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Did Joe Mauer have the greatest season by a catcher ever?

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A Tour de Force in 2009

Divisional Series - New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Joe Mauer’s 2009 season was an absolute tour de force. Winning the AL MVP despite not starting his season until May, Mauer certainly delivered an all-time great season. My question is this: was it the best season of all time for a catcher?

Just on the surface, I had a hunch that the answer to this question was “yes”. The 28 home runs, batting title, off-the-charts OPS seemed tough to beat for any catcher, along with a Gold Glove to boot. However, upon further inspection, there is one real challenger.

In 1997, Mike Piazza had a jaw-dropping season of his own. The Dodgers backstop tied for the league lead in OPS+ and won a Silver Slugger with a triple slash of .362/.431/.638 and mashed 40 home runs in 152 games. He was voted as the runner-up for NL MVP, losing out to Larry Walker and his absurd 1.172 OPS.

By comparison, Mauer paced Piazza in batting average by a few points, and won the batting title. Mauer’s OBP was also higher, at a league-leading .444. However, his OPS came out a little bit lower due to Piazza’s superior slugging percentage (1.031 to 1.070, respectively), although Mauer’s did lead the league in 2009, while Piazza’s did not. Piazza also mashed 12 more dingers, although you would have to assume that Mauer would have put a few more out had he played in April. Overall, Piazza posted a bWAR of 8.7, which was good for 2nd among position players in the NL, while Mauer’s 7.8 led the AL (even though his lost April was a large disadvantage in this metric).

After looking at the offensive stats, I’d say it’s about a wash. They have similar stats, although Piazza’s power tips things his way a bit. On the flip side, Mauer’s excellence compared to his peers despite missing a month tips things back to even, in my opinion.

The biased Twins fan that I am, I’m going to call it for Mauer. Purely offensively, it would probably be the right call to give it to Piazza. However, Mauer was an above-average catcher defensively, while Piazza’s reputation (and the few numbers we have from that era) were poor. The Gold Glove effort from Joe leads me to declare that his 2009 season was the greatest season of all time by a catcher.

You can check out the direct comparison that I used B-Ref’s play index for here.

Poll

Which was the better season?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    2009 Mauer
    (189 votes)
  • 12%
    1997 Piazza
    (26 votes)
215 votes total Vote Now