Catcher or first baseman? Question is big for Hall of Fame voters

Mostly, analysts say his 10 years as a catcher will determine Joe Mauer’s enshrinement.

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Twins first baseman Joe Mauer warmed up during spring training practice Feb 17, 2014, in Fort Myers, Fla.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Joe Mauer, the new Twins first baseman, isn’t too worried about whether he will be remembered as a catcher when it comes time for Hall of Fame voters to debate his career.

“I’d like to be remembered as Joe Mauer the ballplayer,” he said. “I love to play the game, go out and compete.”

Fact is, if Mauer is to one day be enshrined in Cooperstown, it will be because of how he played more than where. While there is some sentiment that moving to first base — where his power and run production are dwarfed by his contemporaries — will harm his chances of reaching the Hall of Fame, others believe that he has crept so close to eligibility during the first 10 years of his career as a catcher that he should have little problem getting in.

Three batting titles, one MVP Award and six All-Star Game appointments all work in No. 7’s favor.

Sabermatrician Jay Jaffe, who does exhaustive research into Hall of Fame eligibility for Sports Illustrated, believes Mauer will be a Hall of Famer despite the move to first base.

“In all likelihood, Mauer will be judged primarily as a catcher when his time on the ballot comes, not as a first baseman,” he said. “His status as a six-time All-Star and the first one to win three batting titles at the position should carry some weight. From the standpoint of my JAWS system, his peak value [in WAR] is already the fifth best among catchers behind Gary Carter, [Johnny] Bench, [Mike] Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez.”

Jaffe’s JAWS scoring system — which consists of a player’s wins above replacement (WAR) averaged with his seven-year peak WAR — has Mauer’s career mark at 41.4. That’s not far from the average of the 13 catchers already in the Hall of Fame, 52.5. WAR measures a player’s overall contribution to a team. Among first basemen, that would rank 18th of the 19 in the Hall — with several seasons left for Mauer to build on.

And statistician Bill James has created a Hall of Fame Monitor to determine the likelihood a player will make the Hall of Fame. A 100 is likely to be inducted, and 130 is a lock. Mauer is at 86, close enough that, with a few relatively healthy seasons, he should break into triple digits.

So it appears that Mauer’s accomplishments as a catcher have gotten him to the brink of the Hall of Fame. His bat will have to take him the rest of the way.

But in his favor is the likelihood he will be remembered as a catcher.

“He’s a catcher,” Twins teammate Glen Perkins said. “If he goes in and has a plaque, it can have a facemask on the top of his head.”

Numbers to consider

.323: Mauer’s career batting average, leads all active hitters and is better than that of any MLB catcher in the Hall of Fame.

.405: Mauer’s career on-base percentage, second only to Mickey Cochrane among MLB catchers in the Hall of Fame.

.873: Mauer’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage, again second only to Cochrane.

Top 10: Compared with first basemen, Mauer is seventh among 19 Hall of Famers in batting average, sixth in on-base percentage and 10th in on-base-plus-slugging. His lack of power stands out here, but his status as an on-base machine remains intact.

3: Batting titles for Mauer, already more than any catcher in baseball history.

13: Players who have won four batting titles. Twelve of those are in the Hall of Fame; Bill Madlock is the only one with four batting titles not in the Hall.

44.3: That’s Mauer’s career WAR, better than four catchers already in the Hall of Fame but better than only one of the 19 first basemen enshrined. If Mauer averages a 4.0 WAR over the next five seasons, his career WAR will pass 60, strengthening his case. Being able to stay in the lineup every day allows him more at-bats to put up numbers.

86

Mauer’s Hall of Fame Monitor score on baseball-reference.com, 23rd among active players of last season. A 100 means you’re likely to get in.

1

Had Mauer been a first baseman last season, he would have led AL players at that position in batting average and on-base percentage and would have been second in slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.



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