Twins great Joe Mauer's case for the Hall of Fame
The Minnesota Twins are retiring Joe Mauer's jersey Saturday, one of the highest honors an individual team can grant a player.
Is a spot in the Hall of Fame next?
In his prime, Mauer was arguably the preeminent catcher in the majors. A series of concussions forced a position switch to first base and in his final five seasons Mauer's production at the plate dwindled. From 2005 (his first full season) to 2013 (his last as a catcher), Mauer never had a batting average below .287 and hit over .300 six times. But in those last five years, he topped .300 just once and hit .277, .265, .261 and .282 in the others.
So the final imagery of Mauer isn't as good and might taint his Hall of Fame candidacy in some eyes. But let's take a look at the numbers.
First, Mauer's final career slash line was .306/.388/.439. He finished with 428 doubles, 143 home runs, 1,018 runs and 923 RBI. Not bad. But from 2004-13, when he was primarily a catcher, Mauer's slash line was .323/.405/.468. When playing catcher Mauer hit .328/.408/.481.
Even considering his post-2013 statistics, Mauer is one of the greatest hitting catchers to ever play the game.
He won three batting titles -- hitting .347 in 2006, .328 in 2008 and .365 in 2009 (also his MVP year) -- one of three catchers to accomplish this and the only one in the American League.
Among players who spent at least half their careers at catcher (note: Mauer's positional breakdown was 921 games at catcher, 603 at first base, 310 as a designated hitter and two in right field) and had at least 4,000 career plate appearances, Mauer's .306 lifetime average ranks fifth all-time. And among those in the top 10, everyone with at least 5,000 plate appearances is in the Hall of Fame save one -- Mauer.
Batting average, of course, isn't everything. Modern-day stat lovers preach getting on base and hitting for power, or the combination of those two stats: OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
Using the same qualifications as above -- at least half of defensive games at catcher and 4,000 career PA -- Mauer is third all-time among catchers with a .388 on-base percentage. His OPS ranks 10th, but if you figure in park effects -- i.e. OPS+, which adjusts to league stats with 100 being average -- he's better than a few of his contemporaries who had a higher overall OPS, plus slightly higher than Roy Campanella.
Of the top-10 catchers in OPS, six are in the Hall of Fame. Of the ones who aren't, Mauer has the better OPS+. The other, Buster Posey, is still playing, but has over 3,000 fewer plate appearances than Mauer.
If you prefer a more advanced statistic such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR), well, there's more good news for Mauer.
Of the top-10 catchers in major-league history (again, at least half of defensive games played at that position), nine are in the Hall of Fame. The one who isn't? Yup, Mauer.
A few more stats: Mauer was particularly clutch throughout his career.
In his career with two out and runners in scoring position he hit .321/.471/472 with 49 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs and 278 RBI … in 661 at-bats. While statistics for this aren't complete throughout history, for what we do know, the .321 average ranks tied for 15th all-time (with Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Tony Gwynn and Ernie Lombardi -- all Hall of Famers, as are nine others with better averages).
For those who like defense, Mauer led the league in caught stealing percentage three times.
And just to throw in a few subjective awards, besides his MVP, Mauer was named to six All-Star games (all as a catcher) and won five Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves.
Together, that should add up to Cooperstown in a few years.
Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams - Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns