The Minnesota Twins have a known elite defensive center fielder, but could Joe Mauer also bring home defensive hardware in 2017?
The Minnesota Twins made significant efforts to improve their defense in 2017 after having a poorly-rated defense in 2016. The outfield defense has shown excellent range, though some may question some of Eddie Rosario‘s decisions at times. However, one of the things that has seemingly flown under the radar is just how well Joe Mauer has played at first base in 2017.
Mauer’s defensive history
Most Minnesota Twins fans are quite aware that Joe Mauer made the move from behind the plate to first base in 2014. Prior to that time, when he was healthy, Mauer was considered to be an elite defensive catcher, winning three consecutive Gold Gloves from 2008-2010.
However, while he had that elite reputation, his defensive rankings with Fangraphs never backed up that ranking, never ranking better than the 11th best catcher in defensive rating among major league catchers. His move to first base did not bring much better results in Fangraphs ratings, but this season has brought out something completely different. He’s currently ranked 2nd in defensive rating among first basemen in all of baseball, and 1st among all American League first baseman.
If we take this to another reputable defensive rating source, Baseball Prospectus, we get a bit of a different view. While BP sees Mauer in the same light as a catcher from 2007-2014, with his best rating as 9th overall in that time, he opened his career with each of his first two seasons behind the plate ranking as the #2 season in the game (behind Brad Ausmus both times). That certainly set up his defensive reputation going forward.
Of course, while Mauer is viewed as having a great season this year by Fangraphs, he’s ranked 31st among first basemen that have played the position by BP in their defensive metric. The crazy part is that is his best ranking since ranking 12th in his first season at the position.
Does it matter?
We as fans have seen since the start of the saber “revolution” in the sport that accurately measuring defense is a pursuit that is worthy of attempting, but is still far away from any sort of definitive measure, especially at the two positions that Mauer has played in his career – catcher and first base.
With his current position, having range to make diving plays or track a foul ball likely impacts one ball every game, whereas exceptional glove work, ability to make tremendou stretches for balls, and presenting a good target to fielders are all incredibly important characteristics of a first baseman that are near-impossible to put a measurement on.
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Of course, the modern Gold Glove, while it does incorporate at least a component of sabermetric component to it now, it is still an award voted on by managers, who have often favored a player who showed strong favoring to both past reputation and offensive production, which has nothing to do with current season’s production with the glove, which should be the determination of the award.
Plays like this one this year have been a lot of fun, so it would be great to see Mauer get rewarded for them with the Gold Glove, but just because he’s deserved it doesn’t mean that he will get it.