One has three championship rings the other has three batting titles and one has three gold gloves. For the past 15 years there have been two catchers that have stood above the rest. Joe Mauer was the face of the Minnesota Twins organization for 15 years. He was drafted first overall out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Minnesota. Buster Posey was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 MLB draft out of Florida State University and has been the face of three championship teams in San Francisco. Decades before Joe Mauer and Buster Posey came onto the scene there was a man named Thurman Munson who had a great career that was cut short. Below I analyze the Hall of Fame case for these three players
Joe Mauer has a career .306/.388/.439 slash line. That is his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. That adds up to an .827 on base plus slugging percentage and a park adjusted 124 OPS+. Mauer played 15 years in the MLB from 2004-2015. He played catcher for 11 seasons and 921 games. He also played first base and DH over his career. Mauer has collected three batting titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He is the only catcher ever to accomplish the feat three times.
While never being known for his power Mauer did club 28 homeruns in 2009 while leading the American league in batting average, on base percentage slugging percentage and OPS+ on his way to winning the American league most valuable player award. He also has a career 123 WRC+ and a 55.3 WAR.
When it came to fielding, he was +14 defensive runs saved meaning he was just above average every season. He also contributed plus 23 defensive runs saved at first, showing that even if his bat wasn’t the same after he moved out from behind the plate, he was adding some defensive value as well. He also has a career 33% caught stealing percentage and led the league in 2007 and 2013.
Despite playing 603 games at first base he still played 921 out of 1526 games behind the plate and his best years were behind the plate as well. Mauer is seventh all time in WAR for catchers and there are only four catchers who amassed a better WAR over their best seven seasons in the big leagues – Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez. Jay Jaffe developed a JAWS score to assess players chances of making the hall of fame and Mauer’s Jaws score is the seventh highest all time among catchers, and the six catchers above him plus the next four below him are in the Hall of Fame. With few offensive catchers as good as him ever and his average defense at the catcher position with offensive production as good as his he is a clear hall of fame player any way you look at it.
Buster Posey has a career .302/.370/.456 slash line. His career OPS is .826 and his OPS+ is 128 both great career numbers for any hitter especially a catcher. Buster Posey is still catching for the San Francisco Giants, so his story is not quite complete. He has 140 career homeruns and 673 RBIS resulting in four career silver slugger awards. In 2010 he won the rookie of the year after posting an .862 OPS and 18 home runs in just 108 games. He won the batting title and MVP in 2012 and he posted a league leading 171 OPS+. He also has a careeer WRC+ of 128 and a career War of 41.8.
While he amassed most of his WAR offensively he also has accumulated 121 defensive runs saved and has caught 33% of the runners trying to steal on him. He also has been highly regarded as a pitch framer and a leader on the San Francisco Giants three World Series teams. While Posey has played 229 games at first base and may see more time there as he ages he still has played 987 games at catcher and all his best years were crouching behind the plate.
While Posey’s career postseason stats are nothing to write home about he did hit .375 in his first postseason series, .300 in his first World Series and .389 in an NLDS series win against Washington in 2014. He also was only the fifth rookie catcher ever to hit a homerun in the World Series. While technically Posey only has 8 great years catching and hitting, the Hall of Fame looks for most players to have 10 great years on their resume. Posey should still get in one day.
Posey is currently the 19th best catcher ranked by WAR all time, but with just 4.2 more WAR accumulated over his career he will move into the top 15 all time amongst catchers. Ranking WAR over the best seven years of a player’s career makes Posey ninth amongst catchers. While he may not ever add to that total he shouldn’t need to as all but two catchers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame – and the other two are Joe Mauer and Thurman Munson.
In terms of the Jaws score Posey is 15th all time and all but three catchers ahead of him are Hall of Famers and guess what Thurman and Mauer are two of the three. There are also three Hall of Fame catchers that have a worse Jaws score and 4 with less WAR than Posey. If he is able to accumulate 6.2 more WAR, then he will be a Hall of Famer, as the only catcher with more WAR than him not currently in the Hall of Fame will be Mauer.
An argument can be made that right now Posey is on the brink of Hall of Fame status. However, he was the best catcher of his generation following Mauer’s move from out behind the plate, and it was not close. Posey was regarded as the best catcher from 2014-2018 while from 2010 to 2014 it was a battle between him and Mauer for the top spot every year. If he accumulates 6.2 more WAR I do not see how the hall can keep him out and even if he doesn’t, the catcher position hasn’t seen anyone like Posey for over half a decade. He belongs enshrined amongst the greats in Cooperstown.
Thurman Munson has already been on the ballot for Cooperstown but never got the 75% needed to get enshrined. Munson played for 11 seasons from 1969-1979 before being in a fatal plane crash. Thurman Munson posted a .292/.346/.410 triple slash line over his career. He finished with a .756 OPS a 116 OPS+ and a 116 WRC+.
Over his 11-year career he accumulated a 40.9 WAR. He is 15th all time amongst catchers in WAR and only Joe Mauer, Wally Schang and Gene Tenace have a higher WAR and are not in Cooperstown. Thurman Munson is 12th all time amongst catchers in JAWS and 8th all time in WAR accumulated over a player’s best 7 years. He is ahead of 6 Hall of Famers in JAWS and has a Rookie of the Year award and MVP. He also has a triple slash line of 357/.378/.496 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 30 postseason games. He won three gold glove awards and caught 44% of would be base stealers over his career.
Munson sometimes gets overlooked since he played in an era against Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and Ted Simmons. His peak years were better than Ted Simmons and despite his OPS being 29 points lower when we use OPS+ to adjust for era and park factors he comes in at 116 compared to Simmons 118. Yes, Simmons played many more years and having a long successful career is something that should be appreciated. However, this is not the hall of longevity. Sandy Koufax can attest to that. Munson is ahead of hall of famers Rick Ferrell, Gary Carter and Ivan Rodriguez in OPS+ as well.
Thurman Munson did not get a chance to accumulate the counting stats of many other Hall of Famers, but he was one of the best at his position for the 11 years he played, and he should be rewarded for it. There are players in the Hall of Fame who on a game per game basis were not as good as Thurman Munson and a player should not be held back just because he could not play as long as everyone else due to something out of his control. When on the field Thurman Munson proved for 11 seasons he was worthy of enshrinement into Cooperstown regardless who he played against or how long he played for.
While there are only 18 catchers in the hall of fame I believe two more will soon be enshrined soon and there is one that should be in that was overlooked. Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Thurman Munson all had careers worthy of being hall of famers. Being the best of their generation at their position is the main reason I believe Mauer and Posey deserve to be hall of famers. While Munson played in an era with many great catchers few provided as much offensive and defensive value over their best 11 years and did it all the way into the postseason.