Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Joe Mauer Isn't Done With Award Ceremonies

A trip down memory lane would reveal that Joe Mauer the catcher is a player both the Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball miss. He was one of the best to ever play the position, and his bat combined with his glove, made him one of the most athletic backstops ever. Concussions and injuries ended that narrative way too soon, but Mauer is emerging in his new home now as well.

That whole elite athlete narrative, well Mauer personifies it. Turning down a scholarship to go and play quarterback for Florida State, he went on to be the 1st overall pick in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. After starting his career as a catcher, he's quickly transitioned into being one of the best at his new position as well. Now in his third full season playing first base, Mauer appears to have unlocked a new level.

Of course there's always going to be some detractors for Mauer at first. Offensively, he's miscast as a corner infielder. He's not the home run threat a 28-bomb season in the Metrodome made him out to be. His doubles prowess has even been sapped in recent seasons (and significantly in 2016). Regardless, it's his glove over at first that might trump all of that.

Through 62 games at first base this season, Mauer has been worth 5 defensive runs saved. It surpasses his previous career high of 4 in 2014, despite having played in 100 games total at first that year. His 3.0 Ultimate Zone Rating is also the best of his career, and with a previous high of 1.5 UZR, it's not particularly close.

Among first basemen, only two have better DRS numbers than Mauer. Both in the National League, Anthony Rizzo (8) and Brandon Belt (6) have posted higher totals than Mauer. Among American League competition, Mauer has been tied by the likes of the Rangers Mitch Moreland, and the Orioles Chris Davis. No one else in the AL has more than 3 DRS. Also, among those atop the leaderboard, Mauer has played 100-200 less innings in the field. Having been used as the Twins designated hitter 23 times in 2016, he's missed some considerable time in the field.

In terms of Ultimate Zone Rating, which measures a result against statistical data suggesting what the result should have been in relation to "average," Mauer is seen favorably as well. He's 4th in all of baseball among first basemen, and only the Tigers Miguel Cabrera (5.8) and Rangers Moreland (4.6) have better marks. Both using you'd define as the eye test, and sabermetric results, Mauer's leather has put on a fine display at first base this season.

A season ago, the American League Gold Glove winner at first base was the Royals Eric Hosmer. He posted one DRS and a 1.0 UZR across 154 games started at the position. Among qualified players, those numbers were 6th and 4th respectively. What Hosmer did do a season ago was play nearly 200 more innings than any other first basemen in the AL (Joe Mauer was second).

It's pretty widely accepted that the Rawlings Gold Glove awards generally snub the most deserving players. Not quite the mockery that is All Star fan voting, the Gold Glove awards get it wrong almost as equally often as they get it right. Whether a flashy player wins, or a less deserving candidate is selected, the numbers typically don't seem to agree with the results.

That leaves how things shake out very much up to chance. Whether or not Joe Mauer wins a Gold Glove or not is far from a certain thing either way. Thus far into the 2016 season however, he's got as good of a claim as anyone to taking one home, and it'd be far from a shock if he does. What was once one of the best catcher's the game of baseball has ever seen, Mauer is currently one of the best defensive first basemen in the land.

It's not a batting title, he won't have a ton of home runs, he's probably not going to hit .300, and the Twins really are having a tough year. When the dust settles though. Joe Mauer winning a Gold Glove, three years into taking up a new position, at the age of 33 would be hardly anything to scoff at.

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