It was announced yesterday that Joe Mauer won his third consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. Our first instinct was to wonder whether Mauer really earned the defensive award, or whether it was more a function of his offensive prowess and his star status. Certainly he is a good defensive catcher; but the best in the American League? Deserving of a third consecutive Gold Glove? We weren't so sure.

So we took a look at the defensive numbers for AL catchers. Frankly, it's a pretty weak field. Only seven catchers played at least 100 games at the position -- the criteria ESPN uses for "qualified" leaders in various stats, though certainly not the criteria for winning a Gold Glove, as Rafael Palmeiro infamously won the 1999 award at first base despite appearing in just 28 games at that spot while mostly being a DH. That said, let's say the seven guys with 100 or more games caught are the viable candidates. Here they are:

Mauer ranks first in fielding percentage. He's also first in Zone Rating. His caught stealing percentage (.264) is middling, but there are a relatively low number of attempts because of his arm. His range factor (roughly putouts+assists / games played) is dead last, but for a catcher -- where putouts are often a function of strikeouts, and the Twins were 10th out of 14 AL teams in strikeouts -- that stat doesn't mean as much as it does for other positions. Baseball reference can take you even deeper with some sabermetric fielding stats. If you look at that link, you can certainly see Joe himself has had better years defensively than this one. Then, there is the time-honored eyeball test, which simply makes you ask: When you watch Joe Mauer call a game, block pitches and generally field his position, do you think you are watching an elite defensive catcher?

Quick conclusion: In a league without a truly dominant defensive catcher, Mauer taking home the hardware can hardly be considered a travesty. Like we said at the top, there's no doubt the man can field his position well. But you can't tell us his MVP award and three batting titles don't help him when it comes to being recognized for his fielding -- as flawed as that notion is.

Your thoughts on Mauer's overall defensive acumen, the Gold Glove concept or hammock pictures in the comments, please.

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