Op Ed: Should Joe Mauer actually be in the Hall of Fame?

By Joe Peine
Posted 1/31/24

When we’re talking about Hall of Fame catchers, we’re really talking about a select group of 10 players who form the (almost) uninterrupted top of every statistical category. These guys …

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Op Ed: Should Joe Mauer actually be in the Hall of Fame?


When we’re talking about Hall of Fame catchers, we’re really talking about a select group of 10 players who form the (almost) uninterrupted top of every statistical category. These guys are household names, have unblemished records in and out of the game, and are the career leaders in the all-important WAR (Wins Above Replacement) category of player stats. In order, they are: Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, (Joe Mauer), Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Harnett, Ted Simmons.

One of these names was not like the others until this past week.

In 2024, the case for Joe Mauer to be in the Hall of Fame wasn’t open and shut for a few reasons: longevity at the catcher position, a downturn in production during the final third of his career after signing what is still the biggest catcher contract in history and almost immediately moving to first base and finally, his underwhelming postseason stats for a Twins team that never won a playoff game during his decade and a half tenure despite ample opportunities.

For this conversation to take place, it’s important to understand the qualifications needed to enter the Hall of Halls. Namely, a player must have played in 10 MLB seasons, have been an active player in the previous 20 years and have been retired for at least five years.

Given that these qualifications are met (Mauer spent 10 seasons at the catcher position - 15 total in the MLB - and retired in 2018), what attributes and accolades merit his entry into the HOF?

To make a list, Mauer is 11th all-time in runs scored at the catcher position, 17th in runs batted in, fourth in batting average and third in on base percentage. The thing is, although this stuff matters, they aren’t the main statistical reference points the Baseball Writers’ Association of America members who vote look at.

For example, RBIs and Runs are team contextual counting stats, and as such, they are an unfair way to determine merit as an individual player. Then there’s Mauer’s main calling cards of batting average and walks, which don’t really matter a whole heck of a lot in today’s game. That said, these things figure into a statistic that voters look at called WAR.

WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins a team will get versus a replacement-level player at his same position. Basically, it’s a way to quantify a player’s impact relative to other players who play the same position (e.g. comparing Mauer’s production to that of every other catcher).

Even though WAR is weighted heavily when determining viability for entry into the Hall of Fame, it too is only one element. There’s also WAR7, which takes into account how dominant a player was during their seven best seasons. However, neither of these function as prohibitive measurements; they are more points of reference.

JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) works in conjunction with these stats and forms a baseline for what a Hall of Fame player is or must be so that the Baseball Writers of America have a benchmark to hold players to.

Essentially, what JAWS does is it takes the top 20 HOF players at each defensive position (in Mauer’s case catchers) in WAR and WAR7 and averages them to create a score that represents the average Hall of Famer. If you do not come close to, meet or exceed this average score, then you are not worthy of having your name entered next to the greats.

It’s so important, in fact, that JAWS has been called, “the definitive statistical measure in evaluating Hall of Fame cases.” The stated goal of which is to, “maintain or improve the Hall of Fame's standards by electing players who are at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at those players' positions.”

So where does Mauer fit into all of this?

The current JAWS leaderboard for catchers reads like he was already in. The list goes: Six Hall of Famers, Mauer, and then five more Hall of Famers. To state Mauer’s case bluntly, he is ninth in career WAR, fifth in WAR 7 and seventh in JAWS at the catcher position all-time. The weight conveyed by this in the context of 150 years of baseball and the countless thousands who have played the game cannot be overstated.

Argument 1, Mauer’s longevity at the catcher position.

Let’s start with WAR7. Mauer had the fifth most dominant career peak at the position all-time, and the WAR he accumulated in those seven seasons alone place his career WAR above a full 1/3 of the catchers that are already in the Hall. Yes, he was that good in his prime.

Sure, he only played the bare minimum of 10 years required at the catcher position, but longevity at a single position doesn’t preclude entering the HOF as many players change defensive positions. This idea will also become even less relevant in time as some players will never play a defensive position due to the advent of the universal DH.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is David Ortiz, who logged a total of 101 games at first base before being moved to full time DH where he played for the remaining 18 years of his career. In fact, he didn’t play a single game at a defensive position during the final 10 years of his career.

If a player can stand up four times a game for his entire career and still get in the Hall, maybe longevity at a certain position doesn’t matter. Especially when the reason for moving isn’t ineptness.

In Mauer’s nineeligible seasons at catcher (discounting his 35 game rookie year), he was a six-time All-Star, won five Silver Sluggers, three Golden Gloves, an MVP and posted the fifth-best single season stat line by any catcher to ever play the game.

Argument 2, the foul tip that changed everything.

