Joe Mauer vs. the Greats

Rather than talking about another ugly, meaningless loss, let's talk about something a little more uplifting, huh?

We are days away from the end of Joe Mauer's age-27 season. We know he has the MVP. We know he has the batting titles, the Gold Gloves, the Silver Sluggers, the All-Star games. But where does he sit among the all-time greats?

In order to put Joe's seven incredible seasons in context, I compared him to the best catchers of the post-WWII era (Johnny Bench, Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Bill Freehan, Thurman Munson) as well as a few contemporaries (Brian McCann, Jason Kendall, Victor Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada). I looked solely at offense, if only because I'm skeptical of our current methods of judging the defensive value of catchers.

I'll post some charts after the jump.

First, let's look at playing time through the age of 27, as measured by plate appearances:

Catcher

Total PAs

Johnny Bench

5192

Ted Simmons

4763

Ivan Rodriguez

4763

Joe Torre

4099

Bill Freehan

3765

Gary Carter

3763

Joe Mauer

3526

Jason Kendall

3354

Yogi Berra

3124

Brian McCann (26)

2921

Thurman Munson

2854

Mike Piazza

2223

Victor Martinez

2075

Carlton Fisk

1636

Jorge Posada

1085

First off, it's pretty clear that even after the injury-shortened rookie year and missing the first month of 2009, Joe Mauer has been a very durable, very reliable catcher.

Oh, and he's been a pretty good hitter, too. The following chart uses Offensive Runs Above Replacement to sort these catchers by their overall offensive contributions through the age of 27:

Catcher

oRAR

Johnny Bench

403

Joe Mauer

344

Ted Simmons

304

Joe Torre

284

Ivan Rodriguez

243

Gary Carter

238

Mike Piazza

234

Jason Kendall

227

Bill Freehan

221

Yogi Berra

220

Thurman Munson

194

Brian McCann (26)

190

Carlton Fisk

151

Victor Martinez

139

Jorge Posada

47

Yeah, that's pretty good company. The only catcher to create more runs before turning 28 is Johnny Bench, who, you know, could be the best catcher to ever play the game.

But remember, Bench had compiled nearly 5,200 PAs through his age-27 season, 1,666 more than Mauer (Bench received 600 PAs at age 20; Mauer was just hitting AA at 20). The next chart adjusts for differences in playing time by ranking players on their total offensive contribution per 500 plate appearances. I've also included the more recognizable OPS+ to serve a similar function. Remember, both stats are through the players' age-27 seasons.

Catcher

oRAR/500 PA

OPS+

Mike Piazza

52.6

155

Joe Mauer

48.8

136

Carlton Fisk

46.1

137

Johnny Bench

38.8

106

Yogi Berra

35.2

127

Joe Torre

34.6

129

Thurman Munson

34.0

117

Jason Kendall

33.8

112

Victor Martinez

33.5

122

Brian McCann (26)

32.5

122

Ted Simmons

31.9

123

Gary Carter

31.6

116

Bill Freehan

29.3

113

Ivan Rodriguez

25.5

106

Jorge Posada

21.7

100

I have to admit, even I was surprised how well Mauer stood up to this group of all-time greats.

When we look at both charts together, we're able to put Mauer's young career in some pretty impressive company. Only one catcher (Johnny Bench) was worth more to his team (offensively) through his age-27 season than Mauer. Only one catcher in the study produced more runs per plate appearance than Mauer (Piazza). Did we mention he already has two Gold Gloves?

In seven seasons, Joe Mauer has more than fulfilled his great promise, and has put himself on track to finish as one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. Now, we all know nothing is guaranteed, and many promising careers have unexpectedly taken turns for the worse. But there's no doubt we're watching something special, and it's good for us to occasionally take a step back, and just appreciate what we're witnessing.

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