Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Joe Mauer a lock for the HOF?

Bill Baer wrote an interesting article the other day at letting the world know that it was time to appreciate Joe Mauer. This is a skill that many Twins fans are lacking in recent years especially following his injury plagued 2011 season. As far as the rest of the baseball world, there is probably a little less recognition for Mauer's continued consistency since the Twins have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the last two seasons. Mauer is one of the best players in baseball and he might just be the best hitting catcher of all-time.

One interesting portion of the article took a look at Mauer's career WAR when compared to other catchers that are already enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. "Mauer currently ranks ahead of Roy Campanella, Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk. He isn't far behind Roger Bresnahan or Ernie Lombardi. If Mauer can stay healthy and productive through the end of his current contract (a very big if), he very well could be a lock for enshrinement in Cooperstown."

So this begs the question, is Mauer nearly a lock for the HOF?

If Mauer's career were tragically to end before the start of next season, it doesn't seem likely that he would have the numbers to be elected. He is close to crossing the 1,300 hit mark so he hasn't even made it to the halfway point of the 3,000 hit plateau. His power numbers are never going to get him elected since he has yet to hit 100 home runs in nine years of big league experience. The true test of his greatness might be in his ability to keep his lifetime batting average as high as possible. Mauer is a career .323 batter and he gets on base over 40% of the time.

There are plenty of accolades that have started to mount for Mauer. The three batting titles that he has already won are unprecedented for a catcher. He was close to winning his fourth title last season before falling off at the end of the year. Batting titles are great but they don't necessarily mean that he will get enshrined in Cooperstown. Twins fans are well aware of the case for Tony Oliva to make the HOF and he had three batting titles to his credit before he was forced to retire.

Mauer's MVP season in 2009 was something that statisticians could drool about because of his combination of power, average, and playing a tough defensive position. One great season doesn't mean a player should be a lock for the Hall. There have been plenty of players to win one MVP and never be close to reaching that mark again. Some consider Justin Morneau's MVP selection as one of the worst in the Division Era. Injuries have made it tough for him to get back to that form.

Looking toward the future and projecting the rest of Mauer's career, it is easy to think that he will get strong consideration for the Hall of Fame. His health will continue to be something to watch especially since he is close to 6-foot-6 and he has a lot of weight on those precious knees every time that he squats behind the plate. The Twins will continue to use him at other positions as he ages but his tie to greatness is in his ability to be a catcher.

When some try to name the best catcher in the history of the game, Johnny Bench usually tops most lists. Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, and others are also thought of highly. These men racked up a lot of innings behind the plate and it doesn't look like Mauer will be a full-time catcher for the rest of his career. These men were solid as catchers in a gritty era of baseball.

Bench played 17 seasons and caught close to 14,500 innings, Bera caught over 12,000 innings, and Fisk racked up 18.500 innings. Mauer currently sits at 7,224 innings as a catcher and he has averaged 858.2 innings per season. Last season, he logged a little over 600 frames at catcher, which were the fewest he had in a season that he played over 100 games. If this trend continues, it could take away some of his votes when it comes to election time.

At this point, it doesn't seem like Mauer would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. It will likely take multiple more seasons at his current rate of production for him to be a lock. Twins fans will get to watch Mauer on every step of his journey and hopefully that path will lead him to the gates of Cooperstown.

What does Mauer have left to accomplish to get into the HOF? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.


Brendan O'Meara said...

I think his media market hinders him, but also something else. If it takes a lot of time to justify a player's potential immortality, then he's probably not a Hall of Famer. Like you said, it'll take a good 5+ near-MVP caliber seasons behind the dish for him to reach that level.

Nice post.


TT said...

Mauer is a lock if he never plays another game. He has the best batting average of any catcher in history, 45th among all players and second among all current players. He won three batting titles and an MVP as a catcher. He is probably a first ballot lock. Pujols may be the only current player who is more certain of HOF status right now.

There are arguments that Tony Oliva belongs in the HOF. But his career batting average is 30 points lower than Mauer's, 154th all time, and he was a corner outfielder.

The only thing that would keep Mauer out of the HOF is if he stops catching and/or his offense drops off dramatically while playing the next 10 years. That might dilute his career numbers enough to endanger his HOF status.