Sunday, November 1, 2009

More on Mauer

A tangent on Joe Mauer's season that I chose not to pursue in the Monday print column:

Mauer hit .365 for the season. This is — or isn't — a record for a catcher. It depends on how persnickety you want to be in defining catcher.

Here's the competition:

1) Bill Dickey, 1936. Hit .362. Actually, he hit .3617 — 153 hits in 423 at-bats. This distinction is significant because of

2) Mike Piazza, 1997. Hit 362. Actually, he hit .3615 — 201 hits in 556 at-bats.

And some sources list the record for batting average by a catcher as

3) Babe Phelps, 1936. He hit .367 — 117 hits in 319 at-bats.

Dickey and Piazza you probably know about already. Phelps was a platoon catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers and figures in a number of amusing tales about the Daffyness Boys. He could hit, at least against right-handers — .310 lifetime average — but apparently wasn't much behind the dish.

If we apply the current standard for qualifying for the batting title to these three, only Piazza remains. Dickey and Phelps would have needed 493 plate appearances to qualify; Dickey had 472, Phelps just 349.

Dickey caught 106 games; Phelps caught in 98. Piazza caught in 136 — and had 595 plate appearances in those games, easily enough to qualify. And he hit "just" .358 in those games. (Interleague play allowed Piazza to DH in seven games, in which he hit .484.)

And Mauer? He caught in 109 games and had 473 plate appearances in those games. He hit .372 in those games, .330 in the 28 games as the DH, and .600 in his five pinch-hit appearances.

So if what you want is somebody who qualified for the batting title while playing catcher, it's Piazza.

If what you want is a batting title qualifier whose primary position was catcher, it's Mauer.

If what you want is somebody who caught in more than half his team's games, it's Phelps.

I can't come up with a definition that puts Dickey in the lead.

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