Twins great Joe Mauer's case for the Hall of Fame

Published Jun. 15, 2019 2:18 p.m. ET

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.

Mickey Cochrane 1925-37 6208 .320
Bill Dickey 1928-46 7065 .313
Mike Piazza 1992-2007 7745 .308
Spud Davis 1928-45 4714 .308
Joe Mauer 2004-18 7960 .306
Ernie Lombardi 1931-47 6352 .306
Buster Posey 2009- 4708 .306
Buck Ewing 1880-97 5772 .303
Gabby Hartnett 1922-41 7297 .297
Ivan Rodriguez 1991-2011 10270 .296

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.

Mike Piazza 1992-2007 7745 .922 142
Mickey Cochrane 1925-37 6208 .897 129
Bill Dickey 1928-46 7065 .868 127
Roy Campanella 1948-57 4815 .860 123
Gabby Hartnett 1922-41 7297 .858 126
Jorge Posada 1995-2011 7150 .848 121
Buster Posey 2009- 4708 .840 132
Yogi Berra 1946-65 8359 .830 125
Javy Lopez 1992-2006 5793 .828 112
Joe Mauer 2004-18 7960 .827 124

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.

Johnny Bench 1967-83 8674 75.2
Gary Carter 1974-92 9019 70.1
Ivan Rodriguez 1991-2011 10270 68.7
Carlton Fisk 1969-93 9853 68.5
Mike Piazza 1992-2007 7745 59.6
Yogi Berra 1946-65 8359 59.4
Bill Dickey 1928-46 7065 55.8
Joe Mauer 2004-18 7960 55.1
Gabby Hartnett 1922-41 7297 53.4
Mickey Cochrane 1925-37 6208 52.1


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



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