Mackey: It's time we perceive Joe Mauer for who he really is
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I received an email today from Patrick J., who is a loyal listener to the Mackey & Judd Show on 1500 ESPN - an email that had me thinking all day about how people perceive Joe Mauer's value (or, lack thereof for some).
(No, not THAT Patrick J... A different one.)
Here's what Patrick wrote:
The player Joe Mauer is most like is John Olerud in my opinion. It's a very fair comparison I think. They both bat lefty and play first base, obviously. I think the Twins would be pleased if Mauer could match Olerud's career HR and RBI numbers. Mauer is likely a slightly better hitter average-wise and his on-base percentage will likely be a bit higher though.
Olerud was a very solid player, but not a superstar. I think Twins fans (and the organization) should realize that is what Mauer is too. It's just too bad the Twins have to pay him $23 mil/year. I'm sure Olerud never made anything close to that.
A few things on this comparison:
1.) The Mauer-Olerud comparison is somewhat close offensively. Here are their average seasons through age 30:
Mauer: .323/.405/.468... 10 HR... 28 doubles... 63 RBI... 69 runs... 4 SB... 118 games
Olerud: .301/.406/.482... 17 HR... 32 doubles... 76 RBI... 75 runs... 8 SB... 139 games
Due almost entirely to playing more games, Olerud has slight edges in the counting stat categories.
2.) Olerud's salary was $6 million during a time in which the highest paid player in baseball made $8.5 million. He was, indeed, one of the highest-paid players in the game in the early- to mid-90's. Mauer makes $23 million in an era where the highest paid player makes $30 million. Neither player's salary prevented his team from signing other players.
3.) Let's not forget Mauer played catcher for the majority of his first 10 years in the big leagues. Olerud played first base and DH throughout his entire career. It's a hell of a lot easier to stay on the field regularly when you're playing first base and DH than when you're catching.
4.) Olerud was probably one of the most underrated players of his time - an era that didn't fully appreciate the value of getting on base at a .400+ clip.
Here's the problem: Many people see Mauer being compared to guys like Olerud and immediately think, "Wow, what an overpaid bum." Because Mauer doesn't hit for the power of a Miguel Cabrera or an Albert Pujols (in his prime), this is somehow viewed as a detriment to his ability as a player.
Yes, power-hitting, run-producing corner infielders and outfielders are some of the most valuable hitters in baseball. But just because Adam Dunn had more home runs and RBIs than Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen last season doesn't mean he should be mentioned in the same sentence.
To further illustrate value - or, more accurately, the illusion of value, here are five similar players and their average seasons through age 30:
Player A: .329/.385/.435... 5 HR... 25 2B... 54 RBI... 77 runs... 26 SB... 129 OPS+... 133 games
Player B: .328/.384/.434... 6 HR... 24 2B... 56 RBI... 74 runs... 22 SB... 132 OPS+... 133 games
Player C: .297/.357/.433... 10 HR... 24 2B... 46 RBI... 79 runs... 28 SB... 118 OPS+... 113 games
Player D: .356/.445/.485... 9 HR... 38 2B... 67 RBI... 101 runs... 2 SB... 151 OPS+... 147 games
Player E: .323/.405/.468... 10 HR... 28 2B... 63 RBI... 69 runs... 4 SB... 136 OPS+... 118 games
Player A is Tony Gwynn. Player B is Rod Carew. Player C is Paul Molitor. Player D is Wade Boggs. All four are Hall of Famers. Of course, longevity played a huge role, as all four of those players logged at least 17 full seasons in the major leagues.
And if you were paying attention earlier, you know Player E is Mauer, who played a far more taxing position - catcher, obviously - for most of those first 10 years than the other four players mentioned.
What about one of the other major perceived knocks on Mauer: He doesn't drive in enough runs.
First off, his career batting average with runners in scoring position is .333. His career average with runners in scoring position and two outs is .343.
But did you know... Gwynn, Carew, Molitor and Boggs - again, all four Hall of Famers - combined to drive in 100 runs four times in their collective careers.
Carew and Gwynn combined to score 100 runs only three times.
Yet, we consider all four of these men to be some of the greatest hitters of all-time. As we should. Because they are.
Mauer must stay healthy and produce well into his 30's to be considered among the Gwynns and Carews. But for now, maybe it's just time we all started to evolve our perceptions.