Mauer Power on the Road to Cooperstown

In the wake of Joe Mauer agreeing to an eight-year, $184-million contract extension with the Twins, I wrote a piece on Mauer’s Hall of Fame chances vis-à-vis JAWS, using his PECOTA projections to fill in the blanks because his major league career consists of five seasons and change. Amazingly, he’s already 31st in all-time WARP among the 1,713 catchers in our database — the 98th percentile — and 24th on the JAWS list at the position:

We can employ PECOTA and JAWS in the service of gauging [Mauer’s] progress towards Cooperstown. If he were simply to deliver what his weighted mean forecast expected of him this year (6.1 WARP), his seven-year Peak score of 40.6 WARP would be higher than five of the 13 Hall of Fame catchers, four Veterans Committee selections (Ernie Lombardi, Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell) as well as the more contemporary Carlton Fisk, whose peak was diluted by injuries. That’s a decent start, particularly given that it’s within hailing distance of the Peak score component of the JAWS standard for catchers:
Rk  Player            Career   Peak   JAWS
1 Johnny Bench* 84.7 55.0 69.9
2 Gary Carter* 79.7 51.6 65.7
3 Ivan Rodriguez 82.9 42.3 62.6
4 Mike Piazza 68.7 50.1 59.4
5 Bill Dickey* 71.9 44.6 58.3
6 Yogi Berra* 73.2 43.8 58.5
7 Gabby Hartnett* 73.0 42.6 57.8
8 Buck Ewing** 66.6 46.3 56.5
9 Carlton Fisk* 65.9 37.5 51.7
10 Joe Torre 61.8 40.0 50.9
AVG HOF C 60.6 41.0 50.8

11 Mickey Cochrane* 55.9 40.9 48.4
12 Jorge Posada 53.6 40.7 47.2
13 Ted Simmons 53.5 37.8 45.7
14 Charlie Bennett 48.5 39.5 44.0
15 Roy Campanella* 45.7 41.0 43.4
...
23 Ernie Lombardi** 40.7 28.8 34.8
24T Joe Mauer 34.5 34.5 34.5

24T Roger Bresnahan** 38.7 30.3 34.5
33 Ray Schalk** 31.2 29.7 30.5
53 Rick Ferrell** 28.8 21.2 25.0
*BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer
**VC-elected Hall of Famer

Turning to Mauer’s PECOTA Ten-Year forecast — less useful for its relatively flat shape than for the cumulative weight of his contributions — if we were to assume he hits his PECOTA mark of 6.5 WARP in 2011, Mauer’s Peak score would rise to 45.7, as his abbreviated 2004 season would be dropped. Among enshrined catchers, that would elevate his Peak score above those of Mickey, Campy, Gabby, Yogi and Dickey, putting him in what we at the JAWS headquarters like to call “Flavor Country.” At that point we might have to start calling him Joey.

Add a third season from that Ten-Year forecast, 6.4 WARP for 2012, and Mauer’s really in business, for his Peak score would rise again, to 47.3 (dropping one of those 4.8-WARP seasons). Not only would that push the odds-on favorite to be the top catcher of the 21st Century past Buck Ewing, the best one of the 19th century, it would lift Mauer’s total line (53.5 Career/47.3 Peak/50.4 JAWS) above the Hall standard for catchers. And amazingly enough, he would still be shy of his 30th birthday, though he would need at least a token appearance in 2013 to reach the Hall of Fame’s ten-year eligibility rule. Less uniformity to those three phantom seasons — say, 9.0, 3.5 and 6.5 WARP over three rollercoaster years — could actually push Mauer’s peak score even higher, and he’d presumably be well on his way towards rounding off his Hall of Fame case with some minimally positive contributions in his thirties.

Further down in the piece is the data behind the unsurprising tendency of catchers to supply two-thirds of their total career value (in WARP) before the age of 30, and some back-of-the-envelope calculations showing that the flat structure of Mauer’s deal, literally $23 million per year, makes it easier for the Twins to get their money’s worth out of him, as the rising cost of a win on the open market will counter the player’s tendency towards age-related decline:

The bottom line is that even with more conservative projections than PECOTA is offering, one can model an array of happy outcomes which provide value to the Twins as Mauer marches not only towards Cooperstown but into the discussion of the top five catchers of all time, at least according to JAWS. Darker scenarios exist, of course, but so long as Mauer’s healthy and productive, let’s celebrate the upside, because we’re watching something pretty special.

Indeed. So special that I made him my first pick (fifth overall, behind Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Alex Rodriguez) in the True Blue LA Fantasy League. My team is the Dukes of Flatbush, in honor of the Dodgers’ Brooklyn history and the fact that I’m a fungo away from Flatbush Avenue. Clever, maybe, but using an unironic team name feels akin to what the players call “playing naked,” i.e., without greenies — just doesn’t have the same oomph. Any bright suggestions?

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