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Beyond Compare?
Nate Silver
August 07, 2006
One of the wonderful things about baseball is that there is rarely a situation in the game that doesn't have some historical precedent. Then along comes sweet-swinging, 6'4" Joe Mauer.
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August 07, 2006

Beyond Compare?

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One of the wonderful things about baseball is that there is rarely a situation in the game that doesn't have some historical precedent. Then along comes sweet-swinging, 6'4" Joe Mauer.

Catchers are not supposed to win batting crowns--and certainly not 23-year-old catchers. Since World War II, only two catchers age 24 or younger have even hit .310 over a full season-- Joe Torre (.321 in 1964) and Ted Simmons (.310 in '73). Nor are catchers supposed to be tall--the average height of catchers in the Hall of Fame is 5'11". Nor are they supposed to run well. But in less than two full seasons Mauer already has more steals (21) than Mike Piazza has in his 17-year career (17).

In trying to divine what the future holds for Mauer, projection systems like Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA, which relies on identifying historical comparables, are left in the dark. Before the start of this season PECOTA identified Torre, Simmons and Bill Freehan as Mauer's three closest comparables, but with his performance this year Mauer has lapped that field. Not even Ivan Rodriguez can match up with Mauer. When I-Rod was 23, his OPS was .776; Mauer's stands at .954. Perhaps the only other young catcher to display similar productivity at the same age is Johnny Bench, an MVP at 22. But Bench was a very different hitter than Mauer--much more power but less athleticism and ability to hit for average.

Mauer's offensive profile most resembles that of a young Derek Jeter. An even more appropriate comparison would be with Rickey Henderson, whose talents (speed, power, exceptional patience) made him an anomaly. Similarly, Mauer boasts an array of skills displayed by no other catcher. Bill James has written that the mark of a truly great player is his uniqueness. If that's the case, Mauer may wind up being the greatest player of his generation.

> Nate Silver is a Baseball Prospectus author.

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