Heading into 2011 Joe Mauer was widely viewed as one of the elite catchers in the league. However, an injury plagued campaign coupled with being another year removed from his power eruption (28 HR in ’09) puts his status among the top of the field in question. Do the following numbers really scream must own:
296 At Bats
.287 Batting Average (85 Hits)
3 Home Runs
0 Stolen Bases
.360 On Base Percentage
.368 Slugging Percentage
.319 Batting Average on Balls in Play
He has long proven to be better than that, with a career .323 average and four seasons of 86 runs scored or more. Those are two categories that you rarely get contributions from your catcher, so having him gave you an advantage over the rest of the field, thus inflating his value.
It’s definitely not that he is old (he’ll turn 29-years old in April), but as a catcher would it be a surprise if he can’t do the types of things that he once did? When you are crouching behind the plate all night, using your body to stop baseballs, it is bound to wear you down. Yet, from 2006-2010 Mauer had four seasons with a BABIP of .340 or better. Over the past five seasons only five catchers with at least 450 AB have managed to post a season with a BABIP of .330 or more.
The position is generally just too demanding and you wear down as the year progresses. It’s not to say that Mauer is not going to be able to get back to the .340+ mark and produce an elite number. However, given what we know about catchers production, it is hard to consider it a given either. If he were to post an average in the .280-.300 range, would he look as impressive of an option?
Of course, the Twins do have the option to move Mauer out from behind the plate. We saw them use him at first base in 2011 for 18 games and even in the outfield once. Obviously, if Justin Morneau is healthy he isn’t going to see much time at first base but without a prototypical DH he could see more than enough time there. It’s obvious that the Twins need his bat in the lineup, though it also is no guarantee that being used in that spot will translate into an improved average.
There is nothing unrealistic in his .319 mark last season and, at this point in his career, it could become the new norm. If he’s not hitting .320 his value clears plummets, especially because of the affect it has on his other strength.
If Mauer isn’t getting on base as much he simply isn’t going to be able to score as many runs. It’s simple opportunity. If you project out last season’s runs scored for 600 plate appearances (he had 333 last season) you get around 69 runs scored. Obviously the other injuries around him had an impact, but I also wouldn’t consider it a given that the Twins lineup is a dynamic force in 2012. Can we really trust Justin Morneau at this point?
So, there’s a fair risk that he’s not going to hit for an elite average or score more than 80 runs in 2012. Can we count on another power surge? Just look at his home run totals for the past five years:
- 2007 – 7 HR
- 2008 – 9 HR
- 2009 – 28 HR
- 2010 – 9 HR
- 2011 – 3 HR
I think we all know which of these numbers stick out like a sore thumb. Thinking the power is going to be there obviously would be a mistake.
The bottom line is that Mauer’s upside does make him an intriguing option and a player worth owning in all formats. However, the potential downside is also too great to consider him a Top 5 option. Yes, even a “poor” average of .290 gives him an advantage over many other catchers, but it is far from enough to offset the lack of power (last season there were 14 catchers who hit 15 home runs or more). If he falls he will be worth selecting, but it is more likely that someone in your league will draft him based on his name alone. Don’t make the mistake and reach for him as the value simply isn’t there anymore.
What are your thoughts of Mauer? Is he a player you are targeting on draft day? Why or why not?
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Make sure to check out our other 2012 projections: