There are stats enthusiasts who want to tell you that Joe Mauer still has Hall of Fame potential, based on his historical place among catchers. And therein rests the problem:
Joe Mauer has not caught nearly enough games to be judged by the standards that apply to catchers earning a plaque in Cooperstown.
Mauer started 885 games behind the plate from 2004 through 2013. Following his monstrous MVP season in 2009, Mauer was the starting catcher for the Twins in 299 of 648 regular-season games over the next four seasons.
That is 46 percent … and catching less than half the time does not allow a hitter to have his numbers judged as if they were earned while playing baseball’s most-arduous position.
There are 13 catchers in the Hall of Fame; eight through the vote of the baseball writers and five by the veterans committee. The number of games started behind the plate for the eight electees range from Roy Campanella’s 1,072 to Carlton Fisk’s 2,097.
Campanella had good reasons for the modest number of games caught: He was kept out of the major leagues until age 26 because of segregation, and his 10-year career ended due to being paralyzed in a car accident after the 1957 season.
The question on Mauer’s career at age 31 has nothing to do with Cooperstown. It is: “Does he want his legacy to be this, a player who peaked at age 26 and went downhill until he became a lesser version of Doug Mientkiewicz, or does he plan to do something about it?’’
The Joe Mauer we saw at the plate this season, before the latest injury, could not have put in an adequate amount of offseason work to prepare for 2014.
It’s not the “shifts’’ now common among opponents. It is the way the ball comes off his bat. The ball is not lined nor stung, it is looped or bounced.
Joe Mauer is big but not strong. And if he doesn’t change that, the disappoinment of what we’ve seen from him in this decade will overshadow those six years [2005-10] of excellence in his earlier 20s.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Good moves by Flip Saunders so far as Wolves basketball boss:
*Selecting Zach LaVine as 13th pick in this draft. This raw kid has serious shot to be a star and fill seats.
*Trading out of No. 9 slot in 2013 and winding up with extra first-rounder that landed Gorgui Dieng.
*Hiring Sam Mitchell, sharp, popular and a former NBA Coach of Year, as a lead assistant.