Why Joe Mauer belongs in the Hall of Fame

Author Avatar

Staff Writer

Joined: Nov 2016

December 31st, 2023

Joe Mauer is in his first year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot, joining other newcomers including Adrián Beltré, Chase Utley and David Wright.

The longtime Twin could be one of the most fascinating Hall of Fame cases in recent memory. Few catchers have ever reached the offensive peak that Mauer had from 2006-13. Yet, voters might struggle with Mauer spending his final five seasons as a first baseman with league-average offense and retiring at 35 years old.

Still, this is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball history and will garner plenty of support. Here are five reasons why Mauer belongs in Cooperstown.

He’s cleared the bar for Hall of Fame catchers

Here’s a simple way of viewing Mauer’s Hall of Fame case through the lens of Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which measures a player’s career WAR averaged with his seven-year peak WAR.

By JAWS, Mauer ranks seventh among catchers (47.1) and is surrounded by Hall of Famers. The six catchers ahead of him are all enshrined in Cooperstown: Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra. Just behind Mauer are Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett and Ted Simmons, all of whom are also in the Hall of Fame.

JAWS and WAR are not the be-all, end-all statistics but it’s probably the most useful way of determining a player’s Hall of Fame case. By contextualizing a player’s performance (defensive position, run environment, home ballpark, etc.) and looking at what they did at the peak of their powers, you get a good idea of how they compare to their counterparts. By this measure, Mauer is a slam-dunk for Cooperstown.

Few catchers have approached his level of offensive success

Mauer’s .388 OBP trails only two players (Cochrane and Wally Schang) who logged a majority of their games behind the plate and had at least 5,000 plate appearances. His .306 batting average ranks fourth, while he trails only 11 catchers with his 124 OPS+.

His overall batting success is good enough in itself but it’s his peak years that make him stand out. From 2006-13, when Mauer was a full-time catcher, he was one of the top hitters in the Majors.

During that time, Mauer had a .327 batting average that trailed only Miguel Cabrera’s .328 BA (min. 3,000 plate appearances), while his .410 on-base percentage trailed only Joey Votto (.419). Mauer’s 139 OPS+ was easily the best among catchers and only trailed 10 hitters.

In five of those seasons, Mauer had a 140 OPS+ or better, meaning he was 40% better than the league-average hitter. He also won the 2009 AL MVP Award (171 OPS+ and 7.8 bWAR) and took home the AL batting title three times (2006, 2008-09), which leads us to our next point…

Three-time batting champions are near-locks for the HOF

Say what you will about batting average — which is not the all-encompassing statistic it used to be (for good reason) — but it’s still useful when talking about a guy who had seasons in which he averaged .365, .347 and .328.

More to the point, the precedent for players with three batting titles is quite telling. Mauer is just one of 29 hitters in MLB history to win three times, with Josh Gibson (in the Negro Leagues) being the only other catcher to pull off the feat.

Among that group of hitters, 22 of them have made it into the Hall of Fame. Two of those who aren’t there — Cabrera and Jose Altuve — should make it one day, while Pete Rose is not eligible.

When you’re looking for factors that can take a candidate from a maybe to a yes, being a three-time batting champion could very well push Mauer over the edge to be elected.

He was one of the best players of his era

As you can gather, Mauer’s prime years were truly remarkable for someone who suited up as a catcher. When evaluating HOF cases, it’s important to contextualize what a player’s performance was like during his best years, and how it compared to his peers during that time.

Using the same 2006-13 prime, Mauer racked up 40.6 WAR, seventh-best among all players. Ahead of Mauer in that stretch was Albert Pujols, Utley, Cabrera, Beltré, Robinson Canó and Justin Verlander. Outside of Canó — who was twice suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs — all of these players are either likely or possible Hall of Famers.

Mauer’s peak was cut short, too, due to brutal concussions behind the plate that led to him permanently moving to first base for the 2014 season and dealing with vision problems for the rest of his career. After the move from catcher, Mauer played in just five seasons — accumulating 10.5 WAR in that time — and was done at 35 years old.

While some voters may dock him for longevity, it’s important to remember the demands of being an everyday catcher. For eight seasons, Mauer was not just the best offensive catcher in the sport — he was one of the best players period, grouped with names like Pujols, Cabrera and Verlander.

He’s arguably the face of the franchise for the Twins

From a purely statistical standpoint, Mauer is clearly in the running for top players in Twins/Washington Senators franchise history. Mauer’s 55.2 WAR trails only Walter Johnson (152.4), Rod Carew (63.8) and Harmon Killebrew (60.5).

It’s the rest of his story that only adds to his intriguing HOF case. You’re probably well aware that he was the homegrown local kid (born in St. Paul, Minn.) selected first overall by the Twins in the 2001 MLB Draft. To deliver on that promise for his hometown Twins is nothing short of incredible. It’s the sort of script you’d see in a sports movie.

While these reasons have mostly focused on his actual production, there’s merit in looking at Mauer’s story as further support for his case. The BBWAA says that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

That last point — contributions to his team — is abundantly clear when you look at his production and impact on the Twins franchise. Not having his name represented in Cooperstown would be a disservice to Mauer, the Twins franchise and the sport of baseball.


0 %

User Score

0 ratings
Rate This