 1B should only enhance his resume. Again, IMO. A lot of guys may have faded away overnight or hung it up.

     

    Don't see any way he's 1st ballot. But I think he's in.

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    He's in. If the concussion had ended his career, he would have been in like Puckett, cut short in his prime. Those IB years disappointed many who felt he was basically playing out his contract. Given his size, I expected him, like Ryne Sandberg, to learn to hit with power. Didn't happen. It took him too much time to learn how to beat the shift, which in his case meant playing the opposite field. But his lifetime stats survived his last years, which tells us how good he was in his prime. I think any voter aware of the concussion and what it did to his bat will vote for him. Unlike Puckett, of course, there are no WS rings. What we saw was what we got: no drama Joe. Consistency, work ethic, a solid soul doing good in his community, and HOF stats even after the last subpar years. He's in. And should be.

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