Unfortunately for Mauer and the Twins, he had a history of head injuries, and in 2013, a foul tip caused his final concussion, resulting in a move to first base to protect his health. He dealt with blurred vision for his last five years, and his production level sank to that of a slightly above average catcher. Nonetheless, he still ended up with well over 2,000 hits and a career batting average of .308.

Of the 12 catchers with at least 2,000 hits, only two eligible players are not in the HOF: AJ Pierzynski (JAWS 20.9) and Jason Kendall (36.0); both are well below the JAWS average of 44.2. As a point of comparison, Mauer’s JAWS score is 47.1, good for seventh best all-time.

The list of players who play their Hall of Fame careers at more than one position is long, and if Mauer had played at any one of these other positions, he would have never gotten the concussions which irreparably altered the trajectory of his elite career. He was a generational talent who played 10 years at a premium, yet vulnerable position. A position which is also underrepresented in the Hall of Fame with the fewest number of players inducted.

Argument 3, beware of small sample sizes.

Statistics are easily skewed when data is pulled from small pools. Mauer played in a total of nine playoff games before his injury and only one after, all while the Twins as a team were enroute to the most consecutive losses in postseason history, an ongoing feat during his tenure which limited his overall opportunities. Like RBI’s and Runs scored, postseason success is more contextual than indicative.

In Mauer’s three preinjury postseason series, his triple slash (batting average/on base percentage/on base percentage + slugging percentage) of .286/.359/.645 isn’t outrageously different than one might expect from him, especially when you consider one particularly notable postseason ground rule double that was egregiously called a foul in the 11th inning before the days of replays.

Had this clutch hit been ruled correctly by an umpire who was standing 5feet from the ball, Mauer’s postseason numbers would be .314/.384/.760 – good for highest BA by a HOF catcher in postseason history and fifth highest in OPS just behind Carton Fisk and just ahead of Mike Piazza.

Either way, box scores never tell the whole story.

Mauer was more than just WAR or any of the other stat lines or sabermetrics which he excelled at – he also had the intangibles. “Clutch” stats are quantified and defined by Fangraphs as how well a player performed in high leverage situations.” In other words, when the game is one the line, how did he produce?

Mauer is seventh in OPS in high-leverage situations and tied for fourth in medium-leverage situations among the Hall of Famers already mentioned. Specifically, his triple slash is better than Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Ivan Rodriguez’s in both categories.

However, OPS in “clutch” situations isn’t everything; a first inning RBI could be a clutch situation well before you get to a ninth inning tie game.

“At the end of the game, the team with the most points on the board is going to win.” – John Madden

Being truly clutch is about who you want at the plate when there are runners in scoring position, and for that, we want Mauer, who is first all-time. Even with years of vision problems dragging down his overall numbers, Mauer still had a career OPS of .937 with RISP. That’s better than Fisk, better than Piazza, better than Berra. Better than all of them.

Even so, Mauer was not a shoe in for the Hall in 2024.

It wasn’t just whether Mauer would be a first ballot HOF’r, but whether he’d get in at all. In order to understand the uphill battle, it’s important to understand the state of the Hall and what’s been going on in recent year’s HOF votes.

The battle for Mauer’s entry ran deeper than catchers getting so little respect and being underrepresented; it’s that there are less players getting in now than ever before.

For example, in 2022, despite 14 new names being added to the Hall of Fame ballot, only one player got the necessary 75% of votes, Scott Rolen. Again, out of 28 eligible candidates, only one got in. One reason for this is the trend of turning in blank or partially blank ballots, which makes every potential inductee’s chances worse.

A number of voters who have made their blank ballots public said that they did this in large part to keep known steroid users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall as a blank ballot decreases every candidates chances of getting in by driving down overall vote percentages. This leads me to Mauer’s final accolade: he played the game the right way.

He never took steroids like Barry Bonds, he never cheated like Beltran (the only player indicted from the Astros sign stealing World Series team), and he never had any sort of post-player scandal like Pete Rose. He never had a temper or argued with the umpire, and he was never ejected from a single game in his career. His team mates remember him as a role model, even using his name as a synonym for an elite bar of niceness (Joe Mauer Nice).

As a young fan, he was someone you could look up to. The kind of player where if he ever got caught cheating or doing something illicit, something inside of you would die and break your heart in a way that would remove the last remnant of a childhood belief that something in the world could be pure and good.

In the modern world of sports that is dominated by selfishness and greed on both sides of the ball, Mauer was different. A throwback to better days when baseball players were team players and hometown heroes instead of prima donnas and self-interested superstars. Mauer was good for the game of baseball, he was respected across the league for his talent and disposition, and a generation of fans in the Midwest tuned in because of him.

Mauer, by any metric you choose to rank him by, exceeded the threshold of greatness as a player, but more importantly, as a role model for what a hall of fame player should be. I believe he deserves to be in Cooperstown, and the voters agreed.

Joe Mauer, Hall of Fame, catchers, baseball, MLB