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The 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has several big names debuting and that includes long-time Twins catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Joe Mauer

For some reason, Mauer appears to be a polarizing case. As best I can tell, there are several reasons and I believe I can refute them strongly enough to make the case that there shouldn't be any doubt behind Mauer having the credentials to fly into the Hall without much resistance here in his first try. Let's get right to it. 

The case as a first-ballot Hall of Famer

The No. 1 overall pick out of high school in a star-studded 2001 draft that included uber-hyped Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira, Mauer quickly maneuvered through the minors and debuted in the majors at age 20 as baseball's top prospect. The hype never seemed to bother the hometown hero. He hit .308 with a .570 slugging percentage in 35 games in 2004 and was an All-Star and batting title winner in 2006, finishing sixth in MVP voting at age 23. 

Mauer would win three batting titles across his 15 seasons, including awfully high marks at .347 and .365. He won the 2009 MVP while slashing a ridiculous .365/.444/.587 (171 OPS+). He led the league in on-base percentage twice and slugging once. 

As a catcher, Mauer won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, but a series of injuries forced him to stop catching after the 2013 season, meaning his bat lost a lot of luster at first base and designated hitter. 

In all, Mauer hit .306/.388/.439 (124 OPS+) during his major-league career. He collected 2,123 hits (ninth among catchers), 428 doubles (third behind only Iván Rodríguez and Ted Simmons among catchers), 143 home runs, 923 RBI (17th among catchers) and 1,018 runs (11th). 

Mauer ended his career with 55.2 WAR and that ranks ninth all-time among catchers and just above the average Hall of Fame catcher. He's behind some of the inner-circle all-time greats (Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Rodríguez, Carlton Fisk et al), but he's ahead of Ted Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Buck Ewing and a host of others. As noted, he's above the average Hall of Fame catcher in WAR. 

'Not a catcher'

That quote or some derivative thereof generally follows a statement about Mauer being a catcher. I saw "barely a catcher" on social media the other day, for example, and got a chuckle. 

[Aside: This type of nonsense nearly always comes from Cardinals fans, who seem to be incredibly insecure about non-Yadier Molina catchers ever getting their due. It happens with Buster Posey, too]

In Mauer's career, he appeared at catcher in 921 games. He was at first in 603 games. He served as a DH in 310 games. He appeared in the outfield twice. If he's not a catcher, what is he? He was a catcher far longer than any other position. 

When he was a catcher, he was an excellent defender, too, so we aren't talking about some Teflon-gloved batsmith wasting away while wearing the so-called the tools of ignorance. He twice led the league in caught stealing percentage (2007, 2013) and was routinely well above average in that category. He was also an outstanding framer behind the plate, both well known for his skills at the time and with the numbers that are being unearthed here in recent years as more emphasis is put on the established skill. 

Mauer was forced off catching duties due to injuries -- notably concussion issues -- and played elsewhere because he was such a good hitter. 

Did you know that only four catchers in history have won a batting title and that Mauer is the only one to win three? Only 12 catchers have ever won an MVP and Mauer did it. Yes, he did these things when he was a catcher, not after he changed positions. 

Also, as pointed out by the esteemed Jay Jaffe, a Hall of Fame expert, if we isolated Mauer's career to include only his years at catcher, he'd still rank 11th all-time among catchers in WAR and JAWS. 

A top-11 catcher all-time is a Hall of Famer. 

'Not a long enough peak'

Speaking of JAWS, for those unaware, it is Jaffe's system to mesh career WAR with peak WAR (the top seven seasons, to account for how good a player in his prime along with how well he compiled). In JAWS, Mauer is seventh all-time among catchers. He trails, in order, Bench, Carter, Rodríguez, Fisk, Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra. 

If we wanted to throw out 2004, since Mauer debuted in April and still only played in 35 games as a rookie, fine. From 2005-13, which is nine seasons, Mauer hit .323(!) with a .406 on-base percentage and 135 OPS+. He racked up 43.2 WAR, or an average of 4.8 per season. A general guideline of WAR says 5.0 in a year is an All-Star level. 

So Mauer was basically All-Star level for nine years as a catcher. That's plenty long enough. To say otherwise is ignorant or intellectually dishonest.

Lack of power in a power-heavy era

Mauer was in double digits in home runs six times in his career, but only topped 13 once (his 28-homer MVP season). The 143 career total is pretty low and the .439 slugging percentage is relatively low when we match it against his career .306 average (shout-out to the ISO fans out there). 

The only real pushback I have here is to say that few Hall of Famers come close to being perfectly well-rounded players. Mauer didn't quite have the power tool. That's no crime against baseball, especially from a catcher.

Otherwise, sure, this is a black mark against him.  

His contract

I really don't think this should have any affect whatsoever on anyone's Hall of Fame case, but Mauer's eight-year, $184 million contract was the subject of great consternation in Minnesota as he dealt with injury issues and then moved off catcher. He was painted a villain because of it by some local media and many fans followed suit. 

Some went overboard. For real, I once got a hand-written letter from a fan who hated Mauer so much to take the pen to the paper (it was a full page long!) and seek out little ol' me with his grievances. If that's happening, you know there was plenty of other vitriol out there. 

This does absolutely nothing to his actual Hall of Fame case. I'm just mentioning it because there's likely some residue from all the local hate and that can cloud the judgement of people pondering whether he's a Hall of Famer or not. 

Twins' lack of playoff success

Mauer played in 10 playoff games in his career and the Twins went 0-10. Ouch! 

He hit .275 with a .341 OBP in those 10 games, so he wasn't terrible. Still, he wasn't great, either. Of course, in 2009, he was 5 for 12 (.417) with two walks (.500 OBP) and a double (.500 SLG) and his Twins were still swept and this goes to my overall point. 

I've made this argument many times, but it bears repeating any time a team performance is used to denigrate an elite player: There's only so much one player can do. This isn't basketball where one player can dominate the ball every offensive possession and guard the opposing team's best player every defensive possession. This isn't football where the quarterback has the ball in his hands every single offensive play. A batter only steps to the plate once every nine times. 

We cannot be in the business of punishing players in Hall of Fame voting due to the failures of teammates. If you really, truly think Mauer otherwise has a Hall of Fame case but hitting .275 in 40 playoff at-bats disqualifies him, I'm not sure you really understand how the game works. 

The feel/eye test

I honestly felt like Mauer was a big deal for a long time and just felt like a Hall of Famer. There are those who like to say you should just know and while I disagree with the sentiment there, I do think with Mauer around 2013, nearly every baseball person would've said he was a yes for the Hall.

The people who claim otherwise seem to be clouded by his contract and late-career injuries that forced him off catcher. Is that really fair, though? I feel pretty strongly that I established above he was a no-doubt Hall of Famer through 10 years. He shouldn't be penalized for playing out his contract, especially since he had a few productive years in doing so. 

We're talking about a strong defensive catcher who hit .328/.409/.481 in games where he was a catcher. He won three batting titles, making him the only catcher to ever do so. He won an MVP, making him one of 12 catchers to ever do so. He recorded more than 2,000 career hits and still maintained a .300+ average for his career. His advanced metrics are there. 

Joe Mauer is a Hall of Famer, naysayers be damned. Let's hope he doesn't have to wait long to actually make it in.