Once again, the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has come around. The HOF ballot is regularly one of the sport’s most polarizing topics, and this year looks to be no different. Notably, Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, and others will try to join the exclusive group of first-ballot Hall of Famers.
There have been 14 first-ballot Hall of Famers over the last ten years, all of them deservingly earning the 75% of votes necessary to enter the hall. In my opinion, both Beltre and Mauer should join that group this year.
Hall of Fame ballots are due in a little over a week, on December 31. As of my writing this, 27 ballots have been made public, which accounts for approximately 7% of the total votes. Mauer has been named on 23 of those ballots, putting him around 85%.
As more ballots come in, Mauer is likely going to be right on the cusp of the necessary 75%. Regardless of what happens this year, Mauer deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Let me tell you why.
I would like to go through Mauer’s resume piece by piece, and there is no better place to start making his Hall of Fame case than his many accolades.
Joe Mauer was drafted first overall in the 2001 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, MN. He made his debut on April 5, 2004, and would go on to play 15 seasons at the major league level.
In those 15 seasons, Mauer collected an MVP, six All-Star selections, five Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, and three batting titles. He also collected four top-10 finishes in MVP voting, including his win.
Only 29 players have collected at least three batting titles over the course of a career. The only other catcher to have done so is Josh Gibson.
It is worth noting that of those 29 players with at least three batting titles, only seven are not in the Hall of Fame. Of those seven, three have yet to be on the ballot: Miguel Cabrera, who retired this year and will enter the Hall someday; Jose Altuve, who is still active but will almost surely get in eventually; and Mauer.
I will let you all look at the Baseball Reference pages of Browning, Barnes, and Madlock to decide why they aren’t in. The bigger point is that this accomplishment has historically gotten players into the Hall of Fame.
The Best Catcher of the 21st Century
Woah! Yes, I said that, and I will prove it to you – or at least do my best to try. However, before getting into the 21st century specifically, let’s see how Mauer ranks against catchers all-time.
First, it is worth pointing out that Mauer did spend a significant amount of time playing first base as he got older. A six-foot-five-inch frame at 225 pounds isn’t the most conducive to catching. Still, Mauer logged almost 3000 more innings behind the plate than at first, so it is appropriate to view him as a primary backstop.
Of players in MLB history to have spent at least 45% of their time at catcher, Mauer ranks ninth in career bWAR. He is also ninth in batting average as well as seventh in on-base percentage. On top of that, only four catchers have won more Silver Sluggers than Mauer.
Simply put, when you talk about Joe Mauer, you have to acknowledge that he is one of the best-hitting catchers of all time. While he lacked the power of Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza, he was a career .306 hitter with an .827 OPS thanks to his ability to hit doubles and get on base.
Joe Mauer v. Buster Posey
Now, let’s look at how Mauer stacks up with some of the best catchers of this generation. Since 2000, three catchers really stick out when you think of who could make the Hall of Fame: Mauer, Buster Posey, and Yadier Molina.
Posey and Mauer often draw comparisons due to their numerous similarities. While neither was a slouch defensively, they were both offensive-driven catchers. They both earned five Silver Slugger Awards in their careers. Posey won a batting title and Mauer won three. Mauer made six All-Star Games to Posey’s seven.
Even their career slash lines are similar, with Mauer at .306/.388/.439 and Posey at .302/.372/.460, resulting in an .827 and .831 OPS, respectively. One glaring difference between the two, however, is Mauer’s 55.2 bWAR compared to Posey’s 44.8 over the course of their careers.
For a long time, it has seemed like the public discourse has favored Posey. In my opinion, that is largely due to Posey’s postseason success. While his three World Series wins are certainly impressive, I do not believe that they are a reason to hold Posey above Mauer.
When it comes to comparing baseball players to one another, I do not think championships should play a role in the conversation. It is so hard for a single player to make a large enough difference (see Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout) to directly impact his team’s postseason success.
With respect to the Hall of Fame ballot, championships (or lack thereof) should only help a player and never hurt.
What puts Mauer ahead of Posey is that he played 15 seasons to Posey’s 12. The batting titles are also a separator. At the end of the day, it is a close call, but Mauer was the better player.
Joe Mauer v. Yadier Molina
Comparing Joe Mauer to Yadier Molina looks a lot different than comparing him to Posey. Mauer and Posey were incredibly similar players both at the plate and behind it. Mauer and Molina, on the other hand, are very different from one another.
We can start with the WAR conversation. While WAR is far from a perfect stat, it is a good way to compare a player’s impact over the course of his career. Molina has a career bWAR of 42.1 compared to Mauer’s 55.2. That is a relatively large gap, especially considering Molina played four more seasons.
There is also a stark difference between their offensive numbers. A career .726 OPS for Molina is not bad, especially for a catcher, but is 101 points shy of Mauer’s .827 career OPS. There is certainly an argument that Molina’s last years in St. Louis hurt his overall numbers, but even if you eliminate his last four seasons, he still only has a .750 OPS. There is just no argument to be made for Molina offensively.
Where Molina makes up the difference is with his glove. Considered to be the best defensive catcher in the league while he was playing, Molina racked up nine Gold Gloves as well as four Platinum Gloves. He also went to 10 All-Star Games, in large part thanks to his defense. Moreover, he led the league in caught-stealing percentage four times.
Molina was an incredible defensive catcher, but Mauer was no slouch behind the plate. While his catching career was cut short due to injuries, Mauer is the owner of three Gold Gloves himself. He also led the league in caught-stealing percentage twice.
There are large gaps between Mauer and Molina on offense and defense. However, the gap between them defensively is noticeably smaller than the offensive gap. The difference in bWAR clearly shows as much.
Vote Him In
As I stated in the beginning, it is likely to be a close vote for Mauer. He should eclipse the 75%, but it is far from certain. He is the best player at his position since the turn of the century and that should be enough to get him the Hall of Fame, but if it is not, please hear me out.
It is hard for me to see Yadier Molina not getting in on the first ballot, yet Mauer was a better player than him. It is hard for me to see Buster Posey not getting in, yet Mauer was a better player than him as well.
Among those to play at least 45% of their games at catcher since the year 2000, Mauer has the most bWAR. He is more than 10 wins clear of Buster Posey in second place.
He ranks ninth all-time in bWAR among catchers. Eighth in hits, third in doubles, third in walks, and ninth in batting average. His numbers put him amongst some of the best catchers of all time. He also surpasses the average Hall of Fame catcher in all of Baseball Reference’s Hall of Fame statistics.
No, Mauer is not the sexiest name on the ballot. However, his accomplishments over the course of his career have rightfully earned him a spot in Cooperstown